In the summer of 1864 before the elections for his second term, President Lincoln wrote a memorandum ₪, folded it so the writing was on the inside, and obliged his cabinet members to blindly affirm their acceptance of its contents by signing it on the outside.
This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the Government President elect, as to save the Union between the Election and the inauguration…
Lincoln had already trampled on the U.S. Constitution as an expedient of war (e.g., his suspension of habeas corpus). He could just as easily have delayed the election. This memorandum affirmed Lincoln’s belief that the vote must go on and that he and his cabinet members would whole-heartedly support the next president. For Lincoln the vote was the ultimate guarantor of liberty, the best protection against tyranny.
Humanity has struggled for centuries and sacrificed many lives to achieve universal suffrage, to condition its leaders and the leaded to internalize this concept as a sacrosanct principle. And now look how we waste it!
What a Waste
Universal suffrage is the letter of the law but we do not practice it in spirit. We put on our capitalist thinking caps and apply commercial logic to our elections. We want voters to purchase our product. We bring commercial practices into the electoral process (e.g., fraud, bribery, deceptive advertising, cartels, bullying). We gin up enthusiasm for our product much like we would for the latest must-have Christmas toy.
Candidates are packaged with a tidy bow. Political parties become nothing more than donation collection kettles. What campaign issues are hot this election season? Donate and we’ll put it in our party platform.
Elections are won on TV and the internet. Is there really someone behind the persona we see on TV or is it a computer-generated talking head? Does it really matter? You don’t even get out of your easy chair when you vote electronically. When’s the last time an election result really made a difference you can point to in your life? You spend more time and effort researching your next car purchase.
This is not a video game. This is not The Truman Show. It’s not about punching a button, holding our breaths and listening to news commentators with their computers for insights on how the votes might fall on election night.
Election experts boast of progress. But toward what? Making elections more accessible, protecting against fraud, tabulating election results quicker. Electronic voting. Absentee Ballots. Voter ID’s. Get-out-the-vote. Exit Interviews. Experts pride themselves on mechanistically solving the problem of gerrymandering. But to what end? At least in fraud‑ridden Baltimore you would get a free drink. These experts end up disenfranchising the entire population from the purpose of the vote. Their “progress” freezes elections into a depersonalized, money-driven, propaganda machine that must heighten political polarization just to keep voters from getting too lethargic.
The political vote is one of the few remaining acts where we all stand equal. Rich and Poor, Black and White, Smart and Dumb, Weak and Strong, Ugly and Pretty. For a short space of time we awaken to the Imago Dei in all people. Instead of leveraging this moment to find common ground, we allow it to be used against us, to deepen our divisions.
Oh my gosh! Trust our elections in reality to those empty heads we see in man-on-the-street interviews? Trust a juggalo with my future?
Freud and his nephew Bernays, echoing the intelligentsia in both political parties, distrusted the masses. They watched the masses bring Hitler to power. No, it’s best we use the powers of our commercial machine to manipulate public opinion for their own good. We tell the masses what to worry about.
Elections give people the illusion they are in charge of something.
Give lip service to “Imago Dei”. Condition the masses to live under authoritarian regimes in their workplaces. Feed them commercial goods to keep them from thinking too hard about their impotency. Take away their toys should they become unruly. Satisfy their hunger for public expression by letting them periodically vote for choices we have predetermined.
In your opinion most votes are irrelevant? Forget the ballot. Give everyone a lottery ticket and let the winner pick the president.
To vote is to make a decision.
What do we expect from a vote, from a decision? Is choosing a winner enough? Shouldn’t we care about the losers? Is it okay losers feel obligated to undermine the agenda of the winner? Do we like having elected officials start their first day of work campaigning for re-election? Do we care when more than half the voters don’t even bother to show up?
With a smaller community you can get everyone together and hash out a decision. You know coming into the meeting you need a starting position that is not too polarizing. Your behavior needs to be sociable or you risk being ostracized. Sure single individuals can sway the group with a good argument. But the process of reaching an agreement is just as important as the agreement itself, involving careful, considered listening to all sides of an issue.
Voting can be a nucleus around which we grow a sense of shared community and common purpose. Voting day and the drive up to the vote should be key agenda items on everyone’s calendar. The act of voting should not be an anonymous internet checkbox or a reflexive mail-in ballot, rather an act of physical exertion: involvement with voters not of your caste over extended periods. We want to build understanding and commitment to the outcome, not resignation. We make one-person-one-vote a reality in spirit.
Take internet porn. We have a motion on the table to require internet providers to block all porn unless a subscriber opts in. Online communities (Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter) who do not police their members risk having their entire domain censored. So we bring voters physically together to discuss the issue for their community. What are the pros and cons? Freedom of Speech. Interstate Commerce. Equal Protection Clause. Invasion of Privacy. DIY. What are the mechanics? Enforcement? Schedules? What about mobile devices carried by our children outside our community?
Then we vote. A bite-sized decision. Deep voter involvement. Nuanced solutions. Trial periods. Respect for local sentiments.
My wife will cut me off! I can’t publicly advocate for unlimited access to porn!
Precisely. That’s why we call it a community. You don’t get to hide your addiction to porn behind the anonymity of your vote. You don’t get to bundle your addiction as a vote for a pro-porn candidate who may have other redeeming qualities. Voters must never have an excuse for the sins of their government.
It’s not just your addiction (racism, infidelity, greed, pusillanimity) that’s at stake. It’s the spirit of universal suffrage.
