A 24-year-old Connecticut state senator, a Democrat, wants to punish you if you don’t vote. His name is Will Haskell and I’m sure he’s full of other non-voluntary plans for your life too.
You know the type: Fresh out of college, ready to shape the world like dough on a kneading board. Infatuated with politics, politicians, power, and the public limelight. Full of self-importance with no real-life, productive accomplishments to justify it. Eager to pass laws—laws, laws and more laws—because repealing bad ones is not fashionable in the corridors of the anointed. The halls of capitol buildings are brimming with these empty suits who may never know what a real, wealth-creating job is. Your life and mine are the toys they get to play with.
Tens of millions of people choose not to vote, at least some of the time. Busybodies and know-it-alls like Haskell want to compel us to confess our reasons to Big Brother. So rather than inspire you with things like truth, honesty and justice that might prompt you to participate at the ballot box, they would rather slap you with a fine. Such boundless arrogance! How quick such people are to call the cops when they don’t like what you’re doing (or not doing)!
In a February 5, 2021 editorial, the Wall Street Journal explained how the Haskell plan would work :
Starting in 2024, every eligible Connecticut voter would have an obligation to cast a ballot, “with the option to leave such ballot blank.” Those who didn’t participate would later receive paperwork from the state, demanding an excuse. Accepted reasons would include “travel,” “illness,” and “conscientious objection.” Failing to give a good enough alibi would trigger the fine of $20, though the scofflaw could perform two hours of community service instead.
Incidentally, lots of people do vote but for bad reasons. They want a politician to steal what they don’t have the courage to go next door and swipe themselves. Or they think that by voting for somebody who says he’ll help the poor, they’re absolved of any obligation to do it themselves. Or they believe it’s their mystical duty to vote even if they know nothing of the candidates or the issues. Should we impose fines on people with such anti-social motivations? Though I wouldn’t favor it, I can make a stronger case for penalizing those folks than the ones who don’t vote.
Don’t get me wrong. I cherish the right to vote—so much so that I don’t want it belittled by those who think that just showing up at the polls is all it takes to assure the survival of representative government.
Writing in the Stamford Advocate in response to the Haskill bill, Karen Fassuliotis points out that the First Amendment guarantees both the right to speak and the right NOT to speak. She rightly claims that the 24th Amendment, outlawing poll taxes, would apply in this instance too because the Haskell fine is a kind of “reverse poll tax”:
If a person votes they are, in reality, speaking as to their choice of which candidate they prefer. Conversely, when a person does not vote they are exercising their right NOT to speak and, as a result, they are sending a political message….
Indeed, research has shown that the vast majority of those who do not vote are simply either not interested in the candidates, do not identify with the issues of the election or they are simply not interested in the political process. Their choice not to vote is a political message unto itself — and to force them to speak differently by forcing them to vote is simply prohibited by our Constitution and is contrary to what this nation was founded on.
What people commonly think of as “democracy” is preferable to dictatorship because it permits peaceful changes in government policy without the need to shoot, hang, or guillotine anybody. Those changes, however, will be in whatever direction public opinion is blowing at the moment—good or bad, smart or stupid, helpful or destructive. An electorate can democratically vote itself into bankruptcy and slavery. Slapping fines on people who don’t vote would simply get us there more quickly.
Low voter turnout does not endanger our political system. Here’s what does: politicians who lie, steal, or create rapacious bureaucracies, voters who don’t know what they are doing or vote for bad reasons, and people who think that either freedom or representative government will be preserved by pulling levers or punching ballot cards.
The right to vote, frankly, is too important to be cheapened and wasted by anyone who does not understand the issues and the candidates. The uninformed would be doing their duty for representative government if they either became informed or left the decisions at the ballot box up to those who are. How did the idea that voting for the sake of voting is a virtue ever get started anyhow?
Politicians who bemoan low voter turnout shouldn’t be so critical of non-voters. If a non-voter’s excuse is that he doesn’t know what he should to vote intelligently, he should be thanked for avoiding decisions he’s unprepared to make and encouraged to educate himself. If a non-voter is simply disgusted with lies and broken promises, or just doesn’t want to choose between Scarface and Machine Gun Kelly, then maybe it’s the politicians who should listen and learn; the non-voters are trying to tell them something.