Saturday, May 3, 2014

Why Voting is Not Necessarily Evil

     We often hear it said today that voting is evil, that it doesn't accomplish anything. Sometimes even that voting is evil because it doesn't accomplish anything.

     For example, comedian George Carlin said, “Two reasons I don't vote: First of all, it's meaningless. This country was bought and sold and paid for a long time ago. … And secondly I don't vote because I believe if you vote, you have no right to complain.”
     He continued, “People like to twist that around … They say: 'Well, if you don't vote, you have no right to complain”; but where's the logic in that? If you vote and you elect dishonest, incompetent people, and they get into office and screw everything up … [then] you are responsible for what they have done. You caused the problem, you voted them in; you have no right to complain. I … who … did not even leave the house on election day, am in no way responsible for what these people have done, and have every right to complain … about the mess that you created, that I had nothing to do with.”
     Additionally, supposedly, voting is evil because it authorizes policies to be enforced through violent means. And so, the argument goes, therefore voting should never occur, and people who vote should be criticized for doing so, because with their vote, they authorized the violent threat that accompanies enforcement of the law.”
     But how can any piece of paper – whether voting ballot, or national constitution, or military or police order – truly authorize violence and aggression against individuals? Aren't we, by arguing against voting, giving in to the idea that the rule of law can authorize violence? Furthermore, aren't we conceding that voting accomplishes anything? Haven't those who use that argument invalidated both of their points (i.e., that voting is ineffectual and evil)?

     It would certainly seem that we have conceded to the idea of legitimized violence through written law, given the recent reaction of Democratic ideologues to the Cliven Bundy cattle ranching story, when such people were thrilled to have the rule of law on their side for once.
     Otherwise, I have only noticed one person pretending lately that the rule of law – and equal protection under it, no less – should be taken so seriously that it should be understood as authorizing violence. That person is Republican Senator Ted Cruz, in his criticism of the president's refusal to aggress against the states of Washington and Colorado for defying the federal government's prohibition of marijuana, a position he appears to have taken only for the sake of consistency.
     I imagine that a coalition based on the Rule of Law and led by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (who called Bundy a domestic terrorist) and Republican firebrand Ted Cruz would not last long. But unfortunately, what we are faced with today is not merely politicians “going along to get along”. It is not merely the major parties, their associated lobbying groups and PACs, and unions and businesses lobbying for special privileges equal to their competitors, instead of fighting for their competitors to be denied privileges (because they would lose their own privileges in the process).

     What we are faced with in addition to all this is that now parties must additionally use their powers to fight one another with ironic and self-defeating legislation. As has been done for centuries, a congressman may propose a bill that he knows could be likely to succeed, and vote against it while “forcing” other legislators to defeat his own bill. Although this practice has obvious drawbacks, its intent is to encourage more vibrant discussion and debate – and, usually, start that debate in the first place - and to get legislators' positions on controversial issues into the public record. That's why it's such a tempting tool for congressmen.
     Additionally, congressmen can attach self-authored riders, so as to dissuade the full implementation of the law as written, because doing so would enforce a clause whose enforcement would defeat the original purpose of the bill. This is done often without the legislators even knowing, including because some don't even do their jobs and read the bills.
     For example, in 2012 – without hiding the legislation from opponents – State Senator Janet Howell of Virginia introduced an amendment which would require men to submit to digital rectal examinations and cardiac stress tests before being treated with erectile dysfunction. This would inhibit male Republican State Senators in Virginia from being prescribed Viagra. Howell said of her amendment, “We should just have a little gender equity here.”
     Howell wrote the amendment in response to a bill that required all women to submit to transvaginal ultrasounds as a condition for getting an abortion (similar legislation was passed in Wisconsin). So the reasoning in Howell's favor goes, if Republicans must mandate an unnecessary medical procedure as a requirement to get an abortion, Democrats must mandate a medical procedure as revenge. Howell said the Republicans' legislation opens women up to “emotional blackmail”, calling such measures “blatant attempt[s] to obstruct and intimidate women from considering their constitutional right to an abortion.”
     Howell recognizes that the ultrasound requirement adds to the cost of health care for women, and that's certainly part of her motivation. G.O.P. state senators in Virginia were aware of this too, and Howell's amendment revealed their intentions. Although it would actually be very easy to argue that the procedures that Howell proposed are necessary medical procedures, what the Republicans fail to recognize in full is that the legislation they proposed raises the cost of medical care and insurance for people in general. This hurts the G.O.P.'s case against repealing Obamacare by making reforms cutting health costs seem more urgently necessary, perpetuating the idea that Obamacare must be implemented, due to the apparent lack of Republican alternatives.

