Early apathy

Early apathy

July 13th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

Why don't 13-year-olds get to vote?

It's not that people in that age group are stupid or want to do the country harm. It's that they are generally immature and uninformed, so it would be hard for them to exercise sound judgment in a matter as important as electing officials ranging from city council members to presidents.

Of course, with a few exceptions, adult U.S. citizens are entitled to vote. And that is as it should be.

But that does not mean that every adult who casts a ballot is mature and well informed. And while the right to vote should be protected even for those who cannot be bothered to think about the issues and where the candidates stand, there is no special virtue in society bending over backwards to increase voter turnout among the least informed and the marginally interested.

That brings us to early voting, which has begun in Georgia already and starts today in Tennessee.

The theory behind early voting is that it will increase turnout and civic engagement, whereas having virtually everyone vote on Election Day would keep some people from casting ballots because they might be sick, vacationing or working long hours.

Let us stipulate that circumstances can arise that keep even committed voters from getting to the ballot box on Election Day.

But can we also stipulate that probably for the vast majority of people who vote ahead of Election Day, it is a matter of convenience, not of genuine necessity?

And then can we offer the politically incorrect acknowledgement that those who will vote only if it is made hyper-convenient are not particularly likely to have studied up on the issues and candidates?

It is a sign not of civic engagement but of profound civic disengagement that so many American citizens must be lured into the ballot box by early voting.

And oh, what they miss on Election Day!

Yes, there can be long lines at some voting sites, and casting a ballot on Election Day proper might require some folks to adjust their schedules.

But standing in line with fellow citizens to exercise the precious right to vote on a specially designated day engenders a tremendous and worthwhile sense of civic urgency and involvement. That cannot be duplicated by voting early at sites where there may or may not even be another voter in sight.

Early voting is not likely to go away anytime soon. But Americans who want to experience the full joy and solemnity of the right to vote would do well to cast their ballots on Election Day.