Should We Vote for Candidates Who Haven’t Voted?

By , May 26, 2010

Meg Whitman wants California Republicans to vote for her on June 8 to become the next GOP nominee for governor —  even though she admits that she never voted until 2002 (at age 46, a scant 28 years after she reached voting age), and only registered as a Republican in 2007.

Is it fair to judge a candidate for political office based on their voting history? What about past government service, or community service? Should we exempt billionaire CEOs from mundane civic duties?

This is not an issue about how Whitman voted in any election, but instead it’s about her failure to cast any votes.

I’ve been a registered Democrat since 1983.  I’ve voted in nearly every statewide election (primary and general) in my communities in the 31 years since I turned 18 [in 1979].  (In 1984, a snowstorm prevented me from safely returning from an assignment in time to vote in the New Hampshire presidential primary. I’ve also missed some “off-year” local elections.)

But my personal sense of civic duty and pride isn’t “the only way.” I’m aware that many people choose not to vote, or to register with a specific political party, for a wide variety of reasons.  But it does seem strange that someone with such a weak history of “civic participation” would seek the governor’s office.

Of course, the problem here is that by definition, the voters Meg Whitman needs (in the primary election) have all taken the time to register as Republicans, and to vote — and most of them did both long before Meg Whitman did.

Does Whitman have the “civic duty and pride” that most citizens aspire to? Is she “dedicated to serving the public good,” as most people expect of elected officials?  For many Republicans, there is also the question of whether she is “really a Republican”; does she share their values and goals?

This is definitely a primary issue, not a serious general-election issue.  I don’t think I’d vote (in a primary) for a Democratic candidate with a similar voting history and such a weak record of public service, but instead I’d vote for another candidate. That’s especially true because I probably wouldn’t feel very confident about the statements made by a candidate with no voting history and no “record” to compare. But if that candidate won the Democratic nomination, I’d probably vote for them (I haven’t voted for any Republicans since I moved to California in 1985, though I have voted for some Green and independent candidates).

But I don’t think this issue is really about Whitman.

Instead, it’s a proxy for how we feel about ourselves and our communities. Do we feel that we (or our neighbors) have done “enough” to fulfill our civic duty to our communities? Should we do more? Do we want to do more? What’s stopping us?

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