Friday, March 8, 2013

The Franchise

Mark Butterworth's "Tales of New America" series has recently ventured onto explosive, albeit necessary, ground: the possibility that the franchise has been over-extended, such that the democratic process we use to choose elected officials has been fatally biased in favor of ever larger and more intrusive government.

The problem is politically stiff, as any suggestion of the retraction of a "right" always elicits the most vocal, and sometimes violent, sort of protest. (Look at Greece if you disbelieve it.) Add the argument that the franchise isn't a real right in any case, and you have a very heady cocktail: the sort that can get a nation drunk, and belligerently so, to the point of political dissolution.

In February of 2005, back at Eternity Road, I proposed the following set of criteria for awarding the franchise:

  1. The applicant must be a citizen of these United States;
  2. He must present a photographic confirmation of his identity;
  3. He must be able to show continuous residence in one state for no less than one year prior to his application, that state being the one in which he seeks to vote;
  4. He must be able to present receipts for having paid sales, property, or income taxes within the state of his residence, no more than one year before his application, and for a total amount not less than $500;
  5. He must present a Certificate of Proficiency in constitutional understanding, earned no more than one year previously, from his state's elections authority, said certificate to be awarded upon achieving a grade of 85% or higher on a multiple-choice test composed of twenty computer-selected questions on constitutional principles;
  6. In exchange for the privilege of voting in a specified election, he must agree to forgo and forswear until after the next general election:
    • any position of profit or trust under the Constitution, in any federal, state, or local office, whether elective, appointive, or Civil Service;
    • any and all payments from any organ of government, regardless of the reason for them;
    • any and all personal or categorical privileges, exemptions, or subventions that may be awarded by any organ of government.

Gentle Reader, you would not believe the fusillades that evoked. All the same, I meant it then and I stand by it today. Indeed, back then I was inclined to qualify some of the tougher provisions. Today, I would toughen them further:

  • The tax receipt he presents must be a property tax receipt for his residence for the current year, the full payment for the year's property taxes made out in his name;
  • The government payments disallowed must include pensions received for prior government service, including military service;
  • He may not have any dependents, financially speaking, who themselves receive government payments of any sort.

It is paramount to remove from the electoral process all monetary incentives toward expanding government in favor of an identifiable special interest, including unjustifiable expansions of the military. Decisions about important matters must be free from material bias toward or away from particular institutions. If we're to elect representatives to legislate on important matters, let them be chosen from among those who have no such bias -- no such obvious bias, at any rate -- and elected by that same group.

(Concerning military pensions, the dubious Gentle Reader is invited to look into the history of pensions for Civil War veterans, which grew faster than the Gross Domestic Product for the rest of the Nineteenth Century. Such pensioners constitute a special interest like any other, and must be curbed like any other. Make an exception here and you have to defend your decision not to allow other exceptions.)

Among the other virtues of my system, were the above requirements imposed on all franchisees, the ability to produce the required photo ID, property tax receipt, and certificate of Constitutional proficiency would eliminate the need for voter registration, and thus reduce, effectively to zero, the practice of Election Day illegal voting. Beat that if you can!

I don't share Mark's position on restricting the franchise to men; I merely want each voter to have a demonstrable, enduring stake in the well-being of his county and state of residence, and carry a demonstrably significant share of the burden of supporting those polities. (Federal taxes are a separate subject, about which I'm even more radical.)

Thoughts? (No obscenities, imputations of insanity or senility, or slurs on my character, please; I'm having a very bad day.)