Is universal suffrage a bad idea?Submitted by Duane Vick on Sat, 11/10/2012 - 01:24
It would appear that this last election shows that a majority of America has reached a point where they vote in a selfish fashion. Namely, voting themselves access to the public treasure chest. I pondered on this for a bit as I thought to myself that perhaps some people shouldn't be allowed to vote. Of course, this thought also doesn't sit well with my libertarian beliefs that voting is a right to be enjoyed by all.
This subject has been at the forefront of my thinking since the election took place, and to some lesser extent, even before that. When I am conflicted between what position to take on an issue, I look to the Constitution and to the founding fathers. It's important to understand how they thought in order to determine why suffrage wasn't initially universal. I mean, why would they not give everyone a say in choosing their leaders? I searched and found this position on suffrage from Alexander Hamilton:
"If it were probable that every man would give his vote freely, and without influence of any kind, then, upon the true theory and genuine principles of liberty, every member of the community, however poor, should have a vote… But since that can hardly be expected, in persons of indigent fortunes, or such as are under the immediate dominion of others, all popular states have been obliged to establish certain qualifications, whereby, some who are suspected to have no will of their own, are excluded from voting; in order to set other individuals, whose wills may be supposed independent, more thoroughly upon a level with each other."
From Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961-79), 1:106.
The founding fathers did face the fact that all people should be able to vote and shared the same conflict. They did so but faced a harsh reality: that some people can not be trusted to do the right thing and vote freely. If you have nothing, then it is more likely that your vote won't be a freely given vote but one that is influenced. They knew some people would vote without putting any thought into it.
Before suffrage was universal, women and blacks weren't allowed to vote. I don't suppose that it should ever return to that. This article is not an attempt to persuade anyone that women or minorities should not be allowed to vote. Women had few rights at the time. Often, they didn't have the same level of access to education or occupation or land ownership. Since this was the condition of women at the time, voting was seen as something they weren't capable of performing responsibly. This is not a matter of chauvinism, but a secondary consequence from a lack of education, etc. In consideration of modern times, women now have equal rights to men and have been able to achieve the same level of education, etc. This would mean that, in general, voting restrictions wouldn't logically be applied to women in modern times since they have equal footing to men. Blacks were subject to slavery at the time and not provided access to education and other means which would generally qualify them as being capable of voting responsibly. Again, with the freedom that minorities have in this nation, race can no longer be a consideration in determining who should vote and who shouldn't.
So then, who should get the right to vote and who shouldn't? I don't think we can ever apply the same restrictions and neither should we, they just wouldn't make sense. If you look at a modern, publicly-traded corporation, you see that not all people associated by that organization get a right to vote on corporate policy or leadership. This is just as well if you consider what havoc might be wrought upon a corporation if every employee was allowed to vote on corporate governance. Would the employees vote responsibly, or is it more likely that they would vote themselves a benefits package that would eventually bankrupt the corporation? If they did vote the company into bankruptcy, then the freedom that is extended to all within that corporation would be lost as the corporation ceases to exist. Such is the situation with our nation today. It is so far in debt that bankruptcy looms on the horizon, people are out of work, and we've got to that point by irresponsible voting. We can blame the leadership, but there is not one member of Congress that didn't get there without the help of voters. To rein in bad leaders, we must rein in the irresponsible voters that have put them there.
Again, we come back to the same basic question of who should vote. If we revisit the corporate model, we see that the only ones who can vote are those who are invested in the corporation. That means the shareholders are the ones who vote. Who is a shareholder of the USA? That could be anyone who buys into the US such as through taxation, owning a portion of US land, etc. Presumably, if you have something to lose, you will vote intelligently enough to protect the value of your asset. If you pay a tax, there should be a value there. A taxpayer is a lender to the US government and should be paid back either in cash or something of similar value such as improvements, etc. Having that cash handed to someone else is not something a responsible voter would allow to happen, but someone with no investment would, for they have nothing to lose and potential gain. A landowner has something to lose as well. A poorly run government can result in that landowner losing his land outright as irresponsible voters vote themselves a claim upon his land, or through excess taxation and asset forfeiture to settle the burdens imposed on the nation by irresponsible voters.
As a result of my studying of this subject, I have concluded that universal suffrage is a bad idea and that the forefathers of this nation were right not to bestow it upon everyone. Restricting voting rights was the best way to ensure freedom for everyone as it kept majority rule in check. It is, perhaps, the one restriction that was smartly placed on the people by a group of founders that worked so hard to extend freedom to all people. Voting is a right that should be returned only to those who can demonstrate a vested interest in determining the leadership and governance of this nation. Only landowners and/or taxpayers, when either are US citizens should vote. This restriction is not discriminatory as anyone is capable of becoming either a taxpayer or a landowner.