Mike Renzulli

More About: Voting and Elections

On Voting and Sanction

Since November elections are just around the corner, I think it would be a good idea to ponder the voting question.
For a short time I was a non-voting, anarchist libertarian and, prior to returning to political activism, subscribed to the typical anarchist idea that the act of voting gives justification to an immoral and corrupt political system.
While I am now an atheist, I was a Christian too and simultaneously made the case that voting and political participation were contrary to what was outlined in the Bible and Jesus's actions. I also concluded Matthew 6:24 which says one cannot serve two masters outlined the best reason for a Christian not to be politically active and argued that to vote or participation in politics was to sanction the rule of men over God's will.
In retrospect, there was one thing that I did constantly during my brief stint with religious, philosophical and political anarchism: comment and pay attention to current or historical events which also focused on politics including, but not limited to, elections.
If one reads many essays about non-voting, the authors of such articles tend to focus on almost exactly the same thing with smatterings of libertarianism thrown in for good measure, respectfully.
Aside from this, I would like to examine the logic behind their claims such as if voting could change anything it would be illegal from a different perspective.
I would dare to argue that by not voting it can be construed by the very powers-that-be they reel against that non-voters are giving sanction to the very corrupt system they abhor with all of the taxes, regulations and corruption that comes along with it.
Unlike Zimbabwe, fortunately the United States is still not the dictatorship. I will admit things are bad here but as long as people live, the awful things seen now can be reversed.
The U.S. still has institutions, such as the courts, that can nullify actions government takes.
The recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions rebuking the President assuming more power using the War on Terrorism as justification, it's striking down an election law amendment on campaign contribution limits, and the court's overturning Washington D.C.'s gun ban come to mind.
Thanks to the ability to vote, voters can also reject proposals that will enhance government expansion and elect candidates that can achieve that goal too.
For example, despite a number of ballot measures that enacted new taxes and government spending being passed, in 2004 one initiative on the ballot in Arizona was rejected deserves attention.
The proposal would have allowed Arizona State University to accept personal gifts of stock of publicly traded companies to the university in which the profits of stock sales would be used by A.S.U. to fund things like research. Proponents ran a well-funded campaign with radio and print ads with minimal opposition.
The ballot question went down to defeat handily, and proponents were sent packing never attempting to try their proposal again.
Also, with the ability to vote, people can enact freedom-oriented proposals as well. For five years I was involved in a political group, known as Valley Business Owners and Concerned Citizens (a.k.a. V.B.O.) that operated mainly in a few cities located in the eastern section of the Phoenix-metro area (a.k.a. the east valley).
During my activism with V.B.O., we able to get changes made to Mesa's city charter passed prohibiting the use of eminent domain, helped defeat proposals that would have enacted bond issues for projects such as the arts in 3 east valley cities and got a plan for Mesa city government to spend a large portion of its budget on a stadium for the Arizona Cardinals defeated too.
Prior to my joining V.B.O., the group was able to get Mesa's personal property, real estate, and grocery taxes repealed, along with a pool fence ordinance in Gilbert.
One of my heroes and the father of market anarchism, Lysander Spooner, had this to say about voting in his excellent tract, No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority:
In truth, in the case of individuals, their actual voting is not to be taken as proof of consent, even for the time being. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, without his consent having even been asked a man finds himself environed by a government that he cannot resist; a government that forces him to pay money, renders service, and foregoes the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments. He sees, too, that other men practice this tyranny over him by the use of the ballot. He sees further, that, if he will but use the ballot himself, he has some chance of relieving himself from this tyranny of others, by subjecting them to his own. In short, he finds himself, without his consent, so situated that, if he use the ballot, he may become a master; if he does not use it, he must become a slave. And he has no other alternative than these two. In self- defence, he attempts the former. His case is analogous to that of a man who has been forced into battle, where he must either kill others, or be killed himself. Because, to save his own life in battle, a man takes the lives of his opponents, it is not to be inferred that the battle is one of his own choosing. Neither in contests with the ballot — which is a mere substitute for a bullet — because, as his only chance of self- preservation, a man uses a ballot, is it to be inferred that the contest is one into which he voluntarily entered; that he voluntarily set up all his own natural rights, as a stake against those of others, to be lost or won by the mere power of numbers. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, in an exigency into which he had been forced by others, and in which no other means of self-defense offered, he, as a matter of necessity, used the only one that was left to him.
Doubtless the most miserable of men, under the most oppressive government in the world, if allowed the ballot, would use it, if they could see any chance of thereby meliorating their condition. But it would not, therefore, be a legitimate inference that the government itself, that crushes them, was one which they had voluntarily set up, or even consented to.
Therefore, a man's voting under the Constitution of the United States, is not to be taken as evidence that he ever freely assented to the Constitution, even for the time being. Consequently we have no proof that any very large portion, even of the actual voters of the United States, ever really and voluntarily consented to the Constitution, EVEN FOR THE TIME BEING. Nor can we ever have such proof, until every man is left perfectly free to consent, or not, without thereby subjecting himself or his property to be disturbed or injured by others.
As Spooner's statement clearly points out, the act of voting itself is not to be taken as sanction of the system a person lives under nor the actions of individuals that govern the country utilizing the state's machinery.
Rather, if the act of political participation is done out of self-preservation of a person's life, then the act of voting and political action is justifiable.
In light of Spooner's wisdom, I think non-voting libertarians might want to give political activism and voting another look.
Furthermore, I would also point out that, during and after every election politicians do not look at how many people voted to claim a mandate but how many votes they garner. It is the amount of votes, and not necessarily participation, that statist politicians look to claim legitimacy and that counts in the end.
The lack of the ability of voters to cast ballots ranking candidates in order of their preference makes it abundantly clear that when one votes it is not an indication of approval of corruption (if any) that makes up a political system nor of the idiotic decisions politicians make once elected.
This is the case, it begs this question:
 If the act of voting or political participation, in any manner, could potentially stave off terrible policies from being enacted, such as tax increases and the examples I outline above, then wouldn't it make sense to cast ballots or participate in politics in some manner in the likelihood of seeing an anti-liberty ballot question or candidate go down to defeat or enact proposals to undo taxes and regulations or elect people to office who will scale back government power?
I would think so and imagine the message it would send if all of the sudden proposals and candidates dedicated to expanding government power were being defeated and proposals and candidates dedicated to repealing taxes and regulations starting winning overwhelmingly.
While voting is not a civic duty and people have the right not to cast ballots, what has to be kept in mind is that western political systems, like those used in the U.S., rely mainly on one thing that is also a main feature of economics: feedback.
I think of voting and political participation as how I would cast a jury verdict on how well the policies of government officials and their proposals are doing.
Even though I am not always successful and cannot hang an election like I can if I served on a jury, the fact that I can throw a monkey wrench into attempts to implement liberty-destroying proposals and vote on ballot questions to repeal taxes and regulations is certainly reason enough to keep casting ballots.
The state of the present day culture is the result of years of indoctrination on the part of politicians, government schooling, and the media telling people that they can have their cake and eat it too and many will vote what they believe rather than what the facts are.
Fortunately, libertarians are around to demonstrate to them otherwise and I think it is incumbent upon us to point out not only is this mentality wrong, but why.
I admit I and my fellow political activists will not always prevail but, as freedom fighters I think it is best to use every tool possible to maximize individual rights and minimize government power.
Freedom will not come as a result of a political solution or action. I believe that the act of voting is one of many tools that libertarians can utilize to help lay the groundwork for its return.
That will be the payoff I look forward to.

1 Comments in Response to

Comment by Powell Gammill
Entered on:

Is it me or is Mike looking a bit Neo lately?

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