With the 2004 election season looming on the horizon, like a trip to the dentist’s office that you simply cannot avoid, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the subject of voting. The reality of voting is very different from the popular opinion of same. The perception is that exercising one’s right to vote is the single most patriotic thing a person can do. That it is this sacred ritual that defines America and somehow sets her apart from every other nation on Earth. Unfortunately, the historical context of the struggle to bring the vote to the “common man” has bestowed a much greater significance upon voting than it truly deserves.
H.L. Mencken said, "Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance." Truer words have never been spoken — with the possible exception of Churchill when he said, "the best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter." It is clear from these quotes (and countless others attributed to the Founding Fathers of our nation) that respect for the notion of democracy is far from universal, and rightly so.
As if the Tonight Show’s “Jaywalking” segments aren’t enough anecdotal evidence to convince us of the collective stupidity of our nation’s electorate, behold, scientific evidence of this fact abounds! From the quasi-scientific results of surveys that tell us seventy percent of Americans cannot name their senators or their congressman, to the exhaustively researched papers that assure us that 2.8 million people voted against Al Gore in 2000 because of drought or flooding in their home states.
So if one can manage to ignore that the outcome of any given election is largely decided by legions of morons, and still accept the result as legitimate, then one is forced to face the next truth about democracy: mob rule. Benjamin Franklin said, "democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch." Don’t let the humor of this statement obscure the deeper truth that it contains. To embrace democracy is to abandon the notion of basic human rights, since any action against another person or group can be legitimized if it is sanctioned by a majority of voters. Witness the practice of slavery in this country’s early history. I realize that not every ballot issue represents a violation of human rights (although most do), but it is important for people to recognize that it is the mechanism of voting that makes these violations possible.
Most of the laws, regulations, and bureaucracies that govern our day-to-day lives are rarely, if ever, impacted by a referendum. One could argue that our elected representatives are accountable to the voters for the laws that they are involved in implementing, but there are two problems with relying on this alleged check on the power of legislators. First, the public has a notoriously short memory. The sponsor of an unpopular law may be able to mitigate or completely erase the wrath of his constituents over the period of his term of office. Second, even if his actions were egregious enough to bring about his ouster, the infamous law lives on.
All men are created equal (I will assume that this truth is self-evident). The logical extension of this is that no one has a right to rule over you. Most people would not find a reason to disagree with that statement. However, some will object to the next logical step: while you may delegate your right to rule yourself to someone else, you cannot delegate the right to rule other people to someone else because you yourself do not possess that right in the first place. Delegating the right to rule is a purely voluntary action, and participating in the election process is tacit agreement to the terms of being ruled by someone else. People say, "if you don’t vote, you can’t complain." However, the exact opposite is true. If you *do* vote, you can’t complain because you have agreed to be bound by the results of the election. If you don’t participate at all, you are not responsible for the outcome.
On November 2 this year millions of Americans will participate in the grand bit of theater known as an election. I will be interested to see, following all of the “get out the vote” hype, if participation is actually any greater this time than it was four years ago. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that it will be the same as 2000, if not less.
I would love to see the reaction of our politicians the morning after an election where voter turnout approached zero. Just imagine the spin doctors staying up all night trying to explain how their candidates *still* have a mandate to rule over us. How could a president who only received 10 votes legitimately lead this country?