Voting Should Come With a Warning Label

Bad Voting is Like Second-hand Smoking: Bad for All of Us

This is an intervention: Americans need to quit their bad voting habits. We must quit now before it’s too late.

There’s an election Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in many cities and states around the country. These include races for governor, mayor, and special elections to vote for a replacement for an official who left office early. But more importantly, there’s another election coming in less than 1 year: November 3, 2020. That’s the big one, which doesn’t leave us much time to develop healthier voting behavior.

Democracy is hard, as I’ve written about here, here, and here. Voting is quite a bit of work – when you do it right. But that’s the problem: most voters don’t do it “right.” Meaning, they don’t do their own research using objective sources to study the candidates and the issues. It’s a problem on both the political Left and Right, although studies show it’s the Right who are more consistently uninformed or misinformed. But really, we all could do better.

More fundamentally, the vast majority of us don’t even understand the basics. Only about 30% can answer the question “What is the highest law in the land?”, and only a quarter can name all three branches of government. (FYI it’s the Constitution; and Legislative, Executive, Judicial).

How are you going to properly evaluate a politician’s actions if you don’t even know that the Constitution constrains those actions?

To address this major knowledge gap, I recently wrote and published a book, Law is Not for Lawyers (It’s for Everyone): Empower Yourself with the Basics of Law and Civics. In the book, I explain the problem of the “tyranny of the majority,” which is the idea that even a bare majority (50% plus 1 vote) can impose its will against the wishes of the other 50% minus 1 vote (actually because of the Electoral College, the minority can impose its wishes on the majority, as 46% of the country did to the other 54% in 2016). Whether we are in the majority or not, our actions in the voting booth affect everyone. So, we should be cautious with this power, and treat it with the seriousness it deserves. Perhaps we need a reminder of this, which can take the form of a warning label on the voting ballot.

One of FDA’s proposed new cigarette warning labels (edited to remove graphic image of sick child) – see the unedited version at

When voters are uninformed or misinformed, it’s like they are smoking a cigarette, in that it doesn’t hurt just themselves, but all those around them. Others have made a similar analogy to voting and air pollution. But most of the actions we take to pollute the air, like driving gas-powered cars, do not carry a warning label (maybe they should!).

As cigarette cartons warn about the side effects of 1st-hand and 2nd-hand smoking, voting ballots should also carry a grave warning about the serious consequences of bad voting. We need a cigarette-type warning, one that really makes people think twice about what they are about to do. It could say something like:


A warning is not enough, of course. We all can and must improve our knowledge of political issues and how the system works (and doesn’t work). And we must share this information with others. The health and wellness of all of us is at stake.

Get the new book here: Law is Not for Lawyers (It’s for Everyone)

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