Traditional voter education teaches us that voters have rights. As a part of the electorate, citizens have the right to free and fair elections; to have the secrecy of their ballots protected, and, for voters running for office, to have free and equal access to government resources. All of that is true, of course, and very important for our democratic way of life to keep on thriving. But one thing—among many, to be honest—traditional voter education doesn’t emphasize nearly enough is the right of voters to hold their elected representatives accountable, once they’ve been installed in power.
According to most voter-education lectures, accountability comes from two main mechanisms: the recall election and the opportunity to vote lemons out of office when they run for reelection. But these solutions are too easy to subvert, too lame and, ultimately, available too late to do much good. For the woke voter, accountability means so much more.
From the point of view of voter education, “holding elected officials accountable” should not be limited to the threat of removal from office—as potent as that threat may be. Rather, the definition should be given a more active voice; a more practical component that will help ensure faithful performance, instead of just penalizing bad governance.
Voters should be taught, therefore, that one of the best ways to hold elected officials accountable is to get them to openly explain their positions on proposed legislation and policies; not just whether they are for or against it, but also their reasons for coming to the conclusion they did. It is in those explanations that a woke voter will find both the reasons to support the proposals or to oppose them.
Do not buy into the fiction that being elected into office means that a person automatically knows more than you do. Just as princes still “ehem” pass gas, so, too, do elected officials still make mistakes. They can still be swayed by the wrong arguments or fall prey to the temptation to use their power for their own benefit. Or, sometimes, they might just simply not get it.
So it is very important to ask them questions, like why and how; and don’t forget those what-if questions—what if your proposal doesn’t work? What if things don’t go according to plan? What if your assumptions are wrong? If they refuse to answer, or if they beat around the bush too much, call them out on it, as well. Push for debates—and participate—on the proposed measures; if you can’t do it yourself, support others who can.
In this way, you can make sure that the people representing you—even though they aren’t the people you voted for—aren’t just blindly toeing the party-line or, worse, using their elected office to promote their own personal agendas, biases and religious beliefs. In this way, you make sure that elected office is a temporary grant of authority by the true sovereign power—you!— and not an abdication; a duty, not a right; a trust, not permission to be subjugated.
James Arthur B. Jimenez is director of the Commission on Elections’s Education and Information Department.