Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Government of by and for the people


Debates about voter fraud puzzle me. On the one hand, multiplying laws pointlessly offends my libertarian bias. In general, we benefit from more freedom and fewer laws. Thirty-seven states have enacted voter fraud prevention laws. A Carnegie-Knight investigative journalism team researched the 2068 reported voter fraud cases since 2000 and substantiated only 10 of them. In other words, the new laws solve a non-existent problem. If fraud is not an issue, then what do the new laws actually achieve?

On the other hand, I understand and support the importance of elections. At times, voter fraud has notoriously skewed electoral outcomes; ethically, voter fraud perverts the purpose of the electoral process. Showing up to vote, without having to show any ID, feels strange. I listen to the rhetoric about the requirement for voters to show a photo ID disenfranchising certain segments of the population and I wonder how many people really do not have a photo ID or cannot reasonably obtain one.

Debates about voter fraud obscure the real issue: the low rate of voting across the United States in almost all elections. The low voting rate suggests to me that people feel disenfranchised, i.e., although legally eligible to vote people do not believe that their government – local, state, and federal – is their government, government of, by, and for the people. That sense of disenfranchisement or alienation is the real problem.

The populism we need is for candidates and political parties to help voters gain that sense of ownership. The other day I thanked one of my employees for the work he was doing. This city employee looked at me with surprise and puzzlement. I explained that I was a resident, taxpayer, and voter. That he, as a city employee, was my employee – along with hundreds of thousands of others. Similarly, as a federal employee and members of the armed forces, I viewed myself as working for and employed by the citizens.

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