     George Carlin said, “If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you're going to get selfish, ignorant leaders.” Likewise, if you have snarky, mean-spirited people, then you're going to get snarky, mean-spirited elected officials. And if you have a society obsessed with irony and based on snark, mean spirit, vanity, and petty vengeance (rather than reason, polite discord, humility, recognition of ourselves in others, and justice through rehabilitation), then you're going to have laws that reflect those ideals.
     You have to ask yourself why – if they want to be taken seriously - women protesting for abortion and contraception rights would say “abortion is sacred” and “hail Satan” instead of “abortion is a decision no woman takes lightly”, which more women would agree with. It might also be necessary to ask how far we are willing to tolerate such ironic and self-defeating rhetoric and legislation, for it risks resulting in the youth of the nation being drafted.
     Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel, who represents Harlem, is so dedicated to ironic legislation that he is prepared to risk reinstating the selective service (for which all adult men are required to sign up) so that officials who want a military strike should be prepared to put the draft back on the table. This is all in order to prove that our war-mongering elected officials are serious. I think they've already shown they're serious about our destruction, and I don't appreciate Watergate hero Carl Bernstein taking Rangel's idea lightly and entertaining the idea that it means we ought to actually reinstate the draft (to put the barracks to good use). The last thing we need is another war to jump-start the economy, and to put all of our chips – i.e., the future of this country, America's youth – on the idea that violence and compulsion can be legitimized through law written by duly-elected legislators.

     But before asking whether voting is the source of our problems, we must first fully understand why and how divisiveness is also to blame. For if we grant that “abortion is a women's issue only”, then we leave male abortion doctors - and female-to-male transgender individuals who could become pregnant – out of the fold in the decision-making on this topic. If we grant that abortion is a women's issue only, then we leave room for women to say “the draft is a men's issue only”, and we risk forgetting that Charlie Rangel's legislation also provided for women to be drafted alongside men.
     Men and women, people and politicians, and unions and businesses must find a way to get along, or at least leave each other alone when an issue is truly none of another person's or entity's business. In all of this talk about voting and campaign finance reform, we must ask ourselves, “Why are we trying to compel people into association with one another, instead of allowing people to simply receive a share of resources which is controlled by the party they choose to provide it? If voting is about choice, than why must the “chooser” submit to the majority that wins?”
     While some may argue that Australia's compulsory voting law has been successful, I would argue that requiring voting – and even encouraging it – can be harmful to association. Nowhere is this more obvious than in public-sector unions in Wisconsin, in which voting became compulsory for all eligible members. This resulted in many unions ceasing to exist. In my opinion, unions which exist based on majority status are all too often hesitant to exist alongside members-only collective bargaining units and other competing unions, to such an absurd degree that by existing with a legal and political framework, they are leaving the labor movement with no alternatives other than the existing unions.
     It should be obvious that a lack of alternatives to the existing legal, political, economic, and societal frameworks is, in general, the main problem encountered by voters, workers, and consumers. The secondary problem is that once such people are free to choose alternatives, they are not free to have that choice make a difference. Why may we not have democracy for the Democrats, republicanism for the Republicans, liberty for the Libertarians, socialism for the Socialists, anarchy for the anarchists, and tyranny solely for the tyrants?

     The answer is, ultimately, because we were born in America, rather than Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, or the Netherlands. Had we been born in Switzerland, we would be used to the idea of an extremely decentralized government, and the joint government by five or more parties at once. Switzerland's executive body operates as a five-party, seven-member, combination executive body and cabinet. Had we been born in Belgium or the Netherlands, we would be used to the idea of Congress not convening for months or even years at a time, and calling for a new Constitution, government, and elections very frequently (and, for that matter, if we had been born in America 250 years ago).
     Had we been born in Austria, we would be citizens of a country which (through early 20th-century leader Karl Renner) has an intellectual history of social democracy which defers to individual, national-popular, and non-territorial principles. Full deference to these social democratic principles would give us National Personal Autonomy (also known as National Personal Sovereignty), the philosophy of Renner's friend Otto Bauer.
     Panarchist Paul Emile de Puydt said, “The personal principle wants to organize nations not in territorial bodies but in simple association of persons.” He wanted people to register with a national “Bureau of Political Membership”, wherein their choice for an existing party or agency would make them a citizen of said agency, and entitle them to whatever resources or rights those agencies promised to provide. In my opinion, de Puydt's system is the only proposed electoral system which gives real choice to individual human beings; real alternatives to the territorial monopoly on violence which States and majorities seek to wield.

