An impending Democrat loss brings out all sorts of panicky complaints from the media that democracy urgently needs renovation. Lower the voting age! Register everyone to vote automatically when any government bureaucrat so much as looks at them! Abolish the midterm elections, because they’re just static that obscures the pure message voters send during presidential runs, at least when the Democrat wins! Force people to vote at gunpoint! (Yes, that’s a serious suggestion; CNN even illustrated it with a picture of a gun shooting a little “VOTE!” flag.)
What unites most of these suggestions are two basic ideas:
1. More people voting = better democracy
2. Fewer elections = better democracy
The romantic ideal of soft totalitarianism – everything in life under political control, but the people hold an electoral kill switch that can shut down insufficiently benevolent despotism – is thus expressed as a rare series of elections, once every four years, in which a single Party is given largely unrestricted power. The unitary executive has a rubber-stamp legislature helping him Get Things Done, rather than facing a powerful opposition party headed up by Senator Gridlock McFilibuster and Rep. Intransigence Lobbypuppet. A very large number of people would vote in these infrequent elections – pretty much everybody, if you go with the mandatory-voting model. This would slather an extra-thick veneer of democratic approval on the power of the total State. Hey, everybody voted, and this is what 51.45% of them said they wanted. Who are you to stand against the Will of the People, dissident?
One notices that this enthusiasm to expand the franchise invariably includes people who would be more susceptible to the emotional messages and dependency lollipops offered by Democrats and the Big Government enthusiasts in the GOP. What we need is more voters who aren’t really citizens per se, more kids accustomed to living at the expense of adults, more felons, and more people who can’t be bothered to vote if it’s more of a hassle than picking up the week’s new releases at the Redbox. That’ll fix everything!
At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, this attitude has things exactly backwards. What we need is fewer people voting more responsibly. Voting is for adults. That’s not so much a function of chronological age as state of mind, but I suppose we’ll never have a basic civics test for aspiring voters, because putting any such conditions upon the sacred ballot is unspeakable.
In fact, it’s an article of faith on the Left that even asking people to verify their identity before voting is an unbearable burden, dreamed up by racist conservatives to suppress the votes of… well, people the Left have very low expectations for. Personally, I can’t imagine how someone who thinks me incapable of carrying out simple documentation procedures in this digital era would have a very high opinion of me, but when you go through the left-wing looking glass, the people who view minority voters as responsible citizens are the racists. It’s all very silly, and deliberately disingenuous, as I suspect most voter-ID opponents know their argument is ridiculous. Let me be unfashionably grown-up about it: if you can’t be troubled to follow the minimal procedures necessary to ensure that every vote is valid, you really don’t belong at the polling place. It’s not about civil rights, it’s about maturity, both individually and as a society.
The great majority of voters in every demographic and region agree – you have to work on the average well-meaning American for a while before he starts thinking that vote fraud isn’t worth fighting – so let’s move on to a more controversial idea. Only adults should be voting, and the definition of an “adult” should mean that no policy of the government you are voting for regards you as a “child.” That means federal elections would be restricted to people 27 years of age and older, because ObamaCare defines 26-year-olds as “children.”
That wouldn’t be an easy change to implement, of course. One supposes it would not be popular among people from 18 to 26, or the politicians who prey upon them… er, excuse me, I mean “seek their support.” The obvious answer is to come up with a lower age of universally recognized legal maturity, which would be a lot less confusing than having different ages recognized by various governments. But let’s not give up on 27 so quickly! Is that such a bad age for voting in the modern world? Are people burdened with five or six figures of government debt for higher education really free to vote their unfettered conscience? Isn’t our popular culture putting a lot of energy into the notion of extending adolescence into our late twenties?
If voting was something people spent their college years looking forward to, maybe they’d take it more seriously when they got there, and we wouldn’t have to entertain ideas for automatic zero-hassle vote registration and mandatory voting to goose turnout. (Register to vote when you sign up for ObamaCare, and you’ll be hit by an ObamaCare-style individual mandate if you don’t use the ballot you registered for? Not exactly a bracing expression of robust self-government.) Also, if voting was restricted to ages 27 and up, the odds that every voter would have significant life experience as an independent citizen under his belt would be greater – time spent as a worker or an employer, an owner or a renter, perhaps even an investor. Many first-time voters would be well on their way into a career, a life transition that brings a great deal of maturity. They’d be more likely to own property, and at the very least, there’s a good chance the first-time 27-year-old voter would have accepted and paid off at least one sizable debt: their first automobile.
That’s also more time for the aspiring voter to experience various aspects of the government he or she would be voting for, and to gain a sense of the society they are shaping with their votes. A higher percentage of voters would have children, or would at least have given it some thought. They would have spent some time considering current events outside of an academic environment. It’s remarkable how much a few years of such contemplation can refine one’s philosophy on life.
I guess it’s always going to be a thought experiment, because there’s virtually zero chance of any electoral reform that would reduce the pool of available voters passing. The “franchise” must grow ever larger, even as complaints about the “gridlock” caused by representative government grow louder. I guess we’re supposed to be happy with easier voting, but fewer matters of consequence to vote upon, much less settle among ourselves without the involvement of government. An adult electorate wouldn’t be content with that arrangement, for the defining characteristics of adulthood are independence and responsibility, in precisely equal measure.