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Repeating what I said

More fuss about ACORN and voter registration drives in the news. I just want to quote my own good self:

Overvoting is not as big a deal as undervoting, and our Party will stand up for citizens who want to vote. Their Party is more worried about false voting because democracy just smells bad to them, and they want to keep it as clean as possible. We don’t think that democracy smells bad. We want people to vote. We love participation. We want to register as many voters as we can, and we want all those people to actually vote, and if that means that we have to take some resources off the voter-fraud beat, then that’s fine.

See, we in Left Blogovia are, or present ourselves as being, on the Left. I hope that means something. I hope it means that Walt Whitman would blog on our side, not on theirs. What I think that Mr. Whitman would say, what I am saying here, and what I would like us all to say is that we want every single person who has citizenship in our country to come and vote in our elections and make all the voices heard. If one—one—voter has been turned away from a polling place by the Party opposite then shame on them, shame on our nation, shame on our Constitution and our democracy. And if they want to be the Party of turning away voters, if they want to be the Party of not counting ballots, if they want to be the Party that spends our national resources on preventing ballots rather than encouraging them, if they want to be the Party that faints at the stench of democracy, then we should stick it down their fucking throats.

With civility.

Do you want to know, Gentle Reader, why I am a Democrat and not a Republican? Do you want to tell some brother-in-law, some neighbor, some co-worker or cousin or carpool buddy, the difference between the two parties? Let it be this.

I know, I know, how incredibly arrogant to blockquote myself. But it’s how it is, isn’t it?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Bears repeating.

If a wingnut lies in the forest,
does it grow strange fruit?

It's an interesting point, but I think it's not a slam-dunk that more people participating in a thing makes it better -- there are lots of things for which that's not at all true, and it's not totally crazy to think that government might be one of them.

(I am very much in favor of everyone being allowed to participate in government, just like I'm in favor of everyone being allowed to lie around on the beach and smoke pot all day. But I don't think it would necessarily be a good thing if everyone did.)

Here's a somewhat simplified historical rationale for the inherent virtue of the broadest possible voluntary participation in governance, which I think is not inconsistent with libertarian principles.

The practice of government is, by definition, to make decisions and take actions on behalf of a group. Insofar as some people are better qualified than other people to make decisions on behalf of a group, then the argument that participation in governance only by the better qualified people has some merit. That's why we elect presidents rather than choosing them by lot (though "market failure" is certainly possible. I think a randomly chosen citizen would almost certainly have done a better job as President than George W. Bush).

However, regardless of their qualifications, people tend to abuse power in self-interested ways, so in cases when people are governed in a society but do not participate in that governance themselves, that group of people is almost invariably exploited by the ones who are governing. Such exploitation enables the exploiters to concentrate power, which they then can use to dominate other members of the society who are participating in governance but don't agree with the exploiters, so that a (say, for example) wealthy faction of a ruling class can, to a great extent, control the rest of society based on their exploitation of a segment of the society that does not participate in government, and therefore cannot successfully protect their interests.

Therefore, the clearest route to avoiding the eventual development of an exploitative and ultimately tyrannous society is broad participation in governance through the electoral process. People speaking for themselves and their interests is necessary, I would say, to prevent eventual tyranny by the segments of society that do participate in governance.

Of course, there are other kinds of tyranny, and many kinds of mistakes that can be made in governing that very broad participation in governance cannot prevent, but I think that broad participation is an obvious good, and an obvious good that conduces to the protection of the individual freedoms that libertarians value.

Chris addresses the thing from a practical point of view, and I think that historically, that's what's going on. From my point of view, the purpose of democracy is not so much good governance (which is good in itself, when it happens) but the fostering of a democratic society, self-governance and so on. So for me, maximizing participation is a good in itself.

There is an important distinction between participation in self-governance and voting in elections, so I think you could hammer in a logical wedge that divides high turnout and registration and so on from The Good, but it would take some doing. We could talk it out, if you want.

Practically and topically, though, the question is whether to spend resources on registering new voters, which will almost certainly involve some people who shouldn't be able to vote being let in, or purging the rolls, which will almost certainly involve some people who should be able to vote being turned away. A lot of the discussion in Left Blogovia has focus on the empirical observation that we do not have much overvoting in this country, and haven't for decades, with a lot of investigation into it and no conspiracy or organization being turned up at all. And, to be fair, if we did turn up a situation where a busload of people were being taken from precinct to precinct to run up the voting, it would be a problem, and it has been a problem. And we do have lots of instances of citizens who are denied the franchise, due to a systematic suppression attempt. So we might choose to allocate resources based on that empirical stuff. But I think we should do it based on the more fundamental instinct that people being denied the vote is really, really important.


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