Saturday, July 26, 2014

You Can Vote, But You Can't Run

You hear a lot of complaints that voter ID laws, inconvenient voting hours and locations, and the need to register ahead of time are unfair. Some extremists think requiring a person to show a photo ID at the time of voting is a civil rights violation.

I find it interesting that many who advocate extremely open and lax regulation of who can vote take a very different view of who should be allowed to run for office. For example, the website of the Democratic Party says voter ID laws are unnecessary and suppressive. But then I read

Democrats have turned to a lawyer who helped craft some of the state’s complex election laws to try to keep a challenger to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo from getting onto the September Democratic gubernatorial primary ballot. 

and a case where a Democratic incumbent is trying to get a Green Party challenger thrown off the ballot because of some fairly ridiculous technicalities having to do with the petitions the law requires in order to run for office.

Maybe in the days of manual voting it made sense to have primaries, runoffs and petition requirements in order to limit the number of candidates on any one ballot. But now votes are recorded electronically, and the government conducts all sorts of business online, so what's the problem with letting anyone who wants to put his name on an electronic ballot? If it turns out there are 500 candidates, so what? People manage to choose from 500 different kinds of cereal, so they can probably manage the same number of options in the voting booth.

Are the major parties afraid that the false consensus will evaporate? I know the Democrats and Republicans like us to believe that some large percentage of the electorate thinks their guy is the very best one for the office, but that is of course ridiculous. All it takes to win an election is to be better than the other idiot who managed to get onto the ballot. It doesn't mean you're any good in an absolute sense.

It's hard to look at election laws and not conclude that voting is a charade. Did you know that in Virginia, the order in which candidates are listed on the ballot is not random, but rather reserves the top two lines of the ballot to candidates of a party that polled at least 10% in a recent statewide election? In practice it means that the Democrats and Republicans always get the top two lines. This law was passed in 1996 with many Democratic votes. That's about as fair as prohibiting someone from voting in a state election until he's voted in a previous local election.

If you think it should be as easy as possible for people to participate in the political process, more power to you. But if you favor very liberal voting regulations, and also silly and obstructive laws about who can appear on the ballot, then you're acting out of self-interest, not principle. You want as many people as possible to come out and vote, but you only want them to be able to pick from the very few people who had the time and money to jump through all the ridiculous hoops you set up.


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