Comment of the Day: “Make Voting Compulsory, Because We Can’t Let THAT Happen Again”

Maybe Ruth Marcus would like this system better...

Maybe Ruth Marcus would like this system better…

Theories of democracy and political science, Robert Heinlein, minimizing bias from self-interest, scientist suspicion, GIANT BUGS…okay, it doesn’t quite get to the bugs. But what’s not to like about texagg 04’s reflections and exposition sparked by the post on Ruth Marcus’s plug for compulsory voting? Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, Make Voting Compulsory, Because We Can’t Let THAT Happen Again:

When a right or a freedom becomes compelled, it is no longer a right or a freedom. I would be hard pressed to even call it an obligation, which implies you are expected to do it, but are still free no to, to the disappointment of whoever. No, compelling a right destroys it as a right; and I could even envision it as becoming an easier step from that point to actually destroying the right itself.

“Starship Troopers”

For the commentary regarding Heinlein, after reading into the expose he gives on why his “society” only allowed *discharged* soldiers to be citizens and therefore bear the franchise, it had nothing to do with “earning” citizenship nor was it similar to the old land-owner requirement of whoever is “invested” in a society will vote more astutely for it’s good.

His expose definitely indicates that Heinlein saw the flaw in voting would ALWAYS manifest itself in those who would vote primarily out of self-interest – to the point of voting to surrender responsibility for material succor… that is to say, a welfare recipient would tend to vote for a politician that maintained welfare, an grossly in-debt college student would tend to vote for a politician promising to relieve that debt from the public largesse, etc. Eventually, that flaw leads voting societies to non-sustainability.

He even posited that the Utopian dreams of “Scientist-led” or “Technocrat-led” societies would collapse just as surely, because those decision-makers would eventually succumb to their own personal hubris and vote out of self-interest as no other checks would exist in that society. He merely extended the prediction that when those societies collapsed, they would be even uglier and scarier than the others, since Scientists and Technology wielders have the knowledge to really make life suck for the disagreers / non-conformers.

So Heinlein’s assertion in “Starship Troopers” to cure (or at least forestall collapse the longest) would be a society that denied the franchise to those likely to end up voting only out of self-interest. That’s the key he felt needed to be stifled. What test then did he set up? In his society it was the Soldiers*. After being put through EXTREMELY rigorous training that didn’t inculcate a Group-Think, but did weed out those whose Individualism was born from material-self-centeredness, he believed those who made it would be Individualists who simultaneously knew what conduct was necessary for the greater good without destroying the individual while allowing the individual his freedoms. After that trial, in which Citizenship isn’t earned, in which a Citizen isn’t made, rather…Citizens are found out of the masses.

But he doesn’t stop there. As long as the Soldiers are on active duty, they are not voting citizens. Only the discharged Soldiers are allowed to vote.

Of course, we know his version of Fantasy-Republic would never be perfect either. But I think his concept of Individuals who still know what is for the Common Good without crushing the Individual is the basis for a healthy society.

*Contrary to those who like to bash “Starship Troopers,” it actually wasn’t just soldiers who got the right to vote, but anyone who volunteered for Service and was put through the EXTREMELY rigorous trials, whether they ended up working as Grunts, R&D types, Pilots, Logisticians, etc…

18 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “Make Voting Compulsory, Because We Can’t Let THAT Happen Again”

  1. It’s like listening to a recording of your own voice when you re-read a bit and see all the errors and places you could have worded something much better…

    “I would be hard pressed to even call it an obligation, which implies you are strongly expected to do it, but are still free no to, to the disappointment of whoever.”

    ” to the point of voting to surrender responsibility (and autonomy) in exchange for material succor… ”

    Among other things.

  2. Wrong in one very fundamental way regarding Heinlein’s work.

    The criterion for the franchise was a period of Federal Service, not necessarily the military. A period of indenture to the state, they could decide to put you in any occupation they (not you) choose.

    Military, Firefighting, Experimental Animal, HAZMAT cleanup, Reforestation, Counting fuzz on a caterpillar by touch, if that is all you are capable of.

  3. Regarding “Compulsory Voting” in Australia – it’s only compulsory to turn up at the polling place, and accept a ballot sheet.

    You can do with it what you want. Write “none of the above” on it for example.

    Voting machines – in use in some places,mostly for the visually impaired – are programmed to allow a deliberate “informal vote” like this, though you have to go through the usual “are you really sure you want to cast a ballot that won’t count” warnings.

    Polls are held on weekends, with early voting allowed, so those gainfully employed aren’t at the mercy of employers who will fire them or force them to take unpaid leave if they vote.

