Micah Herskind, then a Princeton student, contributed a guest column to the 12/3/18 New Jersey Star-Ledger. His goal is to argue for restoring voting rights for individuals incarcerated in our prisons. Until then, he argues, America will never be a “formal democracy.”
Of course, America was never intended to be a formal democracy. It was intended to be a constitutional republic based on individual rights, into which a democratic process is incorporated. Some call this liberal democracy, implying that liberty comes before the democratic process. In Until everyone can vote, we’re still not a democracy,
Regardless of your politics, we must recognize that we will only live in a true democracy once everyone has the right to vote.
The Founding Fathers understood more than two centuries ago that an elected legislature can trample a person’s rights as readily as can a king, an aristocracy, or theocrat. So they bequeathed to posterity a constitutional republic based on enumerated limited governmental powers to protect individual rights from aspiring tyrants, including elected legislatures.
Yet here we are today with a Princeton student who should know better speaking of “true democracy,” as if the only “right” that matters is the power to run everyone else's lives via a vote.
It is not. Democracy is not fundamental to America. In fact, it is the repudiation of America. The right to vote is not 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 rights to life, liberty, and property are fundamental rights. The right to vote is a derivative of the fundamental rights. No one’s fundamental rights should ever be at the mercy of elections.
Am I being too hard on Herskind? After all, his primary focus is on getting imprisoned individuals the vote. I think not. An indication that Herskind does not understand America as a rights-protecting nation first is in this statement:
But even voting rights legislation is an incomplete, if important, step toward democracy. Along with the right to vote must come a massive organizing initiative to register newly-eligible voters — or better, to automatically register all voters — and to get out the vote. Such an effort will be integral to democracy.
Emphasis added. As I argued in QUORA: ‘What's wrong with automatic voter registration?’
automatically registering eligible voters is a violation of individual rights.
Automatic voter registration violates the rights of individuals to decide for themselves if they want to register and vote. It is a personal decision that the state has no business deciding for anyone. Rationalizations about the “civic duty” or “politicization” of voting to the contrary notwithstanding, the state has no more business registering you to vote than it does registering you into a bowling league or as an Amazon Prime customer. The only role of the state is to make it as uncomplicated as it can to register to vote, consistent with running fair and trustworthy elections. The choice is up to the individual citizen, each according to his own values, conscience, and interests—period.
What's wrong with automatic voter registration? The very fact that it’s automatic, rather than voluntary.
True democracy repudiates these and other protections of individual rights. If Herskind understood America, he wouldn't advocate for automatic voter registration. What's next -- a fine for not voting? Don't laugh. If Democracy is primary, that's the logical next step. Principles and precedents have consequences.
Democracy is a manifestation of totalitarianism, in that every aspect of life and property are subject to political control/expropriation. I have no opinion regarding voting rights for ex-cons. Frankly, I wouldn’t care who voted if my rights were protected. But those protections are eroding under the increasing democratization of America. The alienation from our fundamental rights is a much more important issue than any voter’s disenfranchisement. Freedom is not the right to vote. Freedom is the right to live one’s life regardless of anyone else’s vote.