     In his 1871 essay “No Treason” - citing late-1600s British law concerning contracts of surety - lawyer and abolitionist Lysander Spooner wrote that secret ballot voting “furnishes no legal evidence as to who the particular individuals are (if there are any), who voluntarily support the Constitution. It [the secret ballot] therefore furnishes no legal evidence that anybody supports it voluntarily. So far, therefore, as voting is concerned, the Constitution, legally speaking, has no supporters at all.”
     Noting that the voter does not sign his ballot, and that the congressman he votes for does not take a written oath to support the Constitution, Spooner explains that secret ballot voting denies individuals full privity of the contractual association; that is, full direct knowledge of an individual and his choices, before deciding whether and how to pledge to defend such individuals, along with their property and choices.
     Spooner explained that An Act for Prevention of Frauds and Perjuries (29 Chas. 2 c. 3) - a 1677 act of the Parliament of England - had been re-enacted in “nearly or quite all of the States”, providing that contracts of surety (also called guarantee) for another's debt are unenforceable unless evidenced in writing. In Spooner's view, the Constitution is a contract of guarantee for another's debt, and the delegation of power from the individual, to his representative, to those enforcing the law, is not legitimate, because there is no written evidence which the public could legally view. This is the crux of Spooner's argument against the secret ballot form of voting.

     If Spooner's argument and way of thinking about the Constitution are logically and legally in correct, then this means one of two things: #1) the Constitution is unenforceable, or #2) we should amend the Constitution to abolish secret ballot voting, allowing or requiring public scrutiny of election results. While some would argue that this would leave people free to look up who voted for whom and shoot people on that basis, I would argue that such individuals would not have any reason to shoot others, because in a system where people would be free to make unilateral, private contracts with independent parties which provide protection and material resources, nobody's political decisions would infringe on anyone else's.
     In my 2011 essay “The Spooner Amendment” (published on my blog the Aquarian Agrarian, at, I proposed amending Article VI, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution. The amendment would read, “The Senators and Representatives, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution, and the Oaths and Affirmations before mentioned shall be written signed, sealed, delivered to, and witness and acknowledged by, the persons who elected them, or their servants, attorneys, or Representatives, under penalty of forfeiture of salary, removal of office, and revocation of citizenship from public officers, and of revocation of citizenship of voting citizens.”
     This amendment would provide for the furnishment of authentic evidence that a given individual has voluntarily delegated to a given public official the authority to act as his or her agent and representative, having the legal power of attorney to act on behalf of that individual with respect to those authorities given him. Essentially, it would restore mutuality, responsibility, and responsiveness to the relationship between the citizen and the representative. Doing this (while also removing congressional privileges from arrest) would make citizens and representatives personally responsible for not only what they themselves do, but also for what one another does.
     Before going further, I must point out that this, too, is a piece of legislation which has ironic results. It would deprive only people who vote from citizenship, which is ironic because that set of people includes all those who have realized that choosing between Democrats and Republicans is pointless and have decided to stop voting. And that is just as ironic as liberals signing an online White House petition to “deport” within their own country the people who signed the petition to ask for state sovereignty; by taking away their citizenship, which is more or less what they want.

     Since I wrote the aforementioned proposed legislation, and am arguing in favor of voting not necessarily being evil or even effectual, I would of course argue in favor of (#2) amending the Constitution, rather than argue that (#1) the Constitution is unenforceable. Taking the latter position would be difficult, because I would have to argue that the government does successfully exercise force in enforcing the law, upon the highly questionable premise that the Constitution is what the government is now enforcing.
     To amend the Constitution (as I have suggested) could take several, or seven, or even two hundred years. However, today it is not such an extreme or unfeasible idea. Rather than being “extreme”, formal constitutional amendment helps ensure that important, valuable laws are more firmly entrenched in our Constitution, so that they cannot be removed for light and transient causes.
     Furthermore, amending the Constitution is not unfeasible because according to Article V, the states have the power to amend the U.S. Constitution by themselves (i.e., without the consent of Congress) – if they have a two-thirds majority - as the states did in order to prohibit alcohol nationwide in the early 20th century. Most importantly, the State of Michigan recently became the 34th state to demand a Balanced Budget Amendment, which obligates the country to hold a constitutional convention, wherein any amendment to the Constitution could be proposed.

