Be An Expert Voter

By Ralph Nader

With Election Day on the horizon, most voters have settled on their choice for the oval office. But let’s not forget about the all the other choices on the ballot, many of which will have a great affect on the lives and livelihoods of Americans — Congressional and State representatives, local officials, and referenda.

It’s no secret that the majority of voters simply vote the party line, never examining the various candidates on their ballot beyond the D or R next to their name. And, the mass media is not your friend when it comes to electoral choices, rarely holding candidates feet to the fire on their specific proposals or calling them out on their deceptions, or what they ignore. As a result, politicians can flood the airwaves with misleading information, empty promises, and vapid slogans. I like to call this political tactic the “three F’s” — keeping voters flattered, fooled and flummoxed just long enough to secure their vote. The three F’s are the very reason so many voters, who do not do their political homework, end up regularly voting against their own self-interests.

So how does one avoid the trap of the three F’s? Here are three suggestions to become a more informed and more principled “expert voter.”

First, attempt a political cleansing ritual. Erase all of your preconceived notions — wipe the slate clean. That means your party identity, your ideology, and your hereditary politics. Then, with a totally fresh look at the candidates on the ballot, ask yourself this: Are they playing fair? Are they doing the right thing? Make a list of the twenty or so issues that are most important to you and compare them with those of the candidates. If the information isn’t available on their campaign websites, you can always write or call their office and see if you can get answers. After all, by asking for your vote, they’re demanding a lot of your sovereign power (remember the preamble of our Constitution is “We the People”.)

Second, avoid being a one or two issue voter. Don’t disregard the plethora of other issues that can affect you, your family and your community in major ways. Campaign strategists love to focus on one or two polarizing issues — it means their candidates don’t have to answer the weightier, more complicated questions that might offend their corporate allies and financiers. Here are some examples of current “taboo” political issues — what is the candidate’s record on corporate crime? What is their stance on a $10 minimum wage? What about a single payer health care system? What about the drug war, which costs billions of dollars annually and results in America having more nonviolent people incarcerated then any other country in the world? What about the loss of civil liberties in the name of homeland security? Visit the websites of the candidates, call or email their offices and find out where they stand and what they have done.

Third, think like a sports fan.

Imagine if the majority of eligible voters had the same dedication and diligence as sports fans? Sports fans know the stats, they know the major and minor players, they hold the hierarchy responsible — the coaches, the referees, the managers, the owners. If a decision is wrong, sports fans will complain loudly. Sport fans demand new and fresh talent when the old talent is no longer performing to task. Perhaps most importantly, they show up, unlike 50% of the American electorate. Imagine if voters were as passionate and vocal?

It takes some time and dedication to avoid being flattered, fooled, and flummoxed by the tidal wave of political noise and advertisements that lead up to Election Day in America. But doing your homework — becoming civically engaged — is the only way to ensure a better future for our country. Be an expert voter and use your power.