I call for a national discussion on the intent of voting. We acknowledge the sanctity of the vote. We agree on the need for institutional protections of the vote (e.g., term limits, judicial oversight, voter legal rights, recall elections). We know mechanically how to vote.
We need to discuss why it is we vote. Why get together periodically to make collective decisions? I argue this should be to work toward common agreement on a purpose for our country. It should be much more than a mechanical act. Winner-takes-all does not work. Polarization does not work. How do we better leverage this collective decision activity to bring the country closer together, rather than divide it?
I do not have an answer to this hugely important question. But we better find one soon or the U.S. will implode.
Now, I have read about many historical periods. But not one in which you can talk to young people the way you can at the college level today, and find out that they believe… nothing. Want… nothing. Hope… nothing. Expect… nothing. Dream… nothing. Desire… nothing. Push ‘em far enough and they’ll say: “Yeah, I gotta get a job. Spent a lot of money at Duke.” That’s not what I am talking about here. They hope nothing. Expect nothing. Dream nothing. Desire nothing. And it is a fair question to ask whether a society that produces this reaction in its young is worthy of existence at all. – Rick Roderick (1993). Self Under Siege ₪
Split the nation red-state blue-state, give each side its share of the nukes, and let each go its own way. Atlas shrugged.
Below I give my views as to how this discussion might proceed.
We suffer from a confusion of ideas about what people need to know. We cannot get out of the dilemma by making a great effort to educate everyone to the point where they know enough to make these decisions, nor by restricting participation to people who do know about all these matters.
[No one person can] know what is needed to run the country. People are able to survive by learning to distinguish between what they must know and what they do not need to know. – E. E. Schattschneider (1960). The Semisovereign People
Instead of changing the people making the decisions, change the decisions.
Make decisions bite-sized, personal, consequential, practiced and provisional. Our internet porn vote applies only to our precinct. Vote not just for candidates but for bits of legislation, regulation and budget. It should be clear by now elected officials don’t know what is needed to run the country. We’ll learn what we need as part of the voting process. Candidates too become bite-sized as we usurp their spending authority at our ballot box.
We centrally mandate and enforce only one rule, Lincoln’s Rule, the sanctity and protection of universal suffrage. Local experimentation in new forms of government is okay (e.g., Sharia Law), but with the proviso that mistakes can be made and voters must always be able to undo those mistakes. Enabling Acts and their ilk are expressly forbidden, even during times of national emergency.
This is of course quite radical. We drop incorporation. We amend the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to cover only voting rights. We adopt judicial reform to keep the Supreme Court’s nose out of our local decisions. All morality becomes local morality. All justice becomes local justice. Think Switzerland.
The United States is or the United States are? How does this fractionation build shared community and common purpose? How do we bridge differences that today are often geographical (e.g., red state-blue state)? Protection of minorities? I do not have answers, but I have contributions.
- Protect and support the right of people to vote with their feet. You pay taxes only where you live and not where you work. We help you and your neighbors resettle (or get redistricted) in the face of perceived political oppression.
- Regularly shuffle the boundaries of political communities. This makes local ballot issues more considerate of the sentiments of neighboring communities, since you’ll likely soon be in one of those communities. As discussed here you may already be in a precinct whose boundary overlaps with neighboring precincts, making enforcement of local extremist rules problematic.
- Constitute broader-based citizen’s committees to referee items to be placed on local ballots, and to decide the voting constructs for those items. Consensus. Athenian allotments. Lotteries. Taking Turns. Supermajorities. Provisional Decisions. Use these committees to organically grow consensus across voting precincts.
Alert readers can see I’m okay with a national consensus founded on minimal federal government involvement. The nation can be a patchwork where 99% of the precincts are in agreement on an issue, and I’d defend the right of the 1% to opt out (re: The Kentucky and Virginia Resolves). If you don’t like it don’t live there.
But for those few goals where we’re 99%, get out of the way. The world will stand gape-mouthed in awe at our prowess in achieving those goals. All citizens (99%) will feel a deep patriotic bond toward their federal government for its ability to help them realize their shared vision.
Again, these are just my druthers.
I’ve stated it several times but I’ll close with it once more. We will not retreat a single step in suffrage or voter protections. But we must not let fears and mistrust stop us from making suffrage a reality in spirit, from unfreezing us from today’s divisive voting systems. Don’t let memories of sins past stop us from future greatness.
I propose the Voting Act of 2014. We nationally fund structured discussions at the local level as to how to make voting more purposeful, both in its act and in its outcome. We’re not talking voter turnout, a byproduct. We’re talking purpose. These discussions build toward concrete legislative proposals to be brought up for further debate and enactment by our elected officials.
Ever try to carry on a discussion with a pretentious, whiny liberal? Ever try to change the mindset of an egotistical, dittohead conservative? Precisely. This is going to take some time. And it’s not going to be cheap. We’ve got lots of hurtin’ to mend.
I spelled out my druthers, above, to show the depth of thinking that needs to go into these discussions. Don’t let my extremist views detract from the intent of this proposal. We need to bring this nation together and I believe fixing the vote is a crucial starting point.
Voting can be so much more than a mechanical reflex. It can be a nexus around which we regularly come together to shape and continually reshape a shared vision for the future. Today’s voting sytem limits us to two flavors: vanilla or chocolate. Tomorrow our horizon can be limitless.
Or we can just start a war.