Sunday, April 24, 2016

Elections aren't just about autonomy, they are also about imposition

Yesterday's post on Virginia, felon voting rights and guns probably isn't what someone would expect from a tweed-blazer-with-elbow-patches-wearin' member of academia (and yes, I wear one of those), but hey, did you notice the title of the blog?  Nobody gets my references...

Anyway, it is worth pointing out a few things about the nature of elections.  The argument for restoring ex-felon voting rights tends to ignore how elections necessarily work.  The right to vote gives citizens (plural) influence over the laws that govern them (again, plural).  Voting rights are about autonomy, then, right?  Well, things get complicated when we move from the plural to the singular.  Your vote doesn't just affect you.  It affects me too because I have to live under the same laws as you.  Your vote imposes your will on me.

Hey, I wrote about this in my book!  Voters aren't like consumers.  If I buy a Mac, it doesn't force you to buy a Mac.  You can still buy a PC.  I get what I buy, and you get what you buy.  Elections don't work that way.  We aren't buying a product.  We are making a collective hiring decision.  In a congressional election, all voters in a given district are collectively choosing to hire one person to do a job in Congress.  The fact that they don't actually do that job is a separate problem.  I'm talking about the structure of the decision.  The problem is that even if I want Jim Traficant, it doesn't matter if a plurality vote for Duke Cunningham.  I'm stuck with The Dukestir.  (Go read about 'em, kids.  Corruption is fun!)

That means voting isn't just about personal autonomy.  It is about pluralities imposing their will on everyone else.  I can't claim credit for this observation.  Go look up William Riker.  Yes, really.  His most famous, and probably best book was Liberalism Against Populism.

What does this mean with respect to felons and voting rights?  It means that if we re-enfranchise ex-felons, we are giving power over ourselves to ex-felons.  That is the price for giving them the same level of autonomy that the rest of the population has.

Is that a good idea?  A moral idea?  Uh...  Excuse me while I duck those questions, and just give one simple, basic piece of advice...

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