The task of voter education

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The killer virus raging throughout the country like an uncontrollable fire brings prominence to another aspect of the work the Commission on Elections does: Voter Education. As the nation groans under the burden of this prolonged extreme community quarantine, the most critical voter education question is: how are our elected officials performing, and how did I—as a voter—contribute to that performance?

Without hyperbole, our ability to weather the assault of the virus, as well as our ability to protect ourselves against future calamities, depends on the answers we give. If we have good leaders, we can expect to be well taken care of during these difficult times and, therefore, have a better chance of living through this; if we have lousy leaders, well, good luck. And since all of us must have voted for someone, or at least supported someone, in the last elections, we all have a personal stake in this matter. We either chose very well, or we missed an opportunity to elect or support the person most suited to lead us now.

It is important to emphasize the lesson that the quality of governance we are experiencing—whether good or bad—is a direct consequence of how we voted on election day. This virus is not anyone’s fault; but how well we survive it—or if we survive it at all— is something that someone can be held responsible for. And there is enough blame—or praise—to go around. And yet, even this very simple connection can be a very difficult concept to grasp.

Apart from those who are blinded by their hyper-partisanship, there are those who will cling to idea that pedigree guarantees competence— people who think that just because someone has the right surname, or is connected to the right people, they will be good leaders. Others will think that a candidate’s generosity gives them the right to occupy public office. And then there are also those who simply don’t care enough that they probably can’t even be bothered to vote.

The task of voter education now is clear: wake people up so that they realize that a family name guarantees nothing; that candidates never give money away for free, that the recipients of their generosity will inevitably have to somehow pay them back for the largesse; and that their refusal to care practically guarantees them a government that cares even less for them. And, truth be told, rarely are these lessons so easy to explain as they are now, when there are so many examples to point to: well-known politicians seeming to show a callous disregard for ordinary people; government officials apparently scrimping on relief goods; and an over-all response framework that seems, at times, tone deaf to the plight of ordinary people.

Until a cure or a vaccine is found, the coronavirus will continue to be a threat to the survival of our way of life. But we cannot simply aim to survive from day to day, like mindless animals. Despite our confinement in our homes, despite the forced isolation we must endure, we must all look forward to the day when some degree of normalcy returns. And in looking forward, we must be very conscious of our responsibility to ensure that the future is better than our present. Whether you like how we are—as a nation— responding to the coronavirus, we must all hope that future threats are met and handled better. We must insist that there be higher standards of preparedness, responsiveness, and efficacy in how government addresses large scale calamities. The best way to ensure those higher standards are set and met is to elect the best crop of leaders that we can. And to do that, we must all—while we’re stuck at home, scrolling through our social-media feeds —become voter educators ourselves.

Despite the quarantine, we must not forget that we all have a responsibility to our neighbors—both those who actually live close to us and our extended online circle of friends—to help them prepare, when the time comes, to exercise their right of suffrage even more intelligently than they already have. It is our duty to speak up and remind people that we can and should expect more from our leaders. And it is our right to be vocal about the indisputable fact that we deserve better.

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