Voting and Freedom


This is the time of year when we get unsolicited e-mails and phone calls urging us to vote for this person or that. I got an e-mail from a poly-sci grad student from George Mason University urging me to vote for a particular candidate because I’m an ordained minister. To his credit, he did write back when I replied to his spam. Usually, you just get annoying recorded phone messages — being on the “do not call” list notwithstanding.

I did vote in the primary this year. I may vote in the general election, but I’m not sure that I will. I could exercise the write-in vote if the partisan picks are unacceptable — but then again, if I have something more important to do than cast a protest vote, I’ll do that instead. I’m pretty busy these days serving a kingdom that is not of this world.

There are a lot of misconceptions about voting and elections — especially when it comes to voting for president. Americans do need to understand this about presidential elections: your vote doesn’t count. I’m not saying not to do it, but just go into the little booth with eyes wide open.

Obviously, the president of the United States is elected by the Electoral College — not by popular vote. And, of course, the last time the popular vote was contradicted by the college was in the last Federal election. I’m not opposed to this, mind you, as I do see the wisdom of a republican model over and against a democratic model. However, the last time a president was elected by one entire region over the other (and with a minority popular vote) the result was a political disaster for the United States — followed thereafter by the first of many bloody and expensive aggressive wars of conquest. This directly resulted in a radical move toward centralization and imperialism (in other words: Big Government).

Anyway, the voters in the U.S. don’t vote for president. It doesn’t matter what the ballot says. You actually vote for delegates. And in fact, in the primaries and caucuses, the political parties themselves select the delegates. And how are they selected? Read here. Surprised? It gets better. The parties notoriously change the rules on the fly. Here in Louisiana, we have both a caucus and a primary. How the whole thing works is so convoluted that I suspect nobody — not even the Secretary of State — really understands the machinations.

So, in other words, you go to the polling location thinking you are voting for a candidate, when in fact, the primary is a canvass by the political party of your choice to determine a delegate to a party convention. This delegate may or may not be bound to vote for any particular candidate — depending on the party’s rules at that time and place. Confused? Well, what isn’t confusing is that whom he or she votes for at the convention can (and is) determined by party hacks and hundreds of thousands of dollars in “campaign contributions.”

And even though Mardi Gras is over, here comes the cliché parade: “Follow the money trail. Cui bono? Money talks, and…” I would say “Throw me somethin’ mistah!” but I think I’ve been thrown enough, thank you.

Of course, most Americans either don’t know this, or don’t care. They think voting is a holy sacrament. Some of my Lutheran brethren even interpret Romans 13 in such a way as to declare it a sin (a sin for crying out loud, like stealing or adultery!) if you don’t participate in the process of ritual mob-bribery. It sort of begs the question: “Is it a sin to ply delegates with campaign contributions?”

A couple months back, I addressed this general topic in a different context.

Personally, I don’t think the Republic is better off if everyone votes. I believe universal suffrage is way overrated. If people don’t know anything about the candidates, or if they don’t understand the issues, they shouldn’t vote. I personally abstain from voting in any election if 1) I don’t know the candidates or issues, 2) either choice is repugnant, or 3) participation would violate my conscience or the Constitution. Fewer informed and smart people voting is better than everyone just picking at random, judging a candidate by his name, or blindly walking into the booth with a voter’s guide prepared by a labor union or other special interest group.

Some “patriotic” scolds trot out the old canard: “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain” or “you have no right to an opinion.” Nonsense. Rights come from God. Rights are not granted by the state. Nor are rights things you earn — either by voting, or by giving money to a “super-delegate.” To put it in “Lutheranese”: this kind of thinking turns grace into a work. Translation: Freedom is not something one earns — it is a gift of God. Even one’s citizenship is typically a birthright rather than something one acquires by jumping through hoops or making a purchase (though immigrants typically must take a test and spend a lot of money to become citizens).

It’s especially interesting to hear Americans make this argument about voting being a requirement to hold an opinion — given that we have more than 700 military bases outside of the United States — in more than 100 countries. There seems to be no shortage of opinions about how those countries are run, and yet we don’t vote in any of those elections.

Similarly, Republicans will give you plenty of opinions about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Democrats are hardly shy about complaining about Huckabee and Romney — even though none of them votes in the opposing party’s primary. Americans have a lot of opinions about the governments of France and England, Russia and Argentina — all while never casting a vote in any of those countries.

In Louisiana, many people have strong loyalties to the LSU Tigers sports teams — while never having set foot in a classroom in Baton Rouge. Do they have the right to those opinions? Well, I don’t see the university asking to see your diploma before letting you wear the tee shirt.

Just what exactly is it about freedom that is so hard to understand? I am honestly perplexed.

You have a right to your opinion — it is part of the natural, God-given right to be free. And yes, you have a right to complain about your government, or anything else — whether or not you vote.

February 18, 2008