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Voting is not a Right

November 17, 2020

Almost every day there is something in the media about the “right” to vote. This is misleading because voting is not a right; it is a privilege granted by government, similar to a driver’s license. Rights, on the other hand, are granted by God or by nature if you prefer. They are basically the right to be left alone to do whatever you like……if you respect that same right for everyone else.

The logical question follows: Who should get the privilege to vote? In a democracy, voting is basically the way that the citizenry controls the government. Therefore, the answer to the prior question relates directly to what we want the government to do. Since government only has one legitimate function and that is to protect liberty, the answer to whether any group should have the privilege of voting is to ask whether granting this privilege to any certain group will increase liberty.

This question has recently arisen with respect to felons who have served their time and with respect to 17 year olds (in California, of course) and with respect to a few other groups. My own answer to such questions as adding new voting groups is almost always “no!” And, to further clarify my point, we should ask the opposite question. If we took away voting privileges from any group, for example, 18 year olds, would we likely get more liberty? In this example, my answer is “yes!” The reason is best summarized by the adage that “if you are young and not a liberal (favoring more taxes), you haven’t got a heart but, if you are old and not conservative (favoring smaller government), you haven’t got a brain.” Essentially, when you have not yet built up assets of your own, you are more likely to approve taking away other people’s assets via the tax system, which is a reduction of liberty.

What does this analysis imply for today? One practical result might suggest that we should raise the voting age to 21. (We might even get away with it if we simultaneously lowered the drinking age to 18.) As a thought experiment, one might ask whether requirements such as providing identification at the polls, poll taxes, literacy tests, and property ownership are likely to increase liberty. Similarly, one might ask whether efforts to make voting easier, such as by ballot harvesting, mail in ballots, etc., are good ideas. Even “get out the vote” might be questioned unless it was the clear that the targeted voters would vote in favor or more liberty. Obviously, these are JUST thought experiments.

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