Saturday, November 1, 2008

Why Fewer Voters Might be Better

In all the discussions of voter suppression and fraud, there is a fundamental question that never gets asked: are we really better off with more voters? Or more pertinently, are we really better off with indiscriminately more voters? I think not. Consider that almost a quarter of Texans think Obama is a Muslim. From the left, listen to these idiots who are obviously going to support Obama no matter what, and don't understand anything about what is going on. Can anyone say with a straight face that we are better off with these people in the voting booth instead of home on their couch?

To see the point another way, do we not all agree that an informed electorate is essential to democracy? Jefferson thought so. Surely it goes without saying that the more information voters have, the better results we will get? That's what Obama's Google for Government program is all about. Well, it is simply logically impossible to say we're better off with more informed voters and yet not better off with fewer ignorant voters.

Let's be clear here and head off all the knee-jerk assumptions and reactions to my position. This is not about excluding anyone based on race, age, creed, or any other arbitrary criteria. I'm not suggesting poll taxes, tests for eligibility, or anything at all like that. Let's also dismiss the notion that limiting who can vote is somehow anti-American. We already limit who can vote: 17 year olds and felons to name just two groups.

I'm simply saying that once we acknowledge that a higher quality voter makes for a higher quality election, it leads to the inescapable conclusion that all this "get out the vote" effort isn't going to produce much in the way of improved results if it is indiscriminate, or worse yet, disproportionately gets people who don't know what's going on into the system.

In addition, there seems to be a growing mentality in America to vote for the candidate that promises you personally the most advantageous financial or life situation, independent of more country-centered, moral issues. Note all the tax talk - there is very little substance to the arguments against raising taxes. It is simply presented as something that is bad for individuals: He's going to take some of your money, vote for me! Indeed, this was anticipated, I believe by DeTocqueville:

"Democracy can last only so long as it takes the electorate to realize their vote contains the key to the treasury"

In other words, once people realize they can just sit back and vote themselves everyone else's money, the system collapses. This is a real threat with regard to social security, which, with the retirement of the baby boomers, continues to swallow up more and more of our GDP. Yet curtailing this program significantly is political suicide because of groups like AARP, who seem intent on taking as much of everyone else's money as they can. And again to anticipate objections, I have no problem with the social security program in concept. As welfare programs go, there aren't many better places to start than the elderly. But it should be clear that having the recipients of said program having such a huge say in what those benefits are, while producing none of them, is not an optimal situation.

All of this has led me to two conclusions. First, Florida in 2000 got it right by accident. Make the ballots as complicated as is feasible, and toss out those filled out incorrectly. Voting is serious business, and people should treat it that way. If you can't be bothered to pay rapt attention for a few minutes when you are choosing who to give government power in our society, we're all better off without you. If you can't grasp the directions, you can't grasp the issues either, so no great loss. This has the advantage of being completely race, age, and in every other important way, blind.

Second, there should be some financial restriction on voting eligibility tied to receipt of government transfer payments relative to one's taxes. Here I am appealing to basic fairness:
if one didn't contribute to the pie, why should one have a say in how it is divided up? If one is to live by the labor of others, it seems it should be those others who make that decision. And with a nod to Heinlein, I'd make an exception to this rule for those honorably discharged from military or perhaps some other government service.

The details can wait. What I think is important is that we get a more realistic attitude towards voting, who is doing it, who we want doing more of it, and what the consequences of those circumstances are. There is no disputing that we'd all be better off if people who thought Obama was a Muslim, or who would be happy if Obama/Palin won, stayed home on November 4.


ollie said...

I'll take the contrary view here:

I think that the average CEO is smarter than the average factory worker. The CEO would (more than likely) be much better informed.

But being well informed doesn't make that they would make better decisions on who to vote for.

After all, Dick Cheney is certainly smart; I also think that his views are toxic.

So, though I am uncomfortable with low information people voting, I don't want to cede the voting to those who might know more but also be less than moral.

And, think of it this way: part of a President's job is to motivate people, sell him/herself and to organize. Hence getting people to the polls to vote MIGHT well be indicative of a necessary job skill.

ScienceAvenger said...

You speak as if one's moral sense and intellect are contrary values, one to be sacrificed for the other. Unless we have reason to consider those of higher intellect to be less than moral on average relative to those with lower intellect, I see no force to your argument.

I agree with your last sentiment. It falls under the general category of leadership, the ability to move people to action. But again, I don't see any conflict with my position. It's not as if all informed, self-reliant, nonfelonious voters are voting now. There is plenty of room to add to the ranks.

Peter L. Winkler said...

"if one didn't contribute to the pie, why should one have a say in how it is divided up?"

If government was concerned solely with redistributive policies, there might be some validity to your premise, though some exemptions would be needed for people who have become disabled and unemployed through no fault of their own.

I also disagree about the value of needlessly complicating the voting process. All that does is increase the possibility of people with visual or motor impairments making mistakes or being discouraged from voting. You are simply asking for what amounts to a covert intelligence test, if the complications discriminate on the basis of intelligence.

Personally, I'm all in favor of an IQ test as a prerequisite to vote, but let's be open and up front about it.

ollie said...

Ok, here is what I was getting at:

1. Perspective is important. My point about the CEO wasn't that the CEO was likely to be less moral than the workers but rather that the CEO, however well intentioned, doesn't have the same perspective of the issues as someone who is less wealthy.

2. Morals are important too. If we were to, say, have an intelligence/being well informed standard to vote, then why not have a moral standard to vote?

That starts us on a slippery slope, IMHO.

So, whereas our system of allowing low information people to vote has obvious disadvantages, limiting the vote has worse ones.

Anonymous said...

>Yet curtailing this program significantly is political suicide because of groups like AARP, who seem intent on taking as much of everyone else's money as they can.

There’s also the fact that everybody currently working has paid a significant portion of their income into the program for their adult lives. At some point the government is going to say “so long and thanks for all the fish” and stop paying out SS benefits, leaving that generation having borne the brunt of paying for their parents but not being allowed to depend on their children to pay for them. And kissing goodbye the money they paid into the system.

As to voting tests: good idea but dangerous in a slippery slope kind of way. The only way to assure voting restrictions aren’t used for political purposes is minimize voter restrictions. Sure, half the people you meet are below average, but you can’t have a democracy without a belief that the mass of people will change their mind when really egregious government errors start to affect their lives. And historically voter turnout increases when times get bad. Democracy isn’t so much a way to find the best solutions, as it is a way to ameliorate the worst ones.

ScienceAvenger said...

Anon, you are using deceptive terminology that unfortunately our politicians across the spectrum use consistently to confuse people. There is no "paying into the program". There is paying taxes, and there is receiving benefits, just like a welfare program. No one talks of "paying into" such a system, and for good reson. It is not a pension plan, and neither is SS. It is pay as you go (a few accounting irregularities notwithstanding), which is one reason (as FDR intentionally forsaw) the government is never going to stop paying benefits.

Again, I am most ardently NOT advocating voting tests, for as you correctly note, they are far too easily manipulated for partisan political purposes.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I understand how SS works. I pay taxes with the idea that entitles me to numerous benefits. And any government payout could be called welfare.

Rhetorical nitpicking aside, eventually somebody is going to have participated in paying for someone else's benefits and not receiving those benefits for themself. (I alluded to this in the first post). When asked to take the hit (either in dissolution of the system or pitifully small benefits) and they aren't going to like it.