Sunday, October 5, 2008

Absentee Ballots and Civics Education

I don't always agree with commentator George Will, but he has a thought provoking piece in Newsweek about absentee ballots. He concludes that the increasing emphasis on voting early is eroding the national institution of Election Day.
"The great national coming-together that Election Day has been and should be is a rare communitarian moment in this nation of increasingly inwardly turned individualists who are plugged into their iPods or lost in reveries with their iPhones....The coming of the public into public places for the peaceful allocation of public power should be an exhilarating episode in our civic liturgy."
I agree with him. While absentee ballots are important to ensure that those who will not be geographically located near their assigned polling place on election day will not be disenfranchised, something is lost when voting is made too easy.

One point that Will doesn't make, however, is about the role election day plays in the education of children. I can still remember accompanying my mother to vote as a child. She took the opportunity on the walk to and from the polling place to talk to me about voting, about what it means to be an American, and the responsibilities we have as citizens. I did the same when my children were young. Of course, parents could talk to their children about these things at any time -- but election day is a structured opportunity for civics education.

By making the choice to treat voting as something that needs to be done hurriedly, without gravitas, we're missing an opportunity to impart our civic values to our children, and leaving that job to MTV.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Good points too.

    I recently blogged about a similar topic. My position is that only people who are self-motivated should vote. I don't like seeing people begged, coerced, bribed, lectured, etc about their obligation to vote.

    On this issue, what I see happening is exactly what you suggest - they want to make it easier to vote - and that is the natural result of the misguided motivation to get more people to vote.

    We don't need or want more voters, we need and want informed voters.

    All that said, as a 20-year veteran I have benefited more than most from absentee voting. I registered to receive absentee ballots from my home state of record - but I didn't vote for local candidates that I knew nothing of and wouldn't be directly affected by.

    The "more votes the merrier" types would seemingly think its good if I would have voted for some county office even tho I have no knowledge of the candidate.

    I believe otherwise.

    Thanks again for a great post.