Why not less voters?
Much of the discussion about the proposed changes to the voting laws supported by many Republicans and generally opposed by Democrats raises the question and simply asserts that having more people vote is, ceteris paribus, a good thing. Why should we believe this? Why shouldn’t we believe otherwise? That the republic would be better served by having fewer voters – but better? Many Americans, being staunch egalitarians, shrink from the very idea of better voters as a matter of rhetoric, even as they accept qualifications as a matter of fact. The outright deprivation of criminals has always been, in my opinion, the smart default position, with re-emancipation on a case-by-case basis. It is likely that in such a practice some people who should be considered rehabilitated would be unfairly excluded. But all of the eligibility requirements risk excluding someone who could make a good voter, or a better voter than someone who is eligible. There are a lot of very smart and responsible 16 year olds who would make better voters than their dark and irresponsible older siblings or parents. This doesn’t mean we should have voters aged 16 – I would be more inclined to raise the voting age to 30 – it only means that categorical decision-making by its nature ignores some individual differences. . Likewise, asking for government-issued photo ID at the polls obviously seems like the right thing to do, even if that would result in some otherwise eligible voters being refused to vote. I’m not convinced that having more voters is a good thing anyway, but, even if I was, it wouldn’t be the only good, but a single good in competition with other goods, including one is to ensure that the eligibility rules written into the books are enforced so that the elections are regulated in an honest and credible manner. We could rigorously and easily verify eligibility to vote, if we wanted, just as we have the ability to verify who is eligible to enter the country or to drive a car. Of course, that would place a burden on voters. So what? We expect people, including the poor and those in difficulty, to pay their taxes – why shouldn’t we also expect them to keep their driver’s licenses up to date? If voting is truly the sacred duty we are always told, shouldn’t we treat it at least as seriously as filing a 1040EZ? There would be more voters if we made it easier to vote, and there would be more doctors if we didn’t need a license to practice medicine. The fact that we believe unqualified doctors are a public threat but act like unqualified voters are just stars in the splendid constellation of democracy indicates how little real esteem we actually have for the vote. , despite our public concerns. There are compromises in voting, as there are in all things. Democrats prefer to downplay the focus on voter fraud and eligibility enforcement, but even a little fraud or improper voting is something that should be discouraged and, if possible, prevented. This is – spare me your bloody stories – something that should be pursued in most cases. It is a fact that many of the things that would be useful in discouraging and preventing electoral fraud would also tend to make voting a little more difficult for at least part of the population. Republicans generally think the compromise is worth it, and Democrats generally don’t. Is there reasoned reasoning at work? Of course. But the mere presence of personal political interest does not tell us whether a policy is good or bad. One argument to encourage greater turnout is that if more eligible voters go to the polls, the outcome will more closely reflect what the average American voter wants. It seems to be a wonderful thing. . . if you haven’t met the average American voter. Voters – individually and in majority – are as likely to be wrong as they are right about them, often vote for modest motives such as bigotry and resentment, and are very often ignorant. This is one of the reasons why the original constitutional architecture of this country gave voters a narrowly limited voice in most things and took away some things entirely – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc. – the voters’ table. It is easy to think of critical moments in American history when giving their way to the majority would have produced horrific results. If we had had a fair and open national plebiscite on slavery on December 6, 1865, slavery would have won in a landslide. If we held a plebiscite today on the abolition of the death penalty, the death penalty would be maintained. If the issue is the quality of policy outcomes, then both major camps have reason to fear true majority rule. Conservatives should at least be aware that if politics truly represented the preferences of the average American, then we would have less economic freedoms and diminished Second Amendment rights; progressives should consider that if the policy truly represented the preferences of the average American, then abortion rights would be limited and tax hikes would not steal, while we would spend more money on border patrol and less for welfare, as work demands would reduce roles. . Popular opinion does not break down along clear ideological lines. The real – usually unstated – case of encouraging more people to vote is metaphysical: This higher voter turnout makes government more legitimate in a vague moral sense. But legitimacy is not popularity and popularity is not consent. The whole notion of representative government assumes that the real job of governing requires fewer decision-makers than more. Representatives are people who act in the interests of others, which is distinct from the implementation of a group’s stated claims certified by a majority vote. Legitimacy involves, among other interests, the government’s accountability to people who are not voters, such as children, mentally incompetent people, incarcerated criminals, and non-citizen permanent residents. Their interests matter too, but we don’t give them the right to vote. So we need a more sophisticated conception of legitimacy than one-man, one-vote majority rule. To vote is only to register your individual and personal preference, but democratic citizenship imposes broader duties and obligations. When we fail to take on this broader responsibility, it results in dysfunction: it is no accident that we are putting our children in debt, who cannot vote, in order to pay for the benefits dear to the most active and poor voters. more reliable. This is what you get by having a lot of votes but relatively little responsible citizenship. Voting is, among other things, an analgesic. It calms people down with the illusion that they have more control over their life and public affairs than they actually have. Beyond purely political interest, it is probably the sedative effect of voting that makes the development of participation attractive to a certain type of politician. The sedative effect is the reason why the Philadelphia City Council was not drowned in the Schuylkill River and why the powers that be in California were not exiled to North Waziristan. When people vote, they feel they have a say and they are, for some inexplicable reason, satisfied with it. We don’t accept this in other areas of life: if Amazon fails to deliver your package, you expect Amazon to actually do something about it – either get you what you ordered, or reimburse you. You wouldn’t be happy to just yell at a customer service rep and have your say in that way – you expect your deliverables to be delivered. It is good to have your say, but it is not enough. This is true almost everywhere, but not in politics. Hence the unspoken slogan of the campaign of all incumbents: “You had your say, now shut it down.” Progressives and populists like to blame lobbyists, special interests, ‘the swamp’, insiders, ‘establishment’, special interests, corporate darkness and various boogeymen for our current straits, but the point is that voters put us in this mess. Maybe the answer isn’t more voters.