“Democracy in the contemporary world demands, among other things, an educated and informed people.” ~ Elizabeth Bishop
“The control of information is something the elite always does, particularly in a despotic form of government. Information, knowledge, is power. If you can control information, you can control people.” ~ Tom Clancy
In the information age, when the fate of nations hinges on the choices of their citizens, voter education emerges as a beacon of hope. It’s not just an accessory to the democratic process, but rather the cornerstone upon which a thriving democracy is built.
However, this is also an era of rapidly evolving political landscapes and information overload. In such an environment, the importance of voter education cannot be overstated. When we understand how voter education empowers citizens and strengthens democracy — and apply that knowledge at the ballot box — we ensure that the voices of the people truly guide the course of our country.
Read on to learn more about the significance of voter education and the state of civic education in America.
Voter education comes in many forms. It starts with a basic understanding of civics and how our electoral system is supposed to work, and it extends to researching candidates and issues before we cast our votes.
How many times have you looked at a ballot and wondered who half of the candidates are and what they stand for? It’s no longer enough to look at a D or an R behind a name. There are many more choices on a ballot than whichever establishment candidate is running for president.
What is the function of a Secretary of State?
What does a circuit court judge do, and what is the record of the people running for this position in your area?
Who are your local school board candidates and how do they affect public education?
What are the ballot initiatives and how might they impact your life?
These questions are much more fundamental to your everyday quality of life, and most people can't answer them.
For example, the right to work seems like a people-powered concept, but a careful reading of what’s in Right to Work proposals will uncover that they are actually pro-business and anti-union. Whether you’re a business owner or a worker, that distinction is fundamental to how you choose to vote on such a proposal.
Voter education takes various forms to ensure that citizens are well-prepared to perform their civic duties. For example, general voter education focuses on the foundational knowledge needed to navigate the electoral process.
Understanding the election timeline, such as key dates like voter registration deadlines, primary elections, and general elections.
Voter registration procedures like how to register to vote or update voter information.
The mechanics of voting, including how to cast a ballot, where to vote, and what to expect at the polling place.
Knowing the difference between primary, general, and special elections, and understanding their significance
Beyond the basics, voter education should equip citizens with the skills to thoroughly research candidates and their policy positions. This includes:
Candidate profiles: Accessing information about candidates running for various offices, including their background, experience, and priorities.
Policy analysis: Using tools and resources to help voters assess the policy platforms of candidates and parties.
Fact-checking and media literacy: Learning how to discern credible sources of information and identify misinformation.
Candidate forums and debates: Participating in forums where candidates discuss their views and answer questions from the public.
By providing citizens with these essential types of voter education, we empower them to make informed decisions and actively participate in the democratic process. In the current climate of abundant and easily manipulated information, these skills are more critical than ever.
Ours is a country that prides itself on the power of the people. As such, the saying that knowledge is power couldn’t be more true.
However, the state of civic education in America demonstrates that we are giving that power away. The earlier we learn basic civics, the better informed and engaged we are as a country.
Unfortunately, most Americans couldn’t pass a standard civics test. While many states do require civics classes at the high school level, there is no federal mandate requiring education in civics.
Many Americans don’t formally study civics or political science until they’re in college, if at all.
According to data collected from state departments of education and the Education Commission of the States:
Only nine states and Washington, D.C. schools require a full year of civics to graduate from high school
30 states require one semester of civics
11 states have no civics requirement for graduation
States with the highest rates of youth civic engagement also prioritize civics education
Here are four big reasons why voting matters, and why voter education matters more:
Democracy, as it’s known today, traces its roots to ancient Greece. It’s a system of government where power rests with the people, and they exercise it through periodic elections. However, for democracy to function, an informed and engaged electorate is required.
The United States is a representative democracy, and this complicates matters somewhat. As we’ve seen over the past three years, knowledge of how our electoral system works is critical to ensuring that our voices are truly heard and that the people we entrust to represent our interests are doing so in an honest, transparent manner.
This is where voter education steps in as a fundamental requirement.
Voter education is akin to the proverbial key that unlocks the door to active participation in the democratic process. When citizens are well-informed about their rights, responsibilities, and the issues at stake, they become more confident and motivated to engage in the electoral process.
This extends to:
Knowledge of Rights and Responsibilities: Voter education provides knowledge about the rights and responsibilities of citizens. Understanding the electoral system, voter registration procedures, and how to cast a vote ensures that citizens can fully exercise their power without intimidation or confusion.
Informed Decision-Making: Informed voters make better choices. They’re better equipped to evaluate candidates, parties, and their policy positions critically. This leads to a more enlightened electorate that selects their representatives based on merit and alignment with their values rather than being swayed by personalities, empty promises, or divisive rhetoric.
Civic Engagement: Voter education extends beyond the act of voting. It encourages citizens to actively participate in civic life while fostering a sense of community and shared responsibility for the well-being of society. This can include volunteering, attending town hall meetings, and advocating for causes they believe in.
A well-informed electorate is the bedrock of a strong and resilient democracy. Here are four ways in which voter education contributes to the overall health of our democratic institutions:
Accountability: Elected officials are more likely to be held accountable when voters are educated. Citizens can monitor their representatives' actions, assess their performance, and vote them out if they fail to deliver on their promises or act against the public interest.
Reduced Polarization: Voter education encourages rational discourse and informed decision-making. When citizens understand the nuances of various issues, they are less susceptible to the polarization driven by sensationalism and misinformation.
Inclusivity: Voter education promotes inclusivity by ensuring that all eligible citizens have access to information about the electoral process. It helps bridge the gap between different socio-economic groups, reducing the risk of marginalized communities being disenfranchised.
Long-Term Planning: Educated voters are more likely to support policies that have long-term benefits for society, rather than short-sighted solutions. This contributes to the stability and sustainability of a nation.
One of the central tenets of democracy is that it should reflect the will of the people. However, this can only happen if every citizen's voice is heard and their vote counts.
Voter education plays a pivotal role in ensuring that the democratic process remains inclusive and representative by:
Mitigating Voter Suppression: In some cases, voter suppression tactics are employed to prevent certain groups from voting. Voter education can help citizens recognize and resist such tactics, safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process.
Countering Disinformation: In an age of digital misinformation, voter education is a powerful antidote. It equips citizens with the critical thinking skills needed to discern credible information from fake news, preventing manipulation and misinformation from distorting their decisions.
Increasing Voter Turnout: A well-informed electorate is more likely to turn out to vote. When voter education campaigns are robust and accessible, voter turnout tends to increase, leading to a more representative democracy.
Voter education is the lynchpin that holds our democracy together. It empowers citizens, strengthens democratic institutions, and ensures that the voices of the people are able to shape the destiny of their nation. In a world where information is everywhere but often misleading, voter education steers us towards a more just and equitable society.
The true power of democracy lies not just in the act of voting, but in the informed choices we make at the ballot box. Voter education isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.
Learn more about the choices that make our country more progressive, functional, and inclusive. Good Party offers a treasure trove of candidate resources and information about exciting independent candidates running for office at all levels of government.