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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Voting and Being Informed

Presidents and Pizza

Presidents and Pizza

Do we have a duty to do either?

Kelly Shi

Are you voting this presidential election? According to the US Census Bureau, the voting rate of 18-24 year-olds in presidential elections has steadily decreased, dropping from over 50% in 1964 to 38% in 2012. However, one thing has remained the same: young adults vote at consistently and significantly lower rates than older Americans. Organizations like Rock the Vote hope to change this by encouraging voter participation among young Americans.

While these nonpartisan and nonprofit efforts are based on good intentions, is it possible that merely rallying people to vote is morally irresponsible? In his book “The Ethics of Voting” Jason Brennan argues that people have a duty to vote well - or not at all. According to Brennan, voting is morally significant because it brings about serious consequences for other people. While some believe that exercising the civic right to vote is a moral duty, Brennan thinks that voting is a moral duty if and only if the voter is informed on the issue at hand. Otherwise, says Brennan, uninformed voters should stay away from the polls as a moral duty to the rest of us. If Brennan is right, then rallying people to be informed voters would be the more ethical way to go.

As college students, what would it mean to be informed voters? Numerous issues are being discussed and debated during this presidential race, but there are certain issues that affect college students directly. These include college tuition, college debt, and campus sexual assault policy. As we come closer to joining the workforce full-time, issues like job creation and equal pay demand our attention as well. It seems that at the very least, college students should be informed about these particular issues before heading to the polls. 

Being informed as a busy college student is no easy task, but The Big Q is here to help. To learn where each candidate stands on these particular issues, join us at our “Presidents & Pizza” event on Monday, May 9th at 7pm in Library Media Room C!

Kelly Shi is the Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

May 5, 2016