Voters’ civic duty during primary season

Written by Derek Monson

March 25, 2022

This week marks the first week of spring. That means warming temperatures, blooming flowers, budding trees and growing daylight.

In the world of politics, it also means that primary season has begun.

One feature of primary season in even-numbered years for the last several election cycles has been a series of state school board candidate debates, which Sutherland Institute co-sponsors. State school board races this year cover parts of Utah ranging from Weber County in the north to Washington County in the south. The debates offer Utahns a valuable opportunity to learn about those aspiring to represent them in state school board discussions and policy decisions.

In our democratic republic, gaining knowledge about those who are currently elected, or who aspire to be elected, to make governing decisions is a fundamental civic duty. As John Adams argued in Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law:

Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right … to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, the of the characters and conduct of their rulers … the preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks, is of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country. It is even of more consequence to the rich themselves, and to their posterity. 

Not only is learning about our elected leaders and those running to replace them a civic duty, but it can powerfully shape elections when sustained over time. As Sutherland contributing scholar Jon Ammons recently wrote:

Consider a community in which its citizens are consistently engaged and informed voters who value the principle of integrity. By repeatedly voting for candidates who embody that trait, potential future candidates will take cues from the electorate and recognize that they will not likely be elected should they not have the reputation of being a person of integrity. Thus, an increasingly informed citizenry consistently engaging in democratic processes will over time produce better elected leaders.

By learning about candidates and voting according to our knowledge over time, we not only influence the kind of person who seeks to make governing decisions, but the decisions they make as well. As Ammons concludes:

Consistent, informed voting also naturally shapes the laws and policies that govern a community, a state, or a nation, as such laws and policies are influenced by the elected officials who sponsor and draft them. By identifying the traits and political views we want to see in our elected officials and taking the time to learn about candidates for public office, we can make informed decisions and see the effects of those decisions take shape in the policies governing our communities.

In what area of policy and government could it be more important to have such an impact as a voter than in public education? What could be more impactful on the future of Utah, and America, than to influence who governs the schools that the majority of future generations will attend, and how they choose to govern them?

So take the time to find out when your state school candidates are debating in the coming weeks – the schedule can be found here – and tune in. And while you’re at it, encourage other Utahns to do the same. If you inform yourself about the candidates and vote based on the knowledge you gain – while helping family, friends and neighbors to become informed as well – you will find that you are changing who runs to lead the state public school system, who wins those elections, and what policy decisions they make once they are in office.

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