‘I don’t care’ syndrome

“Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all — the apathy of human beings.”

— Helen Keller

For last Tuesday’s primary election in Rogers County, only one of every five registered voters bothered to go to the polls. Of the 47,562 people eligible to vote, 34,463 of them stayed home.

Was it ignorance or apathy that kept people from voting?

“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” the old joke goes.

It was apathy, even though it’s hard to believe that such a large majority of the people care so little about their government.

Most people really do care. They care a lot, some even care irrationally. But in this new information age, people are bombarded with so much misinformation and disinformation that they really don’t know what to believe. Even worse, some think they know what to believe, but they’re wrong.

How many times have you heard, “I didn’t vote because of the negative campaigning the candidates were engaged in.”? The candidates seem to take the attitude that an overload of negative aspersions through television advertising can convince the constituency to not necessarily vote for them, but against their opponent.

The Republican primary campaigns featured Bob Sullivan denigrating Ernest Istook — and vice versa, and Todd Hiett debasing Scott Pruitt — and vice versa. No one was adequately informing the voters about the issues.

The media, including this newspaper, are partially at fault. Newspapers, television and radio should take a more active role in informing the public about candidates — their qualifications as well as their shortcomings. But still, making an educated decision is the voter’s responsibility.

Both ignorance and apathy are deadly ills in our democracy, but there’s a worse scourge — selfishness — amour-proper, a sense of one’s own status or virtue. Far too often selfish voters are more interested in what a candidate can do for them, or their particular belief, than in what they can do for their town, county, state or the country.

And for what it’s worth, virtue — that feeling of being morally sound — is not the same for all people. For some, a corrupt public official is far less virtuous and patriotic, say, than some disgruntled dissenter burning a flag. If a person chooses to remain utterly ignorant about matters of public policy, then he or she has a solemn obligation to refrain from voting.

The percentage of people who fall into the “utterly ignorant” category is estimated to be about 25 percent of eligible voters. So if only 25 percent of Rogers County’s registered voters are “utterly ignorant,” that means 26,605 stayed away from the polls Tuesday out of sheer apathy.

That is shameful. Voting is not a matter of personal expression but a serious responsibility for choosing what course our town, county, state and nation will take in the years and decades to come.