Saturday, January 19, 2013

To vote or not to vote

          I began my second semester of school on Monday. I had enrolled in a political science class to fulfill my American Institutions credit. I like politics, and after researching the professor teaching the class, I learned that he wasn’t an extreme liberal – and surprisingly he actually had some conservative views – and so I thought I would enjoy learning without the frustration of being told all the virtues of the far left.  The class began with a 10 question quiz. First question – who is president? That one was easy enough. And I breezed through the next three – vice president, U.S. Senator, U.S. Congressman – but then I needed to list my representatives in my state’s senate and congress. I remembered one, but even after trying to visualize all the political signs from last fall, I had no idea. Strike one. 

          How many U.S. Senators was an easy question. 100 – two from each state – is an easy figure to remember. But I was stumped when asked how many congressmen. My first thought was “too many” but knew that wasn’t going to earn me any points. I knew about how many but guessed inaccurately. Strike two.

          The last two questions were about the Electoral College – where is it held and how many total votes. I had no idea where it was held and wondered if they all really met somewhere to cast their votes. I guessed Pennsylvania and surprisingly so did several other students. But I was wrong. Strike three. The professor was frustrated that even after the presidential election no one knew, and he wasn’t going to tell us the answer. So, I Googled it. And as far as I can tell, delegates meet at their respective state’s capitol to cast their votes. But maybe I am still wrong. Do you know? However, I was correct on the number of votes. I learned something from all the possible “to win The White House” scenarios from the last presidential election coverage. I knew that it took 270 votes to secure the presidency. I also knew that there could be a possible tie with each candidate receiving 269 votes. So I doubled that figure and guessed correctly. After I shared my answer, I was asked why that many. Now I was feeling not just stupid but incredibly ignorant.  With the help of several class members, we came up with the answer. There are a total of 538 Electoral College votes one each for every U.S. Senator (100) and U.S. Congressman (435) plus three for the District of Columbia.

          So, I answered 7 out of 10 correctly. But considering the fact that I proudly wear my “I Voted” sticker each election, I should have easily known all ten. From the reaction of the other students, most of them failed the quiz. And I began to wonder what would happen if each voter needed to take a similar test and pass before being allowed to cast their vote. Would the results be different? Would those voting make a more informed decision? There are plenty of hilarious videos on YouTube of incredibly uniformed voters being interviewed by the likes of Glenn Beck and Howard Stern.  And I wonder if there was not a D or an R by a candidate’s name would some of us know how to vote. Sadly, in many areas, all that is required to vote is to simply show up. And in a highly contested precinct, if you need a ride, your respective political party will gladly pick you up, request your support, and take you back home. Every election cycle much is said about the right to vote and making sure no one is disenfranchised, but what about the responsibility to be an educated and informed voter. Maybe there should be some other requirement.  In order to give blood, one must read a lengthy pamphlet each time regardless of how many times it has been read before. We require a food handlers test in order to take orders at the local McDonald's. One must show ID to buy beer. We carry various cards in wallets to present at the register in order to get the best price on groceries. But to vote – to determine who will lead our country and make laws that govern us and who we entrust to preserve the greatness of America – all we require is a warm body. It is completely pathetic that it is harder to buy a pack of cigarettes than to vote in this country. And then we wonder why there are so many idiots in Washington.