Devin Scillian: Democracy comes with homework

Michigan residents voting in Aug. 2022 primary.

If you haven’t already voted, your turn to do so comes around in just a few days. I’m wondering if you’re ready.

Oh, I imagine you know where your polling place is.  And chances are you’ve made up your mind about a key race or two.  But a few findings from our most recent poll jumped out at me this week.  Our final poll of the 2022 midterms showed us that 58% of those polled have never heard of Matt DePerno, the Republican candidate for Attorney General.  Well, okay.  He’s a relative unknown who hasn’t had a lot of money to spend to get his name out to a wider audience.  But then I find that 38% of those polled have never heard of the incumbent, Dana Nessel.  (She’s the top law enforcer in the state.)  And 35% of the voters don’t know who Jocelyn Benson is.  (For the record, she’s the current Secretary of State and her name is plastered all over the statewide offices where we all go to renew vehicle plates and driver’s licenses.)  How can it be that a third of those polled have never heard of them?

A friend of mine from the pundit trade always chides me for urging people to get out and vote.  This particular pundit believes that we really aren’t well served by just anyone grabbing a ballot and filling in the circles.  He’d rather I tone down my exhortations and assume that the wiser, better prepared voters already understand when the election is, by when they should be registered, and how best to cast their informed votes.

I hate that. But then again, I struggle to understand those polling numbers.

I realize I am an outlier; I’m a full-blown hopelessly addicted news junkie.  My inability to disconnect while on vacation disappoints me, but I also understand the need to feel informed and current is apparently deep in my DNA.  I’m not suggesting or urging anyone to follow my news diet.  (It’s awfully high in information calories.)  But what I do suggest is to heed the words of Robert Kennedy who said, “Elections remind us not only of the rights but the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy.”  I might suggest those responsibilities go beyond paying taxes, reciting the pledge of allegiance, and watching the Super Bowl.

I have often said that information is the most precious resource in the world.  You can have all the petroleum, gold, silver, platinum, and copper if I can have all of the information.  I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the world and it’s hard to miss the fact that democracies thrive where the citizenry has access to lots of information; life is pretty bleak in the places where it doesn’t.  And in our current information crisis in which people are too often duped by misinformation and outright lies, it’s all the more vital that we fortify our votes with knowledge.  

Yes, you are certainly free to base your entire decision on the R or the D next to a candidate’s name, but that seems lazy to me.  It’s also wasteful.  Your vote is a Ferrari and it deserves a driver who understands its power.

I can’t promise it won’t take a little work.  I’m not the first to note that democracy is hard.  And if you’re among those who have come to distrust most of the traditional news sources in the American press, I would simply point you to the many non-partisan yet reliable depositories of information to help you formulate your vote.  (I can heartily recommend from the League of Women Voters.) 

I would also strongly suggest that voters on every square inch of the political spectrum make the effort to expand their information diet beyond the sources that merely reinforce their predispositions – but that argument is best left to another time.  At this moment with the election so squarely on the horizon, I’ll merely urge you to get acquainted with the matters you’ll decide on your ballot.

I won’t go as far as the aforementioned pundit in urging the uninformed to stay home.  But I’ll note that the powerful vote you hold as an American deserves to be fully charged before you place it into service.

About the Author:

Devin Scillian is equally at home on your television, on your bookshelf, and on your stereo. Devin anchors the evening newscasts for Local 4. Additionally, he moderates Flashpoint, Local 4's Sunday morning news program. He is also a best-selling author of children's books, and an award-winning musician and songwriter.