What if We Gave an Election and No One Came?

Election Day will be here soon. Wherever you live, you’ll probably be asked a few ballot questions along with your selection of candidates for whatever job openings there are. Yours might be about your willingness to fund some project or change some tradition or underwrite some new bureaucracy.

Did you ever notice that these Election Day quizzes are always made up of yes/no questions? I’ve taught college and grad courses where essay questions are the norm, but it’s taken me a while to understand what’s been bothering me. We’re cheating our electorate by only giving multiple-choice exams – with only two choices yet. We can write in candidates, but where we’d really like to give our opinions, only yes or no are acceptable. What’s wrong with this picture?

What if, instead, this year’s ballot had essay questions? Might that not produce a more solution-focused agenda? Perhaps it could look like this:

Public Question #1: What do you plan to do, personally, in the coming year to make your hometown a nice place to live?

Public Question #2: How can we fund government so that no one individual or group feels put upon?

Public Question #3: Is our society a just one? Answer by citing three examples, pro or con, and analyze each within the context of domestic and foreign policies.

Now I know you’re thinking:

I just don’t have time for this.

I barely made it to the poll before it closed last year.

I didn’t know we were having a test or I would have studied for it.

All of the above.

What if we gave an election and no one came?

Perhaps its time for us to take responsibility: for the future of our families, our businesses, and our world. Perhaps it’s time to make participatory democracy a reality. Perhaps we need to stop making it so easy to vote and then to forget what it was that we voted for. What better way to do that than to ask citizens to go beyond merely pulling levers? What better way to truly invite the entire spectrum of feeling, of belief, and of thought that our electorate is capable of than to ask them to share it with all of us?The pedagogues among you may ask how I plan to grade these essays, to determine which ideas are worthy. The answer is simple. When you rise above the dichotomy of yes and no, you listen in a new way. You find solutions that incorporate the diversity. You give an election and everyone comes.

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