Friday, October 22, 2004

Should We Encourage People To Vote?

There have been a lot of voter registration drives and "get out the vote" movements in preparation for the election. Some people are wondering if it is a good idea to merely get warm bodies into the voting booths, if those warm bodies are attached to heads that have not been following politics and/or are basing their votes on a flip of their lucky coin.

My view on the matter is colored by my experience with fair division, which was the topic of my Master's paper. In fair division, where a "cake" is divided up fairly among a bunch of players, the players are all assumed to have a "value system" (measure, for those technical math junkies out there) by which they determine the value of any given piece of cake. As part of the rules of fair division, players' value systems are not questioned or challenged. If a player says that piece of cake is 30% of the entire cake, that's what it is to that player, even if someone else thinks it's 20% and another thinks it's 50%. If you start requiring players to value a piece a certain way, it throws off the fairness of the algorithm.

Likewise I leave each voter's measure of the candidates to their own devices. If you want to base your vote for a candidate on which is alphabetically first, on how much he pays for his haircuts, on the aspects of Venus in conjunction with Jupiter, on the basis of numerological analysis of the book of Hosea or the fact that he came to your town before the election and the other guy didn't, that's your prerogative. I can think you're stupid for doing it (that's my right), but I can't take away your right. The law says that if you are a citizen, you have a right to vote. Period.

Now ideally I would like people to make decisions the way I do, which is a natural human impulse since we all like to think we are right. I can try to persuade people to vote in a particular way or for a particular candidate. But I would not support, for example, a law requiring a certain level of education about political matters as a voting test. How do you administer the test? Where do you draw the passing cutoff? What do you do when a party unfavorable to your view steps in and makes holding their political views a requirement for voting? We would laugh at the disenfranchisement of people who base their decisions on coin flips, and we would almost all laugh at taking away the vote of people who base their decision on astrology, but when they take away the vote of the people who base their votes on Biblical prophecy or a misguided sense of what's "good for the environment", we won't be laughing.

So we laugh at the people who vote for Kerry because they think Bush is personally coming to steal their jobs out from under them, and we laugh at the people who vote for Bush because they think Kerry is personally going to take away their guns. But don't you dare take their votes away from them.

UPDATE: Xrlq provides us with a perfect example of one of the quirky ways in which people, even informed people like Xrlq, make their decisions of whom to elect.