Bring in the Republican vote
Republicans who propose a comprehensive list of electoral regulations in the states and defy federal law to loosen them are right. It’s just not what they think. Judging by the structure of these proposals and the rhetoric associated with them, the intent appears to be to keep the elections competitive. This is not really a good. But the indispensable public nature of voting must be preserved.
To see why competitive elections are not good in themselves, narcissism endemic to politics needs to be overcome. Instead of the cynical claim that all politicians are narcissists – which is both untrue and cheap – the problem is professional narcissism: the inability to see events through a lens other than that of the chosen line of work. In their political version, politicians only see the world through the eyes of the politicians and not from the perspective of the voters.
From the voters’ point of view, the purpose of elections is to register the conscious will of the people. From the candidate’s point of view, the purpose of the election is to win, what fools them into seeing competitiveness as the essence of the game. In the latter view, a “fair” election is an election in which every candidate or party has roughly the same chance of winning. But politics is neither beanbag nor fair and shouldn’t be.
Competitive elections are an essential commodity only for politicians who see their jobs as victorious and for journalists who are bored with making profits and losses. Elections should be an opportunity for reflection. However, when the will of the people is determined in a particular place or period, the purpose of the elections is to register that fact and not make the lives of the candidates fair. There are solid red and blue states where Democratic and Republican candidates have little chance of winning. From the voter’s point of view, there is no inherent reason why elections in these locations should be conducted as a coin toss.
For the Democrats, this narcissistic pursuit of fairness comes in the form of campaign funding regulations which, in elections only from the point of view of those seeking office, seek to improve the conditions of competition between candidates while giving them more control over political language. HR 1, the “For the People Act”, would therefore restrict “dark money”. But “dark money” refers to a means of convincing voters. It is important to the voter whether the message is convincing. Only the politician cares whether the result of the conviction has advantages or disadvantages of a particular candidate.
Republicans show they are prone to professional narcissism too. Some of the electoral reforms they have proposed in state legislatures certainly make sense. However, in the absence of clear evidence of fraud, many seem to rely on a two-step maneuver: alleging fraud and then using belief in fraud as evidence of the need for voting restrictions. It is difficult to dispel suspicions that these reforms, like the Democrats’ obsession with campaign funding, stem from a narcissistic belief that elections would not be competitive without them. Then-President Trump told Fox News last year: If the number of votes was high enough, he would say, “You would never again elect a Republican in this country.”
Voting should require effort – not an unreasonable or prohibitive effort, and not an effort that is intentionally increased for some groups and not for others, but an effort that reflects the civic meaning of the law.
As with the campaign finance reform for Democrats, restricting voting to make Republicans more electoral is a narcotic that can mask underlying pathologies. Both are the means of the parties, who are so convinced of their righteousness that only harassment can explain a loss. Instead of railing against mysterious financial forces supposedly in control of Congress for six of the eight years that President Obama occupied the White House, the Democrats would have done better to moderate their policies and ask how they could be made more attractive.
Conservative facts also have to face themselves: From 2024 there will be voters whose lives a Republican has never won a majority of the referendum for the president. Yes, that’s in part an electoral college artifact causing Democrats to hit trash times in California. Perhaps – like the doctor who says his medicine only made the patient sick because the dose was too low – the problem is the phantasm of Conservatism Inc. stifling the authentic voice of populism. But despite these nefarious powers, you’d think the Republicans would have sneaked past the goalkeeper at some point. A generation that is losing the referendum should lead to open reflection.
But that’s the way the vote should be, and this is where conservatives are on something important. The Republican argument for electoral reform goes something like this: The pandemic required an urgent expansion of postal and postal voting, but to prevent fraud, they should be temporary. A better framework is for voting to be a public act in and of itself. The person doing it should think about its consequences for the common good, not just for themselves.
As a result, the vote should be accessible. Those who require postal or postal votes should be given them. But those who can go to a polling station should be encouraged to engage with the civic symbol of voting in a public setting. If convenience is the only criterion for voting, we shouldn’t be surprised when people vote selfishly. If the number of ballots cast is the measure of a successful election – a premise reflected in the incessant reminders that no matter who or why everyone should vote – we shouldn’t be surprised when serious business is done instead, casually.
Both shouldn’t be the case. Voting should require effort – not an unreasonable or prohibitive effort, and not an effort that is intentionally increased for some groups and not for others, but an effort that reflects the civic meaning of the law. It is more likely that a person who is trying hard to vote will pause for thought. A voter who stands in line with his fellow citizens at a polling station is more inclined to keep his needs – and above all the common good – in mind.
It is true that ballot papers are and should be secret. But that is so that voters can make an honest, intimidating judgment of the common good, not so that they can withdraw into themselves. Under normal circumstances, secret ballots should be cast in public places. Not everyone can do that. There are service members who have to vote remotely and people with medical conditions for whom it is safer to vote by post. You should be housed. It does not detract from that need or stigmatize these unique situations to say that the normal terms for voting should be public.
Electoral reform thus gives Republicans an opportunity to speak about the common good. When a majority of House Democrats try to lower the voting age to 16 – an age of infamous impulsiveness and pressure, not to mention the propaganda that is taking place in public education – they are not simply trying to win over voters. They trivialize the basic civic act by separating it from both maturity and independence. When they try to make voting as convenient as possible, regardless of personal housing needs, they are privatizing an essentially public activity.
In order for conservatives to make this point – voting is a public act that should require a reasonable amount of effort and publicity – they need to maintain accommodations that some have been reluctant to do. There should be enough polling stations with sufficient staff to avoid long waiting times free of charge, especially if the waiting times are unevenly distributed. There’s also a better case when Conservatives have generally recognized making election day a national holiday or postponing elections to an already existing holiday. This would improve the arguments for voting, which requires public effort.
Recently, Arizona Republican MP John Kavanagh was mocked for saying the quiet part out loud when he stated that “not everyone should vote”. The quality, not just the quantity, of the voting questions, he added. That was the important part out loud. It gets scary when elected officials like Kavanagh try to upscale “quality” voters and hinder others based on their partisan or personal judgment. However, electoral regulations should encourage both personal reflection and public action. That – the indispensable public character of the basic civic act – and not professional narcissism is the prism through which conservatives should view electoral reform.