Election Day lessons for voters

I made an interesting observation Tuesday night. No political scientist would jump to confirm this, as it’s merely an anecdote, not rooted in fact. But if it’s anywhere close to the truth, we have serious problems facing our country in the coming years from simply a perspective of being an informed voter.

I found myself late Tuesday evening walking around an Alexandria suburb, and was amazed at all the political signs for a series of candidates. There were signs for Alexandria Clerk of Court and perhaps a state delegate or two.  But the ones I noticed the most were indicative of a heated race for a state Senate seat in the area (don’t ask me what district it was; I live in D.C., remember!). But the two candidates were close to each other in one thing — their names.
The incumbent — a Democrat — was named Barker, while his opponent was named Baker. Baker was a Republican whom not many expected to win, even though pollsters predicted the Virginia Senate could shift from its historical Democratic dominance to Republican control this cycle.

So there I am, and clearly in the Democratic bastion of Alexandria, there were more signs for Barker, the incumbent. When I stopped and asked a passer-by who he was voting for, he looked at me puzzled, then pointed at the Barker sign, and said, “I guess that fella.”

When I asked him why, he couldn’t offer a concrete answer, but sheepishly responded, “I guess because he has more signs, he must be doing something right … ”

As laughable as that seems, it dawned on me that, in this day and age where any voter can simply key in a few letters such as “Barker” on a Google search, they can learn all they want about that person. And yet, voters still choose to be rationally ignorant. That’s the political science term for those who believe because so many vote, and the likelihood that their individual ballot will make any difference to the overall outcome is so small, they choose to not participate at all. Or, in this case, the voter allowed the last thing he saw prior to casting his ballot to persuade his judgment.

Then I continued my un-scientific experiment by asking someone upon exiting the voting precinct who they voted for, Barker or Baker. She replied she didn’t know, but the one with the “D” after his name, because she was a lifelong Democrat. Here again, she’s entitled to vote for whomever she likes. But can we say that was an informed decision? Had she bothered to do any comparative analyses on where the incumbent stood on, say, K-12 education funding? She assumed that since he was a Democrat, he would be correct on the issues. But that’s not always a given. Instead of proactively seeking information, less than, for example, she would if buying a dishwasher, she chose not to.

The point here, folks, is voting is a wonderful thing. It’s a tremendous power our Founders gave to us, and our troops fight to preserve. When we — yes, ALL of us — choose to put as little effort into that action, it belittles the process and the sacrifices made to preserve the privilege. Notwithstanding the fact that many choose not to even vote at all these days, yet when they do, it should be done with a little more consideration and time invested. After all, these are decisions at the local level that affect us more than any other.

Something to think about …
(By the way, the incumbent Barker won Tuesday's election handily.)