Chad Perrin: SOB

14 May 2008

Voting isn’t a right.

Filed under: Liberty — apotheon @ 03:00

Cody Logan, who added his opinion to the discussion in yesterday’s popular Don’t talk to the police. Ever., discussed his take on a Supreme Court decision regarding identification requirements at voting time in Indiana at Photo ID, please.

Keep in mind this was posted in late April:

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday to uphold an Indiana law requiring voters to present photo identification before casting their votes, thus paving the way for similar laws in other states. Not surprisingly, people complained about it.

Later in the post, he said:

I honestly don’t see what the problem is here. The right to vote is not being infringed at all. As a few commenters pointed out, every American has the right to buy and own firearms, but no one complains about having to show ID in order to buy a gun. The idea here is to have legitimate people voting. During the 2006 midterm elections (or was it the 2004 presidential election?), King County in Washington had votes coming in from felons and dead people. I don’t know about you, but that seems to be a major problem.

My take is “the same, but more so”. See, I don’t actually regard voting as a “right”, and don’t think there’s really any particular requirement that an ethical government allow anyone to vote at all. It’s not the voting that matters in terms of libertarian ethics, really. Voting is a charcteristic of democracy, not of liberty. What matters for liberty, instead of voting, is how government treats its citizens in their everyday lives.

Thus, while I have absolutely no problem (in principle) with requiring voters to positively identify themselves somehow, and don’t even see how such a thing would violate Constitutional law, I do have a problem with federal law mandating ID checks to buy firearms. So — go ahead and require ID at the polls, but stay the hell out of my firearms transactions. What I buy and sell is none of your damned business unless I make it your business. Period.

In the real world, of course, we typically have to just accept some of these onerous invasions of our privacy, of our right to freedom of association, but that doesn’t make it right. It’s wrong that we are required by law to show ID to buy a firearm (though there’d be nothing wrong with a firearms vendor choosing to require ID regardless of the law), but there’s really nothing wrong with requiring photo ID to vote, at least in principle. Again, in the real world, there are reasons to reject many ID-related laws, but these reasons are related to practical, “engineering” concerns, and not matters of principle. After all, it’s only because of the lack of sufficient limitations on its power (and possible matters of institutional incompetence) that we should want government to have as little involvement in establishment of identity as possible.

In fact, all things considered, I’d prefer that people have to identify themselves to vote — if I thought the criteria used to determine who could and couldn’t vote were worth a damn, that is. Since they’re not, I guess it doesn’t much matter.

My main real-world, practical complaint about Indiana’s law is that it’s predicated upon the notion that government-issued IDs are sufficiently “authoritative” to use, and a good idea to have. There are much better models for establishing identity than that — models that don’t open us up so much to easy identity fraud, that don’t materially penalize the individual for the errors of government and businesses who deal in that identity, and so on. Most of the people in the US are completely incapable of wrapping their brains around the very real problems with government issued IDs, of course, but that’s another subject entirely.

The last thing Cody said:

I’m all for this ruling as it preserves state’s rights. For you slippery slope people: it’s easier to fight laws on the state level than on the federal level. Interesting stance for a libertarian, isn’t it?

Completely aside from my other statements about why requiring photo ID isn’t really the problem people seem to think it is, I agree with Cody very strongly on this point. Any laws directly involving the most basic enforcement of rights — basically, the Bill of Rights itself, though it could use a little sprucing up the next time we try this Great Experiment in nation-building — coupled with strong limitations on power should be applied and enforced at the highest level (the federal level, essentially). Any other laws should be applied and enforced only at more local levels (the state, county, and city levels, in practice), specifically because they’re easier to fight at that level, and because that creates a more vibrant market in jurisdictions, where one can vote with one’s feet regardless of what happens at the polls.

Maybe my take on this statement of Cody’s is “the same, but more so” as well. Interesting stance for a libertarian, isn’t it?

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