Do you remember your first voting experience? I remember mine. I was eighteen, a freshman at UCLA, wise in my own eyes, and with absolutely no clue about who or what I was voting for. My vote for the Presidential candidate went to the one who was, in my opinion, the most charismatic, and (truthfully) the most popular amongst my friends. I randomly voted “yes” or “no” on ballot bills like I did on some of my biology multiple-choice tests — “this dot-matrix pattern sure looks pretty!” I was ill-prepared, ignorant, and should never have set foot in the voting booth that day. Looking back, I’d say I disgraced the ballot box and took for granted the great privilege we have, in this nation, to effect change and exercise our God-given right to vote. As my children draw nearer to the age where they are allowed to vote (our oldest will be voting for the first time, this year), my desire is to prepare them to be far wiser voters than I ever was at their age. How will it be done? By teaching them to ask two simple questions when voting on a bill or candidate. That’s it. Just two.
Recently, we completed a study on common law, using the book, Whatever Happened to Justice by Richard J. Maybury. In it, he teaches the components of early common law : 1) Do all you have agreed to do. 2) Do not encroach upon other persons or their property.
How can these two statements help us in the voting booth?
“It really is quite simple”, I told my kids. “Turn the statements into questions, and you’re well on your way to clearly evaluating ballot issues, and political candidates.”
We did a couple of exercises to check for understanding.
First, I reminded them about a bill that voters in our area had to decide on, a few years back. They remember it well because there were a ton of television commercials on the issue. Our local zoo was in jeapordy of closing down, due to lack of revenue. A bill was proposed to solve the problem…increase the city sales tax by 1% to make up for the shortfall. We all remember how the commercials tugged at our heartstrings. My kids remember thinking, “We surely can’t allow our only zoo to go the way of the dinosaurs!” We debated the pro-side of the argument – how having a zoo added to the value of our city, and provided education and entertainment for many local families. Then, we asked the two fundamental questions: 1. Does this proposal stop anyone from being able to do all that they have agreed to do? 2. Does this proposal encroach upon any persons or their property? The first question is often difficult for my kids to understand, because it is more abstract, and deals more with tacit agreements. I explained to them that it can, in fact, cause someone to violate an agreement that they have with someone else. For example, In our home, we have a formal budget and it contains a “miscellaneous” category, which is funded with 1% of my husband’s income. We use it to purchase items, like stamps, that don’t quite “fit” into other budget categories. If this bill passes, and we are now required to pay 1% more in sales tax then we were before, then, it is as if we are breaking our agreement to fund the miscellaneous category of our budget. “Does that make sense?” I asked them. They all nodded their heads. Then, we moved on to the second question: Does this proposal encroach upon any persons or their property? “Yes!” My children quickly discerned that the bill was in violation of this second law. By forcing everyone to pay 1% more in sales tax, the government definitely “encroaches upon other persons” by taking money that does not belong to them. In the end, then, they all decided that this bill should have received a “no” vote (unfortunately, not everyone voting that day was asking these questions, and it did pass!) My thirteen year old son reasoned, “The people who want to keep the zoo so badly should pay for it themselves, but not make everyone else pay for it.” That is wise voting!
Next, I brought up the current issue of the “Buffet Tax”, a tax that would set a minimum tax rate of 30 percent for Americans who earn more than $1 million annually that our now current President, Mr. Obama, is trying to garner support for. Once again, as we apply the rules of common law, the children quickly discern that it, too, is in violation of both of the laws. Business owners, who were forced to pay another thirty percent in taxes might be forced to break their agreements with certain employees and fire them because they could no longer afford them. One of my children also brought up the issue of “Capital Flight”, something else we had learned about from the book, when investors move their securities out of a particular country because of a fear of country-specific risks or because of the lure of higher returns in a different country. We were able to discuss the possible negative effects that this proposal might have, should it become law in our country, and determined that the tax is a violation of the second law. My children agreed that the Buffet Tax would not be something that they could support, and that if a candidate who was running for the office of President of the United States supported it, they would have to take that into consideration as they made their decision of who to cast their final vote for. Wow! My kids are already leap years ahead of where I was, at their age, when it comes to wise voting!
So, is wise voting really just as simple as that? Just ask these two, simple questions, and you will always be able to make the right voting decisions? Not always. However, I believe that by training our children to ask these questions, they will be far better prepared to make wise voting decisions. They will also be able to support and defend their decisions based on well-thought-out, and informed reasoning, rather than ignorance, peer pressure, and apathy like I, unfortunately, did at their age. God-willing, we are raising a new generation of wise voters!
What about you? Do you think this is a good way to train young adults to make wise voting decisions? What are you doing to raise a generation of “wise” voters?