Saturday, January 8

Enfranchisement, Democrats, and democracy

Powerline pointed out yesterday a report from Washington that there is evidence that in the contentious gubernatorial election, votes from the dead have been counted. It is an axiomatic belief on the part of the Democrats and others that more votes (and voters) are always a good thing. George F. Will wrote a column prior to the election noting that the unexamined belief that increasing the voter pool (enfranchising more people) is always a good thing.

A colleague of mine insists that the Democrats push for recounts and include more votes until they win, then of course they stop. Which is to say, it isn't based on any principle of enfranchisement, just the desire to win the election. This is certainly a good measure of what drives the current Democratic sensitivity to their push for enfranchisement. For example in the 2000 Florida elections the Democrats pushed hard to recount in Democratic counties and to disallow overseas absentee ballots showing a desire to win and not a belief in any "enfranchisement" principle. It would be nice, of course, if those pushing for increased enfranchisement could point to some philosophical principles indicating why this might be a good thing.

It seems to me, on the surface at least, that there are pros and cons to increasing enfranchisement:
  • Pro
    1. Excluding groups of people deprives them of the ability to select and influence their representation in government. This is the basic reason for enfranchising more people.
    2. The Democratic party, in their self-anointed role as defender of the downtrodden, feel that those currently not enfranchised would naturally vote for them.
  • Con
    1. Adding uninformed or at best poorly informed voters will decrease the effectiveness of the democratic process.
    2. Over-enthusiastic recruitment of voters can lead to voter fraud (the dead voting for example).
    3. Some methods of increasing voter enfranchisement, such as "motor-voter" registration qualify individuals for national but not local elections. Arguably, local elections are more, not less, important.
    4. The pool of voters included should necessarily include those voters whose interests align with the nation (or local community). Including those whose interests are not aligned in this way is counter productive.

Thus it seems, on the surface, pushing for an ever increasing pool of enfranchised voters is not a priori a good thing. That a theory of enfranchisement should be developed by those supporting this increase. And that it would be nice if those pushing for dramatic methods of increased voter enfranchisement, for example motor voter and provisional ballots, should consider the principles behind these methods and the increased risk of voter fraud, which also disenfranchises the rest of the voters.