Category Archives: Elections

Voter “Suppression” Revisited

[This is in supplementation of my previous post regarding this issue.]

One primary motivating factor behind expanding the electorate — or the ease of exercising the franchise — is the apprehension that “Democracy” is somehow the highest form of government. This type of conception seems unfortunately too much akin to the usual superficial analysis by present society of most questions and subjects.

As we know, classical political theory, first discussed by Aristotle, conceived of three (3) types of government forms — government by the one, by the few and by the many — none of which were considered intrinsically superior to the other; rather they were respectively considered better than the others for a particular community depending upon the type and development thereof.

These classical types were denominated as: Monarchy (or Kingship); Aristocracy; and Democracy. It was conceived however that the proper functioning of these forms could deteriorate and become corrupt. The corrupt forms thereof, respectively were denominated as: Tyranny; Oligarchy; and Ochlocracy (or Mob Rule). Polybius later conceived of these forms as a cycle, with one leading to the other, viz, Kingship -> Tyranny -> Aristocracy -> Oligarchy -> Democracy -> Mob Rule -> Kingship, and ad infinitum.

We no longer of course talk in these terms. We talk in the terms of Bad Government, on one side, and Democracy, on the other. This is unfortunate, for two reasons.

First, a lack of precision yields superficial, and therefore inaccurate, analysis. Vague definitions result in vague thinking. Yet present practice is to subsume too much under the rubric of “Democracy”. It hence has little meaning and less utility as a tool to measure competing policies. If we then want to avoid muddled thinking, we must avoid this muddled definition of Democracy and instead revert to a narrower and delimited sense that is more in keeping with its original meaning. This will yield benefits not only in this specific context but, by training a more rigorous habit of mind and thinking, by replication of this type of analysis in related contexts.

But even more importantly, by failing to recognize the boundaries of legitimate democracy, we stray into a rampant wilderness that our forbears rejected. Studied observation over millennia resulted in a normative conclusion that Democracy is capable of degeneration into a mutated monstrosity. Vigilance in scrutiny, to enable discovery of any aberration from its accepted limits, was as important here as it was for detection of corruption in any of the other forms of government.

Such a perspective then would sanction any form that would partake of the characteristics of or otherwise resemble classical direct democracy. Critical elements of this of course would be presentation of arguments and evidence directly to the citizens of the community and personal approval or rejection by them of the proposed legislation or policy; similar systems are known by us in the original New England Town Meetings setting. Mechanics that would tend to stray beyond such norms would be suspected of likely tending toward or at least laying a foundation for what they characterized as Mob Rule.

Presently though we do not seem to be concerned about such propensities. We seem to think that expansion of what we deem Democracy by ever greater indirect participation tends toward a favorable outcome. [However, this, among other things, confuses the franchise  — and its exercise in elections  — with Democracy; it is not the sine qua non of Democracy much less the definition of it but just a device for the selection of magistrates for a variety of forms of government, since both Kings and Aristocrats occasionally were chosen by election (in one form or another)].

Further, if we are prepared to accede in the “wisdom of the ages”, then we have to be concerned about and seek to avoid departures that might tend toward what could be characterized as extreme democracy. For if we accept these premises of classical theory, then it would seem only those elements that have historical frequency predominance would be deemed appropriate components of Democracy — since they would have developed during the Early and Middle stages of each community and therefore not in the fringe stage most contiguous to Mob Rule; all communities that had the experience of Democracy would have passed through an Early and Middle Stage but not necessarily a Late Stage, and thus measurement of frequency would yield identification of elements more common to the former — and therefore before deterioration and corruption.

I would tender that devices which make it too easy for too many people to indiscriminately elect various partisans are subject to such a characterization. As such, then, they likely would be viewed by the ancients as indicia of entry into the Mob Rule phase and, hence, would be rejected. I then would suggest that we should very critically view:

  • early voting,
  • extended voting periods, and
  • expanded absentee voting,

presuming they are generally dangerous and destructive of the interest of the society. Such a conclusion would proceed from the recognition of these devices as novel, and therefore not inherent in core Democracy. (Again, we must remember that the weight of authority and wisdom rejected erection of any hierarchy of particular governmental forms, which would treat one as usually superior to another, but deemed each as possibly more appropriate for a particular time, conditions and circumstances. Thus, unless experience demonstrated that certain devices or modes were commonly practiced, they would be considered a corruption, being arbitrary and subjective.)

Unfortunately, our present age seems to be afflicted with unparalleled arrogance. Rather than accepting the societal application of the Second Law of Thermodynamics principle, it views change as “progress”, i.e. transformation that is good and positive, rather than of what it most often partakes, viz, deterioration into corruption. Thus study of the old is repudiated and “new ideas” are what are honored; somehow an absence of the “burden” of history is beneficial, enabling the constant pursuit and introduction of new forms.

This rejection of historical restrictions on election procedures in favor of adoption of untried and untrue procedures is but one example. But it is the example, in the writer’s repudiation of the demagogic “voter suppression” diatribe and characterization, that is castigated here.

WAYNE A. SMITH
Forester Twp, Michigan USA
26 Oct 2014

Voter “Suppression”

Procedures to purportedly enlarge or restrict access to the ballot, as well as also enlarge or obstruct convenience in voting, are of course a matter of current controversy. Much can be said supporting, and significant educated thought does support, procedures that are restrictive; yet, on reflection, it would even appear that such mechanics ought to be viewed and accepted as reasonable by most observers almost without cavil.

