In 2015, the New Jersey legislature passed the Democracy Act, a bill intended to make it easier to register to vote; some would say too easy. In November, NJ Governor Chris Christie vetoed the bill.
I won’t go into the pros and cons of the bill. Instead, in my comments below the article, I focussed on the very first sentence of a bill advocate’s NJ Star-Ledger guest column. Richard T. Smith, president of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, called on Governor Christie to sign the bill because, Smith asserted, “Voting is the most fundamental right.”
Before any discussion of voting reform, we must get the hierarchy of rights correct.
The right to vote is not the most fundamental right. It is not even a fundamental right. A fundamental right is a right that precedes government, and the most fundamental right is the right to life; which means the right of each individual to chart the course of his own life in pursuit of his own goals, values, and happiness, including the right to whatever property he earns. The right to chart the course of his own life requires individual liberty. The rights to life, liberty, and property are fundamental rights. As the Declaration of Independence states, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . .” Rights first. Government second.
The right to vote is therefore a derivative of the fundamental rights. The right to vote comes into being after the government is instituted to protect the fundamental rights of the people. The right to vote is fundamental to the political process, and every adult of sound mind should have that right. The right to life includes the right of the people to choose their political leaders and to decide how much power they need to perform their duty to protect individual rights. But the right to vote is a procedural right, logically derived from the need to establish a government to protect the fundamental rights. If individuals have no right to their own lives, then on what basis do they have a right to choose their political leaders? You can’t reverse cause and effect.
The distinction between fundamental and derivative rights is crucially important because it goes to the heart of how much power a government should have over our lives. Fundamental rights are rights that the political class—and thus the government—can not trespass upon. Fundamental rights are unalienable. If you have a fundamental right to your own life, then by definition the power of the government must be limited in its power. By extension, this means the power of voting blocks is limited: We the People can choose our political leaders. But We the People cannot vote away the fundamental rights of our neighbors, or of minorities, including the smallest minority, the individual. Our fundamental rights are outside the power of voting majorities to infringe.
Statists want state supremacy over our lives. Statists hold that individuals do not own their own lives. Rather, individuals are subjects of a supreme state, under which its political leaders can regulate and control, including individuals’ property, as they see fit. Turning the right to vote into “the most fundamental right” inverts the proper purpose of government, and puts all of our lives, liberties, and property at the mercy of elected officials. America is a constitutionally limited republic, not a democracy. Democracy is a form of totalitarianism. Statists want democracy, and thus sneak in the concept that “Voting is the most fundamental right.”
Voting is not the most fundamental right. Only when we grasp that principle can we talk about rules of voter registration.
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