Archive for January, 2021

Time to Think of Voting As a Privilege

January 1, 2021 Comments off

Neither Left nor Right, but Catholic


By Stephen M. Krason

The 2020 national election has resulted in the confusion, disputed vote totals, and charges of fraud that many thought were foreseeable. A major reason for this, undoubtedly, is the widespread introduction of such new election procedures and rules as: vote-by-mail, early voting, the expanded use of absentee ballots generally, permitting ballots to be received after Election Day, ballot harvesting (where third parties—not necessarily even government employees—are permitted to go around collecting mail-in ballots from people to turn them in to boards of elections), the “curing” of absentee ballots (which allows people to correct errors on their absentee ballots, such as missing signatures, and resubmit them), and states soliciting mail-in votes by routinely sending vote-by-mail applications to all their registered voters. In some states even voter identification requirements have been relaxed, which in some cases resulted from court challenges. In addition to facilitating fraud, it has been alleged that some of these mail-in arrangements compromise the secret ballot.

  This is all in addition to the fact that there has been a movement to allow voter registration right on Election Day (“same-day registration”) and, even where that’s not the case, in recent years voter registration has been made utterly easy with registration forms available at state bureaus of motor vehicles—sometimes they even ask you if you are registered when you renew your driver’s license or vehicle registration—public libraries, schools, and online. In some states, one can actually register online. The federal “Motor Voter” law of 1993 was a major stimulant for easy registration. No longer do people have to go in person to the board of elections office in their county seat well before a primary or general election to fill out the necessary papers.

Last year, the Democrats in the House of Representatives pushed even further. HR 1 passed the House, but was not taken up by the Republican-controlled Senate. It would have requiredstates to allow same-day registration and provide pre-paid postage for absentee ballots (so that voters wouldn’t even have to buy a stamp), curtailed the powers of states to limit early voting and voting by mail, required them to permit persons with criminal records to vote, encouraged them to allow minors who reach age 16 to vote, and made it difficult for a state to discover if a voter is also voting in another state.

While to be sure, many of these initiatives have been pushed to gain partisan political advantage—it is strongly argued that they would or have had the effect of giving advantages to the Democrats—they probably have gained most of their momentum from the deep ingraining of the notion that voting is a right. Certainly, thinking has evolved in American history about that. In early America, property ownership or militia service was required to vote. These showed that one had an attachment to his community—and thereby a stake in it. Perhaps this underscored the fact that, contrary to what we universally hear nowadays, America was not—is not—a democracy. It is a republic. The most that one can say about it having a democratic character is that it tilts in a democratic direction—it can perhaps more precisely be called a democratic republic. The meaning of this essentially is that ultimately the people are sovereign. That is not an absolute sovereignty, however; ours is, after all, a constitutional regime. As the expression goes, we have majority rule but respect minority rights. We need to note that our Founding Fathers followed Aristotle in viewing democracy as a perverted form of government, an ochlocracy or runaway rule of the people. James Madison in Federalist 10 gives a blunt, striking statement of the Founders’ negative assessment of democracy: “democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention…and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

Perhaps the notion of voting as a right was fueled by such historical experiences as the systematic denial of access to voting on the basis of race in the Old South. The result, during the time of the Civil Rights Revolution, was the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The year before, in their opinions in major cases, the Supreme Court hailed this right to vote as fundamental and in fact even the linchpin for all other rights. So, our political lexicon at least since then, and probably before, has reflexively called voting a right. In America, this is what we have made it.

Contrast this to the way it’s described in an old—post-World War II—Catholic ethics textbook. It is categorized as a political privilege, as are other avenues for citizens to participate in government. It’s also spoken of as a duty; one has to exercise his privilege for the sake of promoting the public good and checking the danger of corrupt and oppressive government. Since it is a privilege, instead of making it as easy as possible for people to vote—where they can easily develop a blasé attitude—they should be expected to undertake responsibilities that underscore the seriousness of what they are doing. They should have to make the effort to go to their polling place on election day or, if they will unavoidably be away or if serious disability makes that impossible they should have to apply for an absentee ballot well in advance and return it by a deadline before election day. Also, no one should claim that something as simple as providing identification and verifying a signature is an unjust imposition on voters. People should have to make the effort to go to their county board of elections or other designated locations to register. I did these things when I reached voting age; they were then routine expectations. Instead of legislation to make voting easier and easier, effort should be made to educate people about why they have to assume responsibilities as citizens and why it involves effort. That’s part of recovering the oft-forgotten educative function of politics.

Stephen M. Krason is professor of political science and legal studies at Franciscan University of Steubenville, associate director of the University’s Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life, and co-founder and president of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. His latest books are Catholicism and American Political Ideologies: Catholic Social Teaching, Liberalism, and Conservatism and a Catholic political novel, American Cincinnatus. This article originally appeared in The Wanderer.

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