Tons of media and other organizations have probably already lectured you recently on the importance of voting. Even more have probably tried to convince you to vote for a specific candidate or party. In our final editorial before Election Day, we will do neither of these things. As the journalistic voice of an institution of higher education, we believe we have a moral duty to encourage critical thinking among our readers. That being said, we don’t simply want you to vote — we want you to diligently research the candidates for every office on your ballot (not just the presidential candidates) and vote for those whom you think will best represent your values and interests in office.
It’s very hard to make a truly well-informed voting decision based only on what you learn about the candidates without making a serious independent effort to research them. Advertisements on TV and in the mail only tell you what that candidate or his or her sponsor want you to know, and the information in them is often presented in a misleading manner. Even the news media, which are ideally supposed to report only impartial facts, are notorious in this country for being consistently biased. Another inherent danger in relying on these sources for information on political candidates is that not all candidates have equal access to them. Without significant support from either the Democratic or Republican establishments, candidates for major federal- or state-level offices will find themselves at a distinct fundraising disadvantage and will usually be dismissed by the media as not newsworthy simply because they’re “unelectable.”
With the ever-intensifying ideological polarization between the powerful figures in the Democratic and Republican parties, it’s harder than ever to run for public office without conforming to most of the ideological platforms of one party or the other. Candidates who are not loyal to either side of the two-party system are often marginalized. In such a diverse country, it’s virtually unfathomable that the Democratic and Republican platforms could even come close to representing the values and interests of all American citizens. There’s a good chance your values might not align well with those of either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney (or any of the major-party candidates in the other races on your ballot); maybe there’s a third-party or independent candidate who would better represent you.
If you don’t take the initiative to research everyone who’s running for all the offices on your ballot, you may not even know the names of any of your options besides the Democratic and Republican nominees. The candidate who best represents your values might be running as a write-in candidate, and you can’t possibly write in his or her name if you don’t do your research.
Now why, you ask, should you consider voting for a third-party or independent candidate who has no realistic chance of winning? Wouldn’t it be better to choose the “lesser of the two evils” among the major-party nominees to minimize the chances of the one you dislike most being elected? That’s not how democracy is supposed to work. It’s become a widely accepted status quo of American democracy, but it’s fundamentally flawed. If the popular vote does not truly represent the values of the electorate, how can we expect the elected to know what values we want them to represent in office? As long as the majority of voters continue to limit their choices to Democrat and Republican, elected officials will just continue to put the interests of the two major parties ahead of the people’s interests. A vote for someone affiliated with neither of them is never wasted; it is a statement that you will no longer stand for politicians who work for parties instead of people.
Now it’s certainly possible that your values might align more closely with Obama or Romney than they do with any of the marginalized candidates, but you won’t know that for sure unless you do your research. Make your vote a true representation of yourself.