How Learning to Vote Ethically Could Save America

In the U.S., you have considerable discretion regarding what you may legally say or write about a candidate. So, you could call your behavior perfectly legal, but if you lie, distort, or mislead, most ethical systems would call your behavior immoral. Self-destructive, sociopathic, ignorant, and hateful voting is legal. Legality should not be confused with morality. No legal requirement for ethical voting exists. Perhaps there is no greater disparity than that between the minimum legal requirements and reasonable ethical expectations for voting.

New technologies, new understandings achieved by every field of science, the creation of transportation systems, and dramatic increases in human population have all contributed to a complex contemporary world. This complexity rules out most simple political answers and inflexible ideological solutions. Morality is not necessarily easy; however, the quality of our society, the quality of our lives, and sometimes our lives themselves depend upon the integrity of our relationships with groups and our institutions.

An ethical voter will quickly identify misleading claims, false promises, and illogical statements.
John Wilson, IVN Contributor

Using ethical methods and knowledge will not provide a set answer to a political question or determine for whom you should vote. In fact, divergent answers are likely, depending on the primary values selected, the methodologies each person uses, and the success one has in comprehending all the information available. In political discussions, ethical voters achieve civil, well-informed, and honest deliberations based on fact and formulate ideas that are well-articulated, logical, and sometimes thought-provoking. Adversarial discussions could even evolve into creative sessions of mutual discovery.

Methods used for ethical voting

Determine the most important values and principles that the government (national, state, or local) should strive to uphold. For example, should it build upon, enhance its infrastructure, and establish a fair and just society? Philosophers who consider the consequences of actions such as voting are called “consequentialist.”

Knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for ethical voting

The seven items listed below make up a proposed working list of knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to be an accomplished and compelling ethical voter.

  1. Know how to determine and then state the most important values and goals governments should strive to accomplish. Then, select and be able to apply an ethics methodology. The author recommends methods based on the consequences of an act such as voting.
  2. Understand the role and function of the government and office(s) for which you are voting. Understand in detail the capabilities and limitations of the government or branch of government. When voting for presidents, governors, and other executives, one needs to understand the requirements of the office and the knowledge, skills, abilities, and personality features required by the person to be successful in that position. Personal experience of a candidate could be one measure of this. The job responsibilities of elected presidents, governors, and mayors are analogous to the role of a CEO in a corporation. For example, the President manages the U.S. government; he or she does not run the country, a common mistake made by people unfamiliar with the role of government.
  3. Understand logical reasoning and be able to recognize classic and nominal logical fallacies. A common political campaign mistake is the straw man fallacy or the misrepresentation of a person with a false statement and description.
  4. Know oneself well enough to be able to conduct an honest introspection of one’s research methods, ways of thinking, unwarranted fears, and firmly held beliefs. Does a person have an objective perspective from a broad knowledge base that allows him to identify incorrect information, especially subtle deception? Determine if one can objectively identify personal biases, rise above anger, care about other people, and perceive others by their character. Can one understand people with differences and move beyond thinking of leaders in terms of their, sex, race, religion, ethnicity, or other characteristics that are not pertinent to leadership? Can one keep an open mind about the fact that “one does not know what one doesn’t know” and be willing to reach out to people and information sources that might help one discover one’s unknowns?
  5. Understand the system’s economic, political, and social mechanisms that make civilization work. Understand economics apart from ideology. There is no one ideology effective all the time or in every situation
  6. Know the psychology of leadership. One should be able to identify good leaders by their ability to inspire others, to surround themselves with capable people, and to treat others in a fair and respectful manner. One should be able to identify bullies, sociopaths, psychopaths, and other people who will not make good leaders, which is important but not always as easy as it seems.
  7. Know society well enough to spot broad-based biases, social norms that can cause people to believe collectively in myths and erroneous ideas. Understand the use of statistics and probability well enough to compare political and economic proposals and objectively weigh their benefits and evaluate campaign promises. Be able and willing to do the research and assess the sources of campaign plans.

Whereas the law makes almost no demands on the content of the voter’s ballot, morality is not so forgiving and demands much. This outline of the study requirements for ethical voting shows how demanding ethical voting can be. The knowledge and abilities of citizens provide the fabric of the functioning society. Nations also depend upon mutual trust among their people and its institutions.

Selecting the most important value statement

Each voter must determine what is important for the government to accomplish. The best value statements are ones upon which most people generally can agree. These can come from an existing document. An example of a primary value statement is the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution. Another value statements example is, “to protect and improve the shared and common interests of all the people.”

Playing with fire, rationalizing, and false realities

Because of advances in the type and reach of all media communications, political leaders and candidates for public office have unprecedented opportunities to educate the people. The present is a teachable moment for helping the people understand their government, overcoming unwarranted fears, correcting wrong ideas, understanding the value of the shared assets of the nation and world, dampening the rage of hate, and exemplifying the best of humanity. Unfortunately, some politicians and political propagandists have decided that the end justifies the means, which is also a way to justify dishonesty and misinformation to achieve political gain from ignorance. A cheap shortcut sometimes wins an election or builds a base of support while bypassing the more time-consuming process of educating people to the complex realities of modern society.

Political propagandists have spent considerable effort and wealth on associating some words and political concepts with negativity. For example, the word “liberal,” as used in much of the U.S., is now defined differently by the public than by the dictionary. Code words make it easy to speak very efficiently and briefly in generalities, appeal to fear, blame outsiders, tear down hard-won public institutions, and find powerless scapegoats to build short-term political gains. One significant drawback of disinformation methods is that they discourage people from becoming critical thinkers. If there is only an imaginary reality based on the short-term calculations of an interest group, then its supporting voters have only imaginary realities. The risk of deceiving a large group of people is that eventually, one will run out of imaginary worlds, and the deluded people may adopt a different imaginary world espoused by some other individual or group. There is no credible reality to bring them back to, since they no longer recognize a right and factual reality. Political power built on distortion, deception, and deceit undermines civic competency by lowering the electorate’s aptitude and considerably damaging the fabric of society.

In political discussions, ethical voters achieve civil, well-informed, and honest deliberations based on fact and formulate ideas that are well-articulated, logical, and sometimes thought-provoking.
John Wilson, IVN Contributor

Overconfidence and risk factors

The acquisition of knowledge is a constant work-in-progress. No one knows what he does not know, and the worst response is to deny that his ignorance is not a problem for everyone else. Living in a fantasy world lacks the foundation of truth upon which to build a framework of reality for one to climb out of the pit of ignorance. Some risk factors for overconfidence are evident in a person who is threatened by different ideas, has emotional insecurities, and is under extreme stress.


Society may benefit from ethical voting, regardless of the values and methodology a person selects, as ethical voting requires one to understand how governments function and master logical thinking, research methodology, and the social sciences, among other skills and knowledge areas. An ethical voter will quickly identify misleading claims, false promises, and illogical statements. Introspection will reduce one’s vulnerabilities to appeals to hate and irrational emotion. If enough people are functioning on this level, society will have capable leaders. In addition to the potential for electing better public officials through ethical voting, the skills achieved through ethical voting study are life-enhancing, associated with useful communication, management, leadership, and success in many professions and other work.

Photo Credit: Maisei Raman /