Most people have seen or been a target of programs attempting to promote voter turnout. “Rock the Vote”, one of the better known voter turnout organizations, attempts to encourage the younger generation to register and cast their ballots for presidential elections. According to their website, rockthevote.com, more than 1.2 million young people used the Rock the Vote website to register to vote in 2004. More than 15,000 Rock the Vote volunteers and local partners registered an additional 200,000 voters.
When looking at voter turnout statistics, it appears that these associations are being extremely successful at getting people to be more active in the government – in the 2004 presidential elections, voter turnout was the highest it had been since 1960 (“Voting and Registration Data”). Then again, what do these programs do to promote responsible voting? In all actuality, they don’t even tell us how to vote. Oh, they might go into the process of registering, provide directions to polling stations, list instructions on how to use new voting technology – but they don’t discuss how to come to a decision about what or whom to vote for in the first place.
Political organizations and elected politicians, the entities that should, above all others, continually offer advice on voting, are notably silent, and indeed deceptive about the intellectual steps voters should take to reach decisions about participating in an election. Luckily, those of us who are serious about casting a ballot can find other resources that offer guidance. Jane Tompkins’ essay, “Indians’: Textualism, Morality, and the Problem of History” indirectly spells out the process all voters should take when considering who or what to vote for; the steps that sovereign voters, as Walker Percy may have called them, should want to go through, to ensure that they have fulfilled their most important duty as citizens: to cast a vote that is entirely their own and not a vote influenced by biased information or the opinions of other.
In Walker Percy’s essay, “The Loss of the Creature”, he discusses this concept of being sovereign; a concept of controlling oneself by acting independently of outside influences. A sovereign person builds concepts out of what they actually experience, not by what they are told they should be thinking or feeling. In order to be a responsible voter in the first place, one has to be a sovereign voter. Don’t surrender to the so-called ‘experts’, the political pundits who claim to know what’s really going on. “[The person’s] basic placement in the world is such that they recognize a priority of title of the expert over his particular department of being. The whole horizon of being is staked out by “them,” the experts” (Percy 5). Take back this horizon! Do not sit back and be told what to believe! In order to use the process about to be enumerated, a person must first be willing to take matters into their own hands and seek out knowledge for themselves.
Tompkins teaches us how to hunt for this information by example. In trying to be a responsible teacher, Tompkins, an intellectual and a scholar, gets herself into a dilemma which most meticulous voters also experience. All Tompkins wants is a clear picture of what relations where like between the Puritans’ and the Native Americans; just as voters want a clear, simple idea of what each candidate’s platform and personal beliefs are. One might start off with visiting the candidates’ websites. Soon after, however, one may catch a report on the news that directly contradicts what has been read. A sound bite from one political pundit discredits a candidate’s speech, and then another sound bite discredits the pundit.
This is when we need to pause. Take a deep breath.
Finding this vast amount of contradicting data is exactly what we should be doing. Just like Tompkins, we, as responsible voters, should gather as much information from as many sources as possible. Only then can we sift through it all and decided what we dismiss as fiction and accept as fact.
Percy, Walker. “The Loss of the Creature.” The Loss of the Creature. 05 Nov 2007. Henry M. Jackson High School. 5 Nov 2007 <http://www.everett.k12.wa.us/CMS/cmsSites/cmsUserFiles/jacksonhigh/nnicoletta/files/The%20Loss%20of%20the%20Creature.doc>.
Tompkins, Jane. “Indians’: Textualism, Morality, and the Problem of History.” Indians’: Textualism, Morality, and the Problem of History. 05 Nov 2007. Henry M. Jackson High School. 11 Dec 2007 < http://www.everett.k12.wa.us/CMS/cmsSites/cmsUserFiles/jacksonhigh/nnicoletta/files/Tompkins%20Essay.doc >.
“Voter Info.” Rock the Vote: Political Power for Young People. 2007. Rock the Vote. 11 Dec 2007
“Voting and Registration Data.” US Census Bureau. 11 JAN 2007. US Census Bureau. 11 Dec 2007
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