Saturday, November 23, 2019

Julia Maskivker's "The Duty to Vote"

Julia Maskivker is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Her research focuses on ethical and political philosophy, in particular, on theories of justice and equality. Much of her research concerns the political theory of the welfare state and issues of distributive justice. Other more recent work focuses on democracy and citizen participation, including the ethics of voting and civic obligation.

Maskivker applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Duty to Vote, and reported the following:
The page 99 test does not work for my book. It is in the middle of the most "technical" chapter that deals with an objection that is not central to my argument and not illustrative of the book's claims in general. Anyone using the page 99 test would get the wrong idea about the book.

The classical approach to voting in the literature is that it is irrational to do it. Anthony Downs, in his groundbreaking book, An Economic Theory of Democracy, famously argued that individuals, if rational, will not bother to vote because one single vote will get lost in a proverbial ocean of votes and will have no impact on the election. But this understanding of human rationality is shortsighted.

We can see voting as a collectively rational act. When many people vote with a modicum of information, we can expect that elections will result in the establishment of fair minded governments—or the ousting of inept and immoral ones. Why not think that we have a duty to help our fellow citizens, and society, by contributing to justice in this way? If voting will not get in the way of important personal goals and plans of life we may have-- we do not need to be a Homos Politicus as Aristotle would have wanted us to-- why not view it as a duty of “common pursuit”—that is, a duty that requires that we act in concert with others in order to be effective?

In the book, I argue that we can see voting as a contribution to a larger collective endeavor, and an act of justice in the light of a Samaritan duty of aid towards society. We have a duty of conscience to vote with care, i.e., with information and a sense of the common good, in order to help our fellow-citizens prevent injustice and ensure decently good governance. The latter can be achieved, partly but importantly, if voters manage to elect acceptably fair-minded governments and vote out corrupt or inept ones. On this view, the benefit that comes about for everybody that cooperates out weights the personal cost of doing our share of the cooperation. There is nothing irrational in partaking of a collective activity from which many others, including ourselves, may benefit. Free-riding, on this logic, is not attractive because we commit to the goodness of the result we seek to further with others. Individuals do this all the time in other realms of social life such as when they give to charity or when they take pains to minimize their carbon footprint. Why should voting be any different?
Visit Julia Maskivker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue