Who Votes?

Voters go to the polls today. While it’s not a real election, it’s an internal matter of some private clubs, it brings to mind something that’s been sticking with me. As I go to various festivals and community events and meet a Georgians of all walks of life, one of the most common responses I get is: “I can’t vote.”

Now, if that’s you, please don’t let it hold you back. Your vote is not the only way you can participate, and if you do the math you can see that’s not what I’m really after when I go out to meet people face-to-face, anyhow.

But the fact that it’s so common has made me stop to think about this. Why can’t they vote? I generally won’t ask that, but most offer up elaboration. From most common to least:

  • I have a felony record.
  • I’m not a US Citizen.
  • My official residence is in another state.
  • I’m too young.

Now, these things are all connected in one way or another to voting restriction that makes sense.

If someone is convicted of stuffing ballot boxes by all means ban that person from polling stations for the rest of their life. And more generally if someone commited a real crime – victimizing someone and violating their rights – it’s reasonable for the punishment to include curtailing the perpetrator’s rights. But if they’ve finished paying their debt to society, how much longer before we can consider them full adults again? If someone was convicted of selling a substance to people who voluntarily bought it a decade ago, would letting that person vote mean we’d be overrun by tyrants?

No doubt, we certainly wouldn’t want to invite Kim Jong-un to vote in our elections. Those voting in American elections should have a vested interest in America flourishing, and be very concerned about the dangers that lie ahead for America. So perhaps it makes sense to restrict the vote to citizens. But if someone has chosen to be here for many years working, participating in the community, putting down roots, raising a family, and making America their home… why is it still so hard for that person to legally become American?

It certainly doesn’t seem reasonable for someone to have a full vote in more than one place, letting them count as two people. But think about how many people cross a political boundary as they travel from home to work. I cross a county line, for example, and the municipality I’m entering is governed quite differently. Do I have no interest at all in the political regime that I’m living under for most of my waking hours most days?

As a father, I understand why we’d be reluctant to hand the reigns of power over to a young child. But consider who is a mere 13 years old right now. They will not be allowed to vote for or against me this fall, and that seems like it makes sense. But whoever is elected commissioner this fall will still be in office and impacting the life of that young person when they’ve moved into a place of their own, paying their bills, and struggling to make ends meet. They must accept living under the “authority” of someone they never had any say in.

I’m not necessarily proposing a specific change in any of these things. But as the percentage of the population of our state who cannot vote keeps getting higher and higher, we need to recognize that at some point we will have to stop pretending it’s a democracy.

Even if we did do a better job of this, it will never be perfect. Laws are a blunt instrument. They will always get something wrong and unjustly disenfranchise someone. If you want to fully respect the preferences of each individual, nothing can approximate that better than a free market. Let’s put more of the choices in the hands of each of us rather than the all of us.

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