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"LET US RAISE A STANDARD..." by Robert Peterson


A Proposal for Voter Education

by Robert Peterson

Pub Date: July 4th, 2014
Publisher: 4th of July Books

A thoughtful reflection on the conditions necessary for effective voting and, by extension, true democracy.

Peterson’s first book is much more ambitious than its subtitle indicates. Written as a kind of Socratic dialogue between two interlocutors, the arguments can become a bit didactic but are impressively researched and refreshingly unconventional. While his analysis revolves around the thorny issue of voter participation, he ultimately sets his sights higher, on the foundation of democratic governance itself. What distinguishes simple majoritarian rule from authentic democratic practice, he argues, is a system that encourages the reasonable and meaningful participation of its citizens. To repair an electoral system in tatters, Peterson recommends some startling measures. For example, he contends that presidential debates should largely be between parties rather than single candidates and conducted by email exchange to reduce gratuitous grandstanding and promote clear, informative responses to questions. He would also make familiarity with those debates a precondition of voting in order to create a citizenry better educated about the central issues. Included in the text is an “Abstract of a Possible Voter Education Law” spelling out how his suggestions would translate into real legislation. The discussion ranges over a diverse range of topics, from universal health care to corporate taxation. And Peterson doesn’t shy away from diving into more philosophical waters, at one point suggesting that the idea of democracy presupposes some conception of a transcendent divinity. Still, the thematic core of the work is a rehabilitation of the voting system. “As you pointed out earlier, a voter education process embodies an idea—the idea that simple existence for 18 years or more isn’t sufficient to qualify citizens for voting—that, in what you’re proposing, they also need to read the voter materials. This isn’t an arbitrary requirement, but is one that’s premised on the belief that knowledge and understanding are important.”

A philosophically challenging account of how the voting population can be transformed into a more reasonable, and less ideological, group of decision-makers.