     In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I have a pony in this race; I am currently running for the U.S. House of Representatives from the State of Oregon's 3rd congressional district, which includes parts of Portland.
     I believe that the nightmare of legislative legalese, bureaucratic red tape, and the risks of imprisonment and fines associated with clerical errors, which are involved in attempting to revoke one's association with the federal government, amount to a threat against all people born in this country whom do not have the socioeconomic privilege necessary to be in a position where they can fully understand the law, how to revoke consent, and how to defend themselves legally and in person without being construed to having initiated violence.
     I believe that if a person who is running for office admits that the powers he will wield if elected are not fully authorized – and that the powers resemble ownership of the citizen (as Spooner additionally argued) – then it is acceptable and desirable to vote for such a person.
     While it may be argued, “But isn't voting ineffectual? What about the fact that voting trends follow the pattern of which company controls the most voting machines in each state?”, I would argue that it is possible to have effective elections within small firms and unions, and in jurisdictions which have enacted online voting and vote-by-mail, and in jurisdictions which are used to frequent manual recounts of election results.
     In my opinion, we should work within the existing framework of the U.S. Constitution to develop an “electoral” system which emphasizes mutual and personal responsibility; unilateral consent of association; direct knowledge of individual persons before deciding whether to protect and defend them; privity, openness, and public scrutiny (rather than privacy and secrecy); and ceasing to perceive that contracts, compacts, and statute laws written decades or centuries ago can invoke some responsibility upon people who were not even born yet when such documents were written. But that, I suppose, is the most ironic thing about the position I'm taking.
     Also, both now and within such an improved system, I believe that we should regard candidates' promises as threats which constitute voter intimidation and vote suppression, whenever they promise to vote to support the enforcement of the law upon individuals whom are unwilling subjugants to said laws (provided that they are non-violent and have not yet been found guilty of anything, which would merit their involuntary association and servitude as a condition of punishment).

     So, does participation imply consent? No; you do not know how to stop participating.
     Does voting have an effect? Technically and legally, no, but practically it does not matter; regardless of claims about unduly-delegated authority, when governments commit aggressive acts, it is because they wield the power and potential to do so. In the case of New York City's Stop-and-Frisk policy, the police regard the 4th Amendment and the necessity of getting warrants before searching people as “hindrances”, so they are looking for ways to legally do what they – by and large – already do, which is ignore those requirements.
     Like I said earlier, many of the same people who admit that voting is ineffective - including because the country is “bought and paid for” (as George Carlin said), and because of the secrecy of results, voter suppression, and voting machines – also believe that voting is evil because it authorizes violence.
     But with Lysander Spooner's help we see that technically this is not the case; instead, we, the American people, are so vain, mean-spirited, snarky, and obsessed with irony and revenge, that we pretend that we are gods, having the authority and power to authorize violence against other people because they have the audacity to espouse different opinions about what kind of behaviors constitute violence, and defend the person and property of themselves, their families, and those who think like them, against those who would seek to prevent them from acting in accordance with their views, and our majority-elected representatives take us seriously.
     This is mainly because they believe that they are wiser and more virtuous than the people - while also somehow pretending that the secret majority vote of a supposedly unwise, unvirtuous people can result in something good – and also believe that a majority vote can elect them an example to, for, and of the people; authorizing them to judge others in a manner that can overrides people's natural rights; the dictates of “Nature and Nature's God”.
     But I am not so blind as to pretend that any vote or piece of paper can authorize violence against any one of the people of such a god; for, as Spooner wrote, “individuals['] … voting is not to be taken as proof of consent, even for the time being. … without his consent ever being asked, a man finds himself environed by a government that he cannot resist; … that forces him to pay money, render service, and forego the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments.”
     He continued, “he finds himself, without his consent, so situated that, if he use the ballot, he may become a master; if he does not use it, he must become a slave. And he has no other alternative than these two. In self-defence, he attempts the former.”

     I hope that, in the future, we are able to elect candidates who know how to use self-defeating, ironic legislation for good, and not for evil, that we find a way to only enforce laws upon those who requested to be subject to them, and that the people find a reasonable set of laws that does not pretend to excuse the total control of the people through the threats and violence required to enforce direct taxation upon all earners and households.
     Given Senator Dianne Feinstein's recent flip-flop on domestic surveillance, it seems clear that those who sponsor tyrannical legislation will stop supporting it once it begins to affect they themselves. I hope we succeed in the first round of electoral reform, which involves both making politicians subject to the law, giving the people the same choices our politicians have (for example, with regards to health care and retirement benefits), and removing all special privileges from the law.

     Here's to voting making a difference!

Written in April and May 2014
Edited in May 2014, and on February 27th, 2019

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