Category Archives: Voting Rights

What Do We Mean By Victory?

This weekend marks the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and of Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s most famous speech.

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Since fifty and one hundred and similar numbers get people excited, the media are buzzing about with article after article on the commemorations. I’m left wondering what constitutes victory in civil rights. One young man interviewed about his plans to attend this weekend’s remembrance said that he’s inspired to continue the struggle. Indeed. The struggle for what and against what?

Yes, I know, the latest thing is the debate over voter ID laws. Generally speaking, I see no need for these laws, since vote fraud is a rare occurrence, but the requirement to have ID is a common aspect of our lives today. All of us have the burden of getting the right documents to open a bank account, fly on an airplane, buy a gun, drive a car, check out a library book, and so forth. That burden is heavier on the poor and elderly, but those are not racial groups.

Another subject of protest is Stand Your Ground laws. But even there, the laws only say that if I have the right to be in a particular place, I’m not obliged to attempt to run away before defending myself against a lethal threat.

I do understand that some see these two types of laws as disproportionately affecting minorities. I don’t doubt that voter ID laws are in part aimed at electing more Republicans than Democrats. But coloring these laws as racist is precisely the kind of reflexive response that one can expect from Al Sharpton and others like him.

But let’s imagine that everything is indeed about race. Let’s imagine that we have made no progress over the last fifty years. That takes a strain to do, but try. Very well, what would victory in the struggle be?

What I see here is something like our present War on Terror. In both cases, we are offered perpetual conflict aimed at fighting ill-defined enemies with the hopes of reaching vague goals. In both, we are discouraged from feeling that the job is done. We must fight on because only in a state of constant fighting can we be made to fall in line with the official version of events. The same is seen in Orwell’s 1984.

By contrast, as an eleutherian, I want to see clearly defined goals that are worth seeking and can be achieved. In the case of civil rights, victory is when the government treats every person the same under the law, when business services are available to everyone who can afford them, and so forth. We are just about there, but for the mopping up operations.

Yes, you read that correctly. Do we still have problems? Yes. But those problems are economic and are being masked by continued fighting about race. In the book, Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society, John A Andrew shows at length how the War on Poverty (yet another vague war, alas) was derailed by turning into a program perceived as benefiting only minorities. That continues now. The social problems that we face today are ones of poverty, not racism, and shouting about race only serves to divide the poor from the poor, keeping the powerful on top. Poverty is easily defined. Helping people out of poverty is hard, but the process is clearly defined: education, assistance to small businesses, etc. It is a fact of life that money buys a person a whole lot of respect.

We can stay stuck in the past, or we can move forward. We can act like an alcoholic who looks for solace at the bottom of a bottle of whiskey, or we can take steps to make our society better. Clinging to resentment and demanding that everyone pet your resentments doesn’t solve anything. Whether we’ve won or lost, let’s count the struggle as over and get on with the process of building what comes afterward.

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Stand Up!

Once again, we’ve had an election, and the results of various races remained in doubt for weeks. There were also squabbles in several states over the question of voter ID laws.

After watching a year and a half of campaigning, I’m tired of stupidity. I’m tired of lazy eligible voters who can’t decide for whom to vote and can’t get the required documents. I’m tired of technological solutions that create more problems than they solve. Here are my answers:

1. Election Day will be a national holiday. Polls will be open the full twenty-four hours of that day. Only essential services such as hospitals and power generation stations may operate.

2. Anyone who wishes to vote will be allowed to do so anywhere the person chooses. If I care enough to vote for mayor of Seaford, Delaware, so be it. Upon voting, the voter’s thumb will be marked with dye as was done in Afghanistan.

3. In the polling place, there will be a wall with slots to represent each candidate in every race in that district. The slot open on a tube that leads to a container of standard weight. The voter will be given enough ten gram metal disks to cast a vote in each race. Voters will be made to change into plain robes without pockets and asked to pass through a metal detector. The slots will be covered and will open one at a time, closed when the voter chooses. Each container will be weighed at the end of Election Day, and the weight will be divided by ten, giving the number of votes.

This is my Luddite, contrary, take-responsibility-for-your-own-society solution to voting. We’ll have to count the chad and check the Diebold programming when the ballot initiative for the change shows up in the next election.

Licensing Rights

There is a shocking right that goes largely unregulated in this country. This right has been growing in America, as it has in some other countries around the world. Exercising this right requires only minimal documentation of your place of residence. Hardly anyone ever goes through a background check in the process, and few have to prove that they are who they say they are.

The exercise of this right has huge consequences. Over the course of the last decade, thousands have died as a result. Some estimates put that number in the hundreds of thousands. But there is no training requirement for exercising this right. In fact, interest groups raise a hue and cry whenever any limitations are proposed on this right.

What am I talking about? This sounds like the right to own or carry a firearm, doesn’t it. Except that it isn’t. The right that I have in mind is the right to vote.

So how does voting kill people? Consider the 2000 presidential election. Five hundred or so voters in Florida, five hundred mostly unregulated, untrained, and minimally documented voters made the difference. Several thousand voters proved themselves incapable of voting for the candidate that they meant to choose. Then there’s the government’s screwups.

Think of how the last decade would have been different had Gore won the election. Two Supreme Court justices would be different. We likely wouldn’t have gone into Iraq–thus thousands to many thousands of lives wouldn’t have been lost. While 9/11 probably would have happened, our response to it would have been something else.

Given the consequences of voting, it’s astonishing that we require little proof of identity. We require no training and no proof of competency. You don’t even have to be able to read to vote. We fail to hold voters responsible for their choices.

And I wouldn’t make any changes to our system.

Think about that for a moment. We get the government that we deserve, and that’s just as it should be. When we go to the voting booth, we should go with a lot of preparation, but our choices have consequences for good and for ill, and no amount of regulation or control will make things better.

But since I mentioned firearms, observe that they have a lot of similarities to voting. Yes, their actions have more immediate consequences, but in the long term, the two look a lot alike. There is a strong feeling on the part of some in this country that we can eliminate consequences by removing choice. The odd thing is that these people aren’t consistent in their demands for safety. They tolerate, if not love, willy-nilly voting, but other things terrify them.

We Americans are a stronger and more adventurous lot, or we’re supposed to be. It’s time for us to live up to that.