Today, Roy Cordato gave an excellent and timely talk about public choice theory, including its explanation of “rationally ignorant voters.” That is, it is in the self-interest of voters not to learn about candidates and issues, because the cost of obtaining information is higher than the benefits they get after voting. This is even true in the information age, with sites like Ballotpedia and VoteSmart reducing the cost of obtaining information.

It is perfectly rational, even, to choose not to vote at all, a choice Cordato said he made in the past – a bold admission! No need to go into public choice here, but head over to the video archive to hear audio of Cordato’s Shaftesbury speech.

Rationally ignorant voting is built into the system itself, but if we’re sticking with the system, we should consider ideas to reform it. George Leef of the Pope Center advanced in Forbes last week an idea that I believe would improve the incentives for politicians to work to inform voters about themselves instead of running race-to-the-bottom campaigns. That idea is negative voting. In short, voters would have the choice to vote against a candidate instead of for one; a candidate’s vote total would be the sum of his “positive” votes minus his negative votes. In theory, if both major-party candidates fail to impress voters, their vote counts could end up in the red. There is no guarantee whatsoever that voters would become more informed, but negative voting would at least put pressure on candidates to show us why we should give them the time of day. And how sweet it would be to see minus signs next to candidates’ vote counts on C-SPAN Wednesday morning. If a 9 percent approval rating isn’t enough to change Congress, maybe that loud message of dissent would be.