Historically, of course, the franchise was limited to persons who were deemed to have a sufficient “stake in the society”. During Colonial times in the American colonies, and extending to the early years of the Republic, this consisted of a requirement of, and was measured by, the ownership of a certain minimum amount of land; unless one met this minimum property qualification, the franchise was not extended to them. The majority of the populace — at least voting populace — as well as Founding Fathers deemed this kind of a requirement to be a reasonable method to assure a virtuous government and citizenry.

Opinion has of course turned. Such a perspective seems “no longer in style”. Much of this is due of course to the abuse that occurred when the States of the former Confederacy instituted certain procedures in connection with and built certain roadblocks to the exercise of the franchise for ulterior and illegitimate reasons; therefore, caution has to be exercised in approving adoption of any such procedures and roadblocks as they likely might be tainted by malignancy. But this alone does not mean the objective of a virtuous government and citizenry is thereby also tainted.

For everyone should be able to agree that all to whom the franchise is extended should be capable of being educated as to the issues to be decided. Further, it seems likely to be without dispute by virtually all that a voter, to properly exercise the franchise, ought to be first informed about the competing considerations and qualifications upon the issues or candidates being submitted to a vote. Unless they are sufficiently informed, how can a vote be made intelligently and with a salutary result? But how would one measure whether a person who is casting a vote is qualified and the vote itself is well-considered? Many mechanics have been used, frequently with discriminatory and unjustifiable effects, if not intent. So these generally should be considered beyond the pale.

However, in what seems a swing of the pendulum to the opposite extreme, there now are new artificial devices being suggested to be employed, and these for the purpose instead of expanding or promoting greater access. But do not these seem just as objectionable? It would seem the following ought to clarify, address and constitute a rejoinder to these concerns.

Ideally, both the capacity and the degree of investigation should be of a sufficiently-high level. The rub of course is the problem of quantifying both (or perhaps either) capacity and issue/qualification education.

Optimal capacity to assess and knowledge of the issues is of course but theoretical, as all have intellectual limitations and comprehensive knowledge is but a phantasm; therefore we can dispense with any serious attempt to utilize either measure. The objective to secure then is the best possible approximation of optimal capacity and knowledge while also avoiding the abuse that (even if not intrinsic) frequently becomes attached.

It would appear that this objective can be legitimately attained not by erecting it as a filter but rather allowing it to develop naturally, in the ordinary course of events, simply as a normal and unobjectionable byproduct. This proceeds from the normal relationship between the relevant factors.

It should be conceded that one of the axioms in society is the direct relationship between an interest in exercising the franchise and the willingness to educate oneself on the issues. Thus, if one is not motivated to or has a low interest in voting, it is equally likely they will have expended an equally low level of effort to educate themselves as to the competing factors on the issues. Cannot all agree that electors should vote wisely and on a rational basis? Thus, it would seem most should agree that procedures ought not to be adopted that circumvent and fail to take into account the degree of interest. Making it easier to vote then circumvents the effect of the level of interest in voting. Therefore, most should agree that procedures to make it easier to vote are imprudent as they enhance the proportion of uneducated voters likely to vote.

Now, from a different facet and interjecting an additional contrary rationale, efforts to abnormally elevate interest in or willingness to exercise a franchise should be deemed inconsistent with the purported objective and therefore objectionable. If a person has a lower than average interest or willingness, then, if a motivator or facilitator is able to overcome their resistance, it should be presumed the rationale employed reflects the policy preferences of the motivator/facilitator; for if the elector was uninclined to exercise the franchise, the overcoming of the resistance had to be the result of some argument of the motivator/facilitator and any argument by such a person must necessarily be the product of and reflect those preferences. However the argument in favor of enlarging participation is that it will avoid the interests of an otherwise unrepresented segment from being so unrepresented and will enable the interests of more of society to be represented; but if the above analysis is sound, then the policy preferences of the motivator/facilitator will be unduly represented by having his or her choice magnified. Would this not then be inconsistent with and rather a repudiation of “equal protection” of those with a contrary viewpoint and result in the dilution of their choice and selection?

The mantra in opposition to measures that might discourage exercise of a franchise constantly echoes that these constitute voter suppression. But haven’t we always had “voter suppression” since we have requirements of, among others, citizenship, age and residence duration. Do these not restrict and in a sense suppress? And aren’t these type of requirements beneficial since they are designed to be inclusive of those persons who are more familiar with the relevant factors bearing upon the respective choice, and thus better likely to make an educated and rational selection? For, as an example, allowing those persons who only have a new and temporary relationship to a community the right of the franchise are clearly more likely to result in superficial, uneducated choices, ones more imbued with and the product of irrational, emotional influences.

True, various persons not infrequently have malicious motives in the procedures and mechanics they propose. And rational dispute can exist as to which is most propitious of various targets. But one objective seems unassailable, and this, not so much as an educated electorate — the standards for and attainment of which might be problematic — but an educated vote. For attainment of this objective, any policy that has as its goal the elimination of reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the franchise ought to be subject to the most rigorous and critical review and critique.

 

WAYNE A. SMITH
Forester Twp, Michigan USA
6 Aug 2014