Magic Bullets

Generally speaking, I’m skeptical of  folks who sell easy fixes to complex problems. For example, there are some who argue that if we just repealed the 17th Amendment (direct election of Senators) then we’d restore the checks and balances necessary to get a smaller government outcome. I’m skeptical of that claim, and tend to be of any solution that just seems too easy.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t look for magic bullets myself. One conclusion I’ve come to is that we honestly make it way too easy for people to vote. That sounds kind of crazy on the surface, because we revere the act of voting in our country. I wouldn’t argue for a return to the days when only wealthy landowners voted, or we denied the franchise to people based on gender or race. But I would argue that people who want better and smaller government should generally resist efforts to get more people voting.

This weekend I was calling mostly soft Republicans and Independents, meaning they tend not to vote in primaries, and often skip elections. These are usually people campaigns ignore, but this year the hard Republicans are fired up, and the federal campaigns are going to do a better job of making sure they turn out. While I was encouraged at the level of support we had among these soft voters, I was surprised that a week out from election day how many people did not know the candidates, hadn’t made up their mind, and had no issues that the could name that they were concerned about.

My feeling is our Republic would be better off if we made these people go through a little extra effort to be able to vote, in the hopes that the casual, uninformed voter won’t bother. Even if they do end up getting to the polls and punching the ballot for our guys, I’m not comforted by the fact that I’m pretty sure their voting choices are going to be made by something not much more rigorous than a coin toss. I if the corrupting influence of money in elections is something you worry about, consider that the vast sums of money campaigns spend for expensive media buys are aimed at these voters.

But that’s not to say I have much in the way of specific proposals. One thing I thought of is that if you miss more than two general elections, you get automatically purged from the voter rolls, and have to renew your registration. That would certainly make the jobs of volunteers easier, because casual voters generally get more angry about being called or visited by campaigns vying for their votes, whereas regular voters are usually more polite, and more interested in talking about issues.

So how would this help liberty? Well, I’m not sure it’s any more of a magic bullet than repealing the 17th Amendment, to be honest, but a big component of electoral politics involves political activists manipulating the casual voters to come out for their guys. Given that liberty generally doesn’t bring activism to the table in any tangible way (at least not before the Tea Party movement), having a voter pool that’s more engaged and less prone to manipulation would hopefully hamper those pushing for big government than it would pushing for smaller government. Think about soft voters as the “soundbite voters,” and decide whether you agree with me that liberty would be better served if we made these people jump through a few more hoops to be able to cast their ballots?

UPDATE: I should make it clear, everyone would have to jump through the same hoops. The idea is that motivated and informed voters will.

14 Responses to “Magic Bullets”

  1. Matt says:

    I think if you don’t have a stake and demonstrated some minimum level of civic support or virtue that you shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Understand my view is heavily influenced by a) I am in the process of earning the right to vote versus having been blessed with it as a birthright and b) I do tend to agree with Heinlein’s concept of earned citizenship (as demonstrated by (a above).

    As a result, I think we should jettison the apathetic and soundbite voters that don’t really care and are swayed by promises of “Obama’s gonna pay my mortgage now!”. By minimum support or virtue, I mean things like:

    – Having paid actual income taxes as a productive citizen
    – Served and been honorably discharged from the armed forces
    – Served in some civic capacity (jury duty, school board, etc).

    The first on the list is a biggie. I think if we just went down the line and said that anyone collecting taxpayer monies for their primary income and was not other permanently impaired from holding a job that they shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Why should they be permitted to vote and enable more drain of the public coffers at the expense of those making those monies possible?

    Perhaps simplistic but I think someone who has an actual stake in the outcome whether via taxes, property, service and so on would be a little more rational than your average irrational voter.

  2. N says:

    I hate to be all slippery-slopey, but the problem is that once you start down this road, you’re basically saying “though you possess the right to vote, we’re going to limit it.”

    Sebastian’s idea is fairly innocuous, as far as these things go. But then we get to Matt’s, which is a little further down the line. These people are otherwise eligible to vote, but something about them means we don’t trust them to make the “right” votes.

    And I say this while in agreement that dullards voting is a huge problem. People aren’t informed, don’t care, and don’t take the time to analyze issues or examine candidates. I just don’t know how to fix the problem without opening up a new can of worms.

