Voting Rights Activists Have It All Wrong

By Devin Lynch, Staff Writer

This article was originally featured in our special election 2020 magazine, (p.10) released 16 November 2020, which you can view here.

Every election year, calls to remove both legal and circumstantial barriers to universal suffrage inevitably accompany otherwise mild get-out-the-vote efforts.  While people should certainly have a say in the issues that affect them, voting rights activists miss the point by miles. 

Suffrage advocacy presupposes a government that violates human rights. 

On the surface, making voting easier for more people seems entirely innocuous.  If certain groups are denied voting rights and thus representation, trampling over their other rights becomes easier.  But this argument assumes two contradictory preconditions — that democracy alone is enough to protect the rights of constituents, and, worse, that elected officials have the moral authority to infringe upon the life, liberty, and property of large swaths of people in the first place.  Both of these are dangerous.

Democracy doesn’t protect voters from tyranny.

Some of the United States’ worst atrocities were massively popular at the time.  From slavery to the Patriot Act to indefinitely detaining hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the American public has historically supported egregious human rights violations when politically expedient.  62% of Japanese-American internees were eligible to vote.  But it’s hard to argue that the government’s actions were justified just because the victims had a say in the matter.  In practice, democracy itself doesn’t protect minorities as much as it shields voters from having to take responsibility when the policies they helped enact violate the rights of others.  The United States has been a democracy in one form or another for its entire existence, yet our nation is responsible for a great many evils in the last 250 years.  If democracy didn’t stop those atrocities then, why will it stop them now?

Whether or not someone can vote is irrelevant in a free society.

If voter enfranchisement advocates truly care about protecting the rights of minorities, why do they push a system designed to dilute accountability among the entire population instead?  The solution isn’t to give more people the reins of a runaway, power-hungry government.  Rather, why not reduce the size and scope of the state such that it’s powerless to violate the rights of its citizens?  As Frederic Bastiat wrote, “This controversy over universal suffrage … would lose nearly all of its importance if the law had always been what it ought to be. In fact, if law were restricted to protecting all persons, all liberties, and all properties … is it likely that we citizens would then argue much about the extent of the franchise?”  If the government didn’t have the power to benefit one person or group at the expense of another, why would it matter who got to vote?  In other words, if the government couldn’t screw you over, why would you care who’s in charge?

The real motivation behind voter advocacy:  power and free stuff.

There’s only one reason to oppose a government that does nothing but protect life, liberty, and property — when protecting those rights isn’t enough.  Majority rule is a terrible way to protect minorities, so if voter advocates truly wanted to defend people’s rights, they’d opt for a smaller, less invasive state that simply doesn’t have the power to commit injustices.  But expanding the franchise is a misguided tactic — unless your goal is to allow voters to elect politicians who will benefit them at the expense of the rest of the population.  The left has a choice to make.  Do they want to stick up for the vulnerable by prohibiting institutional rights violations, or do they just want to be the ones in charge of those infringements?

Devin Lynch is a Staff Writer studying Computer Science from Charlotte, NC. He is the State Chair of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) in North Carolina, and is libertarian-aligned.

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