The Conundrum of an “Informed Populace” and Democracy

I went to the polls today here in Colorado — I never miss a chance to cast my ballot in an election — and it again struck me how impossible a challenge we have trying to maintain any sort of representative democracy in this country. There I was, staring at a paper that listed names and offices, and I had no idea about any of them, had no information available to me about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the candidates, and hadn’t even a one sentence bio/campaign promise statement from any of them.

In a contest where the candidates have lots of money, odds would be pretty good that some sort of fliers or other material would wind up in my mailbox, but can I trust election materials produced by candidates? (and then again, would I vote for someone whose material I didn’t trust? Would you?) Failing that, the options are to check with various biased media sources, each of which have an agenda that doesn’t match my own interests and beliefs, to get their perspective on the candidates.

It’s the dilemma of the Informed Populace that has tripped me up each and every time there’s an election: how do I know what I’m really voting for or against? How do I know who these people really are, and whether I can trust them to represent either my own views on the world or at least those views that are sufficiently congruent with mine that the country will move in a direction that I like?

The next time you’re at the polls, standing with a ballot in your hand, ask yourself how much objective (or at least quasi-objective) information do you have that can help you make an informed, thoughtful, and responsible choice?

And yet, even with all that, vote! Whether the process is optimal or not, it’s a clear truism that not voting means you have even less voice and really have precious little basis for complaining or kvetching about the state of the country, at least in my eyes.

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