  3. I agree with N. However, I would like to see a little more effort required to become a registered voter. Right now, all you have to do is fill out a piece of paper that they don’t even validate the information on it (at least in Texas). Yes, it is a crime to lie on this piece of paper. But, how do they know if the person lied.

  4. Sebastian says:

    I’m not speaking of going to extreme’s to limit the franchise, but maybe having to go through a little more trouble than pushing some buttons at the DMV might benefit us all in terms of having the voting public being composed more heavily of people who actually give a crap.

  5. Scott says:

    N, you refer to the “right to vote.” There isn’t actually a universal right to vote. Instead, states are basically allowed to impose whatever restrictions they choose EXCEPT for those specifically listed in the 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th amendments. Not paying income tax would be a disallowed criterion, though. Also, you could bet that any new restriction that didn’t eliminate exactly the same ratio of each racial group would be challenged as abridging vote based on color (poppycock, but it’d be argued).

  6. John A says:

    I look at history of organizations, and tend to disagree that only those “onvolved” shpu;d be allowed to set the agenda.

    Look at PETA, for one. When the group started, I was sympathetic – they were trying to have lab animals treated better, and some labs were truly atrocious. But the squeaky wheels, involved and active, rapidly took over: there should be no lab animals, indeed there should be no “captive” animals at all, no meat/leather/fur usem guide dogs…

    Or Greenpeace: no, I never sympathised with them even at the beginning – but the founders were again pushed out by far more rabid “active/involved” members – ie, the kooks.

    Heck, I seem to recall that Lenin said that if he could get ten percent of the people to be active he could take over any country – which he then did, and with just about that number.

  7. N says:


    While there isn’t a universal right to vote, you can’t tell me that the States could pass any restriction they please that wasn’t specifically barred. Sooner or later, restrictions would get too odious and be struck down. A liberal judge would do it under some theory of living constitutionalism, a conservative judge would do it on the 10th Amendment or the the privileges and immunities clause, or some such.

  8. Bombloader says:

    “I look at history of organizations, and tend to disagree that only those “onvolved” shpu;d be allowed to set the agenda.”

    The problem is, this is already how democracy works. The only difference is the involved often use the uninvolved as pawns by encouraging them to get out and vote for policies or candidates that they know very little about. Secondly, I think comparing organizations to countries is not very accurate, because most organizations form with a specific purpose in mind, while political entities don’t. Therefore it’s less likely that the politically involved will develop into a dangerous power block that steamrolls the less involved. Thirdly, if this does start to happen then it may wake up the less involved and make them realize that there is something important at stake.

  9. Scott says:

    N, maybe, or as in the other cases, the most odious examples would be explicitly banned by constitutional amendment. Note most (if not all) states already restrict most felons from voting. So we already say something like, “though you possess the right to vote, we’re going to limit it.” Some additional restrictions could probably pass and be upheld, though eventually I agree there would be backlash.

    By the way, these would have to be state laws, so the 10th Amendment wouldn’t be an issue.

  10. About all the effort I want people to have to go through is to show ID as a fraud protection measure. Anything else tends to tread a slippery slope towards grandfather clauses, poll taxes, and “literacy” tests.

  11. Mobo says:

    Don’t forget all the “disparate impact” arguments that would surely follow as well…….

  12. Mobo says:

    And I should mention that the conservative voting pool has more than its fair share of stupid genes. I don’t think there is any way out of this mess.

  13. persiflage says:

    There is a way out of this mess.

    Consider this – if the prize of controlling the government were not so sweet, then both the incentives to vote, and the consequences thereof, would be diminished.

    Leviathan government is the problem, not voting rights.
    The solution is a government with limited scope and powers – like the Constitutional Republic the Founders created.

  14. Big D says:

    Seconded. Fix the main problem–that federal government is violating the letter and spirit of the Constitution left and right by doing things specifically prohibited by said Constitution *without* first amending it to make those things legal–and you largely wipe out the whole money and corruption issue.

    That said, that seems pretty unlikely to happen these days. For specifically making voters take the effort to go vote, I’d suggest simply repealing the motor voter and similar laws that opened the floodgates to all kinds of fraud and unethical voter manipulation. How on earth did we let politicians claim with a straight face that it was too hard for citizens to go register to vote once every couple of years? Adding in all of those “convenience” features designed to “increase voter participation” just led to voters who didn’t know what they were doing (or weren’t legal voters in the first place) being bussed around like cattle (sometimes, literally) to the polls and told who to vote for.