Thomas Sowell

During election years, people in the media seem to be forever lamenting the fact that millions of Americans who are eligible to vote do not in fact go to the polls. When speculating as to why those people don't vote, the media often assume that there is something wrong with a society in which voter turnout is low, by comparison with the past or by comparison with other countries.

Actually, some of the most strife-torn countries, with seething hatreds between various ethnic or religious groups, have much higher voter turnout than the United States has. Where each group is desperate to seize power from other groups, or to keep others from acquiring power over them, getting high voter turnout is no problem. But it can be a symptom of other serious problems.

Maybe low voter turnout among Americans is a symptom of a lack of fear that the outcome of the next election is going to pose some great danger to one group or another, or lead to some disaster for the country as a whole. This is not a defense of the non-voter, but simply points to the possibility that we may have been looking at the wrong indicators of the health of a society.

In reality, much more is at stake than many Americans suppose. Too many people seem to regard voting as a form of personal expression, rather than as a sobering responsibility to the country as a whole, including future generations.

Those who look at voting in terms of individual expression often regard widespread voter "participation" as a hugely important goal. But those concerned primarily with voting as a means of choosing the best leaders and policies fear that loose election laws allow not only more voter fraud but also more uninformed and apathetic people to drag down the quality of the decisions that will shape our future as a nation.

Can people who can't be bothered to register in advance, or to mark their ballots correctly in the voting booth, be trusted with preserving a nation and a heritage for which many Americans before them have fought and died? Can people whose mental level is so low that they must be accompanied into the voting booth by caretakers be given responsibility for making historic decisions for others when they are not even able to be responsible for themselves?

Far from urging everyone to vote, perhaps the media might better urge those who are going to vote to first make sure that they have heard both sides of the issues at stake, instead of just voting by habit, whim, or according to the image or rhetoric of the candidates.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate