Bay area assemblyman Marc Levine (D) claims “California is a national leader on expanding voting rights to its citizens. Those rights come with a responsibility by registered voters to cast their ballot and make sure that their voice is heard by their government.” Levine is so insistent of this responsibility that he brought forth a bill that would make voting compulsory for those registered in California. He rationalizes that there will be “better outcomes when every Californian participates in elections.” The idea is supported by Stanford political science professor Emilee Chapman who believes compulsory voting sends “a positive message that you’re valuing the voices of everyone, not just the people who typically opt in.” Whatever the rationale might be for coercive voting, there is a flagrant misjudgment concerning the nature of public abstention.
Since there is much to do concerning the “right” of individuals to vote, it is important to establish what a right entails. Without a consistent, sound, and thorough interpretation of rights, the concept of a right can be misconstrued to fit any agenda, no matter how implausible. With this consideration in mind I refer to an explanation of rights I formulated in a previous article of mine;
I construct the meaning of “rights” as privileges inherent to individual existence. That is, rights are the benefits we receive from being able to control our own bodies. For example, humans have a right to opinions since an opinion is comprised of thoughts and feelings generated by one’s own mind. Expression and speech are also rights because they originate within the individual’s personal vessel (i.e., the body). Since these abilities are intrinsic to human existence and controlled solely by the individual, it is impossible for them to be directed in a telekinetic manner. What humans can do is control the circumstances surrounding an individual, forcing said individual to make a choice they wouldn’t have otherwise, but this does not qualify as controlling another’s bodily functions. Therefore, the use of one’s personal vessel is strictly one’s own privilege and no one else’s.
When extended into the realm of human contact, rights must be expressed through voluntary exchange. Any exchange that is not the product of consent necessarily entails an entity seizing use of facilities outside the entity’s personal vessel, which they have no right to do (theft). If two individuals exchange goods that each has obtained in the absence of theft, then they are participating in an action that is purely the result of each participant using their personal vessel in a way that generates a mutually fit outcome.
A person who uses their body to steal would not be engaging in a rightful act. Although the thief would be controlling his own body, thus using the bodily functions he is privileged to control, he does not have a right to anyone else’s belongings since they are not a function of the thief’s own body. The thief perhaps could be able to spy, wander, and sneak since those actions involve the use of his own body, but when it comes to taking possession of entities outside himself, he has entered a realm where his rights are only extended by others using their rights.John A. Lancaster
With this conception of rights at hand, it becomes clear that there are no rights being protected or advanced by using the government to compel anyone to vote. Levine’s bill presses individuals who have made a choice with their own minds to act in a way that they would not have if left to their own devices. This constitutes a fundamental removal of rights. Voters in abstention do not commit any act that encroaches upon the rights of another, yet are subject to penalties by the secretary of state as per Levine’s bill. The possible penalties will inherently involve either fines, community service, revocation of government allotted privileges (such as voting), or jail time as these are the typical tactics used by governments. In this case, non-voters may have either their money, freedom, or political expression confiscated for withholding something nobody was entitled to in the first place. This is simply a despotic perversion of rights.
What is Conveyed by Abstention?
One does not have to cast a vote to send a message to the political establishment. Individuals, with all the variation that comes with uncontrolled thought, are able to express themselves in a myriad of ways both traditional and otherwise. This form of expression doubtlessly includes withholding a vote. The reasons one may decide against participating in an election can range from dissatisfaction with the candidates to complete indifference. If supporters of Levine’s bill truly valued the opinions and ideals of the public, there would be an effort to mitigate the factors causing abstention. Instead, there is an effort to herd votes without the slightest heed being payed to the voters themselves. But why such heavy-handedness? Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow Hans A. von Spakovsky touched on this while addressing former president Obama’s support for compulsory voting five years ago,
Census Bureau surveys of non-voters also show that the president is wrong in his assessment of why people don’t vote. The vast majority of them choose not to vote because they don’t like the candidates or the campaign issues or are simply not interested in the political process. Their choice not to vote sends its own message to candidates and political parties about their relevance or irrelevance to the lives of those nonvoters.
This mandatory voting idea appeals to progressives such as Barack Obama because they just don’t understand it when voters reject them, as voters did in the mid-term congressional elections in 2014 and 2010. The concept that voters don’t like or agree with their views of an all-powerful government that tells us what to do from birth to death just can’t be true in their eyes. They seem to think that if they can just force non-voters into voting booths, then they will win elections and America will be “transformed” into a progressive utopia.Hans A. von Spakovsky
Considering Spakovsky’s observation, one can only imagine Levine’s zeal for compulsory voting if the democratic candidates favored the late Zell Miller.
A Political Pretense
Though the self anointed do-gooders may claim their intentions are to foster a more inclusive political process, resorting to compulsory voting intrinsically excludes the political statement of holding out. Abstention tends to be a key feature found in some libertarian ideologies. 19th century individualist Benjamin Tucker, whose influence is still present today through anarcho-capitalists, believed,
Voting is merely a labor-saving device for ascertaining on which side force lies and bowing to the inevitable… It is neither more nor less than a paper representative of the bayonet, the bully, and the bullet.
Feminist standout Wendy McElroy, who favors abstention, echoed such sentiments in her short essay Why I Would Not Vote. McElroy ends her piece with a solemn line, “You cannot help freedom or social power by bowing your head to Leviathan.”
Those heavily invested in libertarianism aren’t the only ones who favor abstention as a political tool. In 2016, a 19 year old college student, who did not explicitly express a political ideology, voiced her reasons against voting in that year’s presidential election on the social change site Odyssey Online. After noting her observations she gave the following assessment:
If 80 per cent of the population decided they wouldn’t take part in a democratic farce, government would have to look at reform. It sounds like a dream, but all it requires is that people stop pretending democracy works in this country. We have the right to vote and not voting is an exercise of that right as well. Citizen education, electoral reform and political revolution is necessary in order to unite this country and break free of ideologies, class, religion and race. If you think these 3 people should be the president of our great country, then enjoy the thrill of filling out a ballot. But if you think your voice is worth more than just a slip of paper, then educate yourself, start a movement, demand change and opt out of the circus.Madeline Oller
In a country where individuals are free to cultivate and partake in whatever ideological principles they please (excluding forms of terrorism), compulsory voting serves as a direct attack on those who decide to make their voice heard by rejecting the voting process. By using coercion to bolster votes, the government is systematically suppressing a form political activism and forcing those who have certain views on U.S. society to break their rightfully held convictions.
What Cannot Be Undone
Legislating people to the ballot box does absolutely nothing to remedy whatever reasons people chose not to vote. Levine’s bill leaves the undesirable elements that dissuaded votes unaddressed. Those who reacted to said elements with abstention will not have their sentiments changed. Coercion may be able to incite choice, but agreement of the choice is always within the individual’s will. In no way is this a formula for improvement. It is merely sweeping political inconveniences under the rug in the name of democracy.