I have heard several times now in the past twenty-four hours the contention that the Constitution does not contain a right to vote. It appears, based on the words from his own mouth, that this meme started with Neal Boortz, who I expect to make such a general and incendiary comment in order to rattle people.
The question of the right to vote is one of the several questions of Constitutional politics that cannot be reduced past its inherent level of complexity. Boortz statement insinuates that there is no right to vote at all, a claim that violates the requirements of both logical thinking and irreducible complexity.
First, consider what kind of government we have. We are a constitutional democratic republic. In order for our republic to be democratic, it must, by definition, have a demographic that votes. Therefore, there is an inherent right to vote built into the very idea of the kind of government we have. Without that right, our government is not a democracy.
Second, consider what kind of right voting might be. It is not an inalienable right like life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. It is not a right like the ones specifically enshrined in the Constitution and its amendments. Instead, it is a conditional right, one which the Founding Fathers and anyone who reads the Constitution with any kind of intellectual honesty will admit can and should be regulated for the good of the democratic process. We accept that regulation often without thinking when we do not let children or felons vote.
Third, consider the kind of regulation applied to voting. Aside from the broad protections provided by the Constitution and its several amendments that apply to voting, what kind of regulation should be applied to who can vote? Frankly, that is a matter left up to the states and the people and regulated itself by the Constitution and the promise of equal protection. Certainly, as the people we have the right to control who votes, but that control necessarily applies equally, everywhere to all people.
So, how should the right to vote be regulated? That kind of regulation is a dangerous and slippery slope. Some people want a test. I once agreed with and advocated a system that would require voters to be net tax-payers. I am sure there are other ways people want to control who votes.
The problem with all of these ideas is that they run afoul of a basic tenet of the very fabric of our democracy: the fabric of liberty. The regulation of voting is an idea borne out of wanting to prevent people from voting whose ideology, reasons, or knowledge differs from our own. The regulation of voting is rooted in the tribal desire for my side to always win and for the side I disagree with to always lose.
The regulation of voting always threatens liberty and democracy, and it is an attempt to intimidate opponents instead of convincing them. I am not saying that some regulation is not necessary–obviously children should not be allowed to vote–but I am saying that any regulation that exists should be as little as possible.
Instead of focusing on some kind of regulation, we should focus on the irreducible complexity of the problem that leads people to want to regulate in the first place. I think most informed people agree that many, many people who vote do so in an ill-conceived and ill-informed way. Instead of trying to prevent those people from voting, we should concentrate on explaining to and informing them. I know that is a very complex problem, but I also know it is the one that actually needs to be fixed.
Cross posted at A Host of Contributing Factors.