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