Suffrage Fetishism in the Sunshine State

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Reading
the Florida Supreme Court's opinion on my state's electoral absurdism
(the theatrical adaptation might be entitled Six Firms in Search
of a Chad), I came upon this curious passage:

"The
right of suffrage is the preeminent right contained in the [Florida
Constitution's] Declaration of Rights, for without this basic freedom
all others would be diminished. The importance of this right was
acknowledged by the authors of the Constitution, who placed it first
in the Declaration. The very first words in the body of the constitution
are as follows:

SECTION
1. Political power – All political power is inherent in the people.
The enunciation herein of certain rights shall not be construed
to deny or impair others retained by the people."

Suffrage
is the sine qua non of freedom? My first thought is that Emma Goldman
was right: In America, voting is the opiate of the masses.

Section
1 in fact affirms the preeminence of popular sovereignty. Suffrage
is an instrumentality of popular sovereignty, not its essence.

The
essence of popular sovereignty is emigration. (Call it the ultimate
suffrage: voting with your feet.) Indeed, without this basic freedom,
all others would be diminished.

While
living disenfranchised is certainly undesirable, it pales in comparison
to a regime that prohibits emigration. As Walter Block observes,
"A country which will not allow its citizens to leave is nothing
better than a vast jail." Disenfranchisement is nothing to
treat lightly, but imprisonment it is not.

Consider
the assumptions behind the respective deprivations in the following
hypotheticals:

  1. The
    State of Florida sends Citizen K a letter reading, "Your
    suffrage is hereby revoked." It has assumed the power to
    abolish his formal political participation. Citizen K can exercise
    his sovereignty and move elsewhere.
  2. The
    State of Florida sends Citizen K a letter reading, "You
    are hereby restricted from leaving the State of Florida."
    It has assumed the power to abolish his elemental property rights,
    i.e., proprietorship. Citizen K cannot exercise his sovereignty
    (well, not without risking physical harm).

These
scenarios illustrate the difference between caste and totalitarianism:
second-class citizenship versus chattel.

I
doubt the Florida Supreme Court is alone in misattributing the supremacy
of suffrage. Its comment in the opinion at hand reflects a ballot-deification
likely shared by many. Speculatively speaking, Jim Crow perturbs
more people than the Berlin Wall.

November
25, 2000

Myles
Kantor lives in Boynton Beach, Florida.

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