A colleague brought up a very good question this morning that I would like to address.
"What if I haven't heard what the rep stands for? I always vote conservative but if he doesn't have a party affiliation sometimes I don't know if they're liberal or not."
What are the consequences of random voting? I would never suggest that someone vote for an individual they knew nothing about, yet it happens in every election. Straight ticket voting essentially advocates partisanship and discourages having any knowledge of candidates beyond the Presidential candidates. How can we accept this? Fourteen states (Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin) have options on the ballot to vote either straight Republican or straight Democrat. This format not only allows uniformed voting, it encourages such.
How should you vote when you don't know anything about the candidates? You shouldn't. There is nothing wrong with abstention. Abstention rates will most likely sharply increase as Independent representatives become more prevalent. This should not alarm us. On the contrary, we should be pleased that those who are voting know who and what they are supporting. Choosing not to vote has been portrayed as the same as a nay vote, and in some instances it can be. If the alternative to abstention is an arbitrary vote based on which party pays for a candidate's ads, I believe most of us would prefer that voter to leave a blank.
How do Independent candidates force us to be more knowledgeable? They make voting for someone who directly opposes your views a real possibility. Instead of finding a list of people neatly labeled as Republican or Democrat, voters will find a collection of candidates without any party. How do they feel about abortion, military spending, gay marriage, government oversight, or any other contentious issue we face today? People at the polls must be aware of each politician's positions or risk voting for a pro-choicer as a pro-lifer, for a military expansionist as an anti-interventionist, etc. When you remove assumptions, people respond by educating themselves.
A believe a move in the right direction is to remove party affiliations from the ballot. This is obviously impossible in states where voting a straight ticket is an option and I similarly hope to abolish this practice. These are long term goals but goals keep the motivation and proverbial 'fire' burning. So call or email your state representatives and tell them you want a party-free ticket. Let's make all ballots non-partisan and, in the process, make each candidate responsible for their own platform.
"Part leads to vicious, corrupt, and unprofitable legislation, for the sole purpose of defeating party."
-James Fenimore Cooper, 1838 in The American Democrat