    • I’m almost convinced to support:

      1) Election Day is made a national holiday, no one may be compelled to work, except bare essential services run on skeleton crews – PDs, FDs, hospitals, etc (and those have to file for exemptions to work). However, should an individual choose to work, they don’t get to be considered as an exception to this and do not get to be rolled into #2.

      2) No Early Voting. Nope. None. It shouldn’t be too much of an “inconvenience” involved in determining National direction. With the following exception – after clearing in advance the individuals who are assigned to the skeleton crews for item #1, those individuals may vote the day prior to Election Day, receiving the day prior, the same protections from employers as described in #1. Long lines bother you?

      3) Absentee Voting for Military / Government Assignment away from home / similar civilian arrangement / extreme condition barring ability to be present at polling station. If you can’t be bothered to return to your home polling station for Election Day, you need to change your registered location OR even your actual state of residence if you are so permanently situated.

      Of course that is relatively unrefined.

        • Wow, you and I really are far apart on this voting thing. I support your #3, but I completely reject the idea that It’s All Gotta Be Done In One Day (Or Two). I guess I’ll have to move to Australia (God Knows I can’t afford the round trip – sorry, mates!).

          • I’m with Tex on the single day rule. It is a culturally binding tradition, and signals importance and ritual, both important. It also guarantees that votes aren’t cast before everything relevant is known: there were some disturbing revelations in the North Carolina Senate race on election day, for example. It shows that this is a serious obligation and shared national moment.

          • Since the first amendment would probably prevent any sort of media blackout on exit polls, and media reporting already has a proven effect on voter turnout, I agree with the all within one day bit.

            I’m also just a bit concerned that the more time you take, the easier you make fraud.

            • But Phlinn, wouldn’t the spreading-out of the window of time for people to show up at polls more likely diminish the exit-polling effects on turnout?

              As far as fraud and the opportunities for fraud go, I am unconvinced that the size of the window of time available to vote has any relevance. It seems like people so motivated to pull off fraud would be smart enough to figure out how to do as much damage in their favor, whether the window of time for voting was spread over a week or two weeks, or confined to one day. Jack raises the point of how ballots might be cast before knowing all that is relevant (to a voter, so that the voter may decide with peace of mind, I presume he means). But I think the all-voting-on-one-day approach actually makes the “November surprise” into a more plausible election-rigging scheme – much like some news tidbit that might be leaked on purpose with impactful timing in mind, to cause a stock market panic.

  4. “When a right or a freedom becomes compelled, it is no longer a right or a freedom.”

    Yes: That bears remembering while, for example, “marriage” and the “right to marriage” continue to be re-defined by self-privileging minoritarians, along with the “right” to recognize (or not recognize) the re-definitions and which is (or is not) compelled, a “right” or freedom.

    Voting is not a right. It is a privilege that requires people to be continually prepared to fight to the death to preserve, and from time to time to actually fight to the death to obtain and preserve, for themselves if not also for others. Neglect a privilege, and you (and others) eventually lose it (lose, as in, have it taken away from you), AND lose (in the same “taken” manner) much if not all freedom that goes hand-in-hand with that privilege.

    “…Individuals who still know what is for the Common Good without crushing the Individual is the basis for a healthy society.”

    Sure, we can dream of that, hope for that. But history makes clear how few individuals actually care, let alone know, what is for the Common Good, what makes for a healthy society, and what constitutes crushing the Individual (and how little those few care or know, if not immediately and always, then eventually and forever after).

  5. Why not have the criterion be that you paid federal income taxes? Should you get to decide how the pie is distributed when you didn’t put any in to begin with? For those who suggest that people would be permanently disenfranchised because of poverty alone, high school students with part-time fast food jobs can easily end up owing federal income tax. The number of adults who don’t owe federal income tax (roughly 50%) suggests there is something terribly wrong with our society or something terribly wrong with our tax structure.

    • Whatever its merits, like compulsory voting, the chances of such a restriction 1) being passed and 2) standing court review are somewhat less promising that the career of ice sculptor in Hell.

  6. The very first science fiction novel I ever read was “Starship Troopers”, which I found in the library of my intermediate school.

    Note: The movie was VERY loosely based on the novel which, contrary to its many detractors and the filmmakers, did NOT describe a fascistic society.

    Actually, one can properly say that Heinlein’s future society had its closest parallels to the Roman Republic with some of the weaknesses of that society removed. But it made some important points. The rights we recognize under the Bill of Rights should be recognized for all residents of a nation. What designates the CITIZEN is the right to vote and hold public office… i.e. “the franchise”. In our nation today, this becomes a birthright upon achieving adulthood. In ancient Rome- as in Heinlein’s Terran Federation- it was/is a privilege to be earned. It’s also true that perhaps the greatest single influence on the American Republic was its Roman counterpart. Maybe this is a facet of that heritage we shouldn’t have overlooked.

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