Four steps to strengthen our democracy (UPDATED)
The following is an editorial by guest author Gerald Mueller, the Strom Thurmond Chair of Conservative Thought at the University of Cascadia.
The election season provides a prime opportunity to reflect on the state of our democracy. And, upon reflection, it is hard to deny that we face significant and growing threats to the integrity of our electoral system. Here are four of the most important (and least discussed) steps we should take to strengthen our democracy.
1. Keep out-of-state interests out of local politics
People like David and Charles Koch are often criticized for using their wealth to influence state politics around the country, but there is another threat to the integrity of local politics that has gone ignored. We need to protect small towns from the out-of-state interests who live in those small towns: college students. As New Hampshire Speaker of the House William O’Brien explained last year, college students are “taking away [small] towns’ ability to govern themselves” by outnumbering and outvoting long-term residents, and “that’s not fair.” Fairness demands that we expand restrictions on voting by out-of-state students. If you will not be around for the long haul, why should you have a say in the laws you will live under for the next four years? (Which is why we should also prevent voting by those who plan to move within the next four years, but that is another issue.)
2. Increase voter education
We can only expect elections to produce good governance if voters can make informed decisions about who best represents their interests, which is why we need to increase the level of voter education. And the best way to do that is to raise the voting age, allowing kids to gain valuable life experience before casting their first ballot. As Representative O’Brien noted when discussing voting by out-of-state students, “foolish” college kids “just vote their feelings” because they “don’t have life experience” yet. (Incidentally, this leads to “voting as a liberal” because “that’s what kids do,” but my point is about voter education, not disenfranchising either side of the political spectrum.)
3. Eliminate the corrupting influence of money in politics
As Mitt Romney has pointed out, 47% of Americans will vote for Barack Obama “no matter what” because they are financially dependent on the government. These people are voting with their pocketbooks rather than with the nation’s interests in mind. This financial incentive is a powerful ulterior motive corrupting the democratic process. I would be the last person to suggest disenfranchising the poor. Anyone can vote if they so desire. But I am suggesting that we make receipt of benefits like food stamps and Medicaid conditional on the suspension of voting privileges. A judge has to recuse himself if he has a conflict of interest — why should a voter not do the same?
4. Stop voter ID laws aimed at disenfranchising minorities
As Blackstone said, it is better to let ten guilty men go free than punish one innocent. But in the case of states like Pennsylvania, it is better to disenfranchise ten percent of the voters than have no voter fraud. Unfortunately, voter ID laws end up disenfranchising elderly White Americans as well. We need to confront the problem of minority voting head-on, in a way that will not cause this kind of collateral damage. How might we do that? First, if both you and a political candidate belong to an identifiable minority, you have a conflict of interest and should not be allowed to vote. Second, if you have family who are Mexican citizens, you should not be allowed to vote. There is simply too much temptation to vote for immigration-friendly candidates and against the national interest. (Such a law would apply if you have family in Mexico, whether you are Hispanic or not. That way it is not racist.) These suggestions are simply illustrative, however; we can deal with additional sources of minority bias as needed.
Are these reforms likely to happen? Probably not. But then again, a hundred years ago the victories of the civil rights movement would not have seemed very likely, either. That does not mean we should give up the fight for democracy.
UPDATE: Ann Coulter reminds us that the true test of voting responsibly is voting Republican. While Ms. Coulter might go too far in endorsing the disenfranchisement of all women, I am drawn to the idea that those women who fail to vote Republican might have their voting privileges revoked on the grounds that they are voting irresponsibly and damaging the national interest.