Regulation of the Day 134: Not Voting
The lede to this Denver Post article says it all:
RIDGWAY — Residents of this Old West- meets-New Age town can be fined if their fences are too high, they have too many chickens, their dogs aren’t on leashes or their weeds are out of control.
Tom Hennessy would like to add not voting to that list.
There are three things wrong with Mr. Hennessy’s proposed regulation. One is that mandatory voting is a violation of personal freedom. To vote or not is an important choice that people make for themselves. It is not Mr. Hennessy’s place to make that decision for others. Many countries have tried mandatory voting over the years, most notably the Soviet Union.
The second thing wrong with mandatory voting is that it violates freedom of speech. Mr. Hennessy is aware that compelled speech is just as unconstitutional as censored speech. That’s why he proposes a “none of the above” option on ballots. But some people are sending a deliberate message when they choose not to vote. Mr. Hennessy would fine them for sending that message.
The third point is that, maybe, some people shouldn’t vote. If I step into a voting booth not knowing a thing about the candidates or the issues, I am essentially choosing at random. And choosing wrong means voting against everything I stand for.
Even worse, human beings have built-in cognitive biases that affect their voting habits. Economist Bryan Caplan’s book The Myth of the Rational Voter identifies anti-foreign bias, anti-market bias, make-work bias, and pessimistic bias, for starters.
Even relatively informed voters fall prey to these biases. They vote accordingly. The difference of opinion between economists and the general public on economic issues is startling. Nobody argues relativity with a physicist thinking they’ll win. But voters from both parties argue against the laws of economics every election, often in error but never in doubt.
Despite its flaws, democracy has worked tolerably well in this country for a long time. Perhaps the best part of our particular democracy is that people are free to choose their level of engagement with it. That should be your choice. Not Tom Hennessy’s.
(Full disclosure: CEI takes no stance on whether to vote, or for whom. Neither do I. I personally have not voted since 2002, but seriously consider it every year.)