Brennan argues that we have a right to vote; a right that needs to be legally protected, but the right to vote he argues, does not entail the rightness of voting. His main argument is that we have a duty to abstain from engaging in a collectively harmful activity, when such an activity does not pose a significant personal costs to us.
It’s worth mentioning that Brennan is not arguing that we have a duty to vote well, but a duty not to vote badly. He argues that irresponsible voters that do not have adequate knowledge about majority of the policies of a candidate, have a moral duty to abstain from voting rather than voting blindly (again he is not arguing that such individuals should face legal charges, he is only arguing solely from a moral perspective)
As it was discussed in class, some found this view really elitist and voiced their concerns that such moral duty infringes on citizen’s right to vote. I however, argue that his belief, although seemingly demanding, is morally sound. I think, we would all agree that if we were to have a surgery done on our heart, we would want our surgeon to be as competent as a surgeon can possibly be. I argue that the same moral intuition should apply to the political decisions that we make. Such decisions determine policies that are going to have lasting effects on the lives of millions of people. Thus, it seems imperative to me that the political decisions that we make, through our votes, need to reflect the policies that are not harmful to the general public and the nation as whole.
Some might argue that it is often difficult to predict the consequences of many policies, thus such a duty is not morally plausible. But, note that Brennan is arguing that as long as we are voting on the basis of strong evidence, and some basic knowledge about those policies we are not doing anything morally wrong. What constitutes bad voting is “voting without sufficient evidence for harmful or unjust policies”. Furthermore, I argue that we are usually good at predicting what counts as a good policy based on some minimal research and some basic background knowledge. For instance, it’s been known for years that trickle-down economics fails to result in economic growth. Thus we have evidence that in majority of cases when such policy has been enacted it has failed. (one example is our own state where such policies have massively failed to cause economic growth) Thus, we have sufficient evidence that such policies would be harmful. If I vote for a politician upholding such economic policy, even unknowingly, I believe that I have failed as citizen, since such decision could potentially harm not just me but millions of other people. Consequently, I completely agree with the argument Brennan puts forth.
What do you guys think? If you disagree with him, can you come up with counterarguments to explain why he is wrong and such a moral obligation is unjustifiable?