Election season is always an interesting time for me. Whereas most people grow weary from the onslaught of campaign ads and endlessly repeated stump speeches, I’m usually more put out by the constant din reminding us all of the value of a vote. The problem is, rarely, if ever, do I find any of the candidates so much as tolerable, let alone worthy of the ultimate seal of approval, my vote. Thus that vote becomes, more or less, worthless…at least to me.
It’s this last caveat that’s important. While I may see no value in my vote I imagine quite a few other people do. Why else would they be spending unfathomable amounts of their personal time and money sending out mail flyers, calling at all hours of the night, and going around door to door to drag entire neighborhoods out of the shower one person at a time? Unfortunately it is, thus far, illegal for them to simply part with their money in a more direct manner and flat out buy my vote. Instead the only thing approaching a bribe anyone can offer is a campaign promise. And I think we all know these are far from binding contracts.
My attention was called to this sad fact again when, recently a 19 year old student in Minnesota attempted to sell his vote on eBay, and was promptly arrested.
A spokesman for the district attorney said, “There are people that have died for this country, for our right to vote, and to take something like that lightly, to say, ‘I can be bought.’ It’s a real shame.” But this comment makes no sense. To begin with, the student hasn’t said he can be bought, just his vote. Furthermore, clearly no one has died to give him that vote, otherwise he would have the right to sell it, just as he does all his other property.
But since neither that student, nor any of the rest of us can sell our votes they must not be ours. It looks, instead, like they belong to the government, and are merely given to us on loan, the way you may lend a book to a friend, expecting its eventual return.
Some people are fine with this concept of voting. It’s easy to see your vote as issued by the state, especially when looking at the giant government apparatus involved in voting. Or it could be an easy, and commonly accepted, line of defense to fall back on if one sees vote selling as somehow immoral. But there are two giant flaws with this line of reasoning.
To begin with, it flies directly in the face of how our government was instituted. The Declaration of Independence says that government derives it’s “just powers from the consent of the governed,” and the vote is the enduring legacy of this concept. The vote allows citizenry, to some degree, to control and impose it’s will upon the government rather then the other way around.
Second, and more importantly, if the government owns our votes, then surely it has the right to take them back to whenever it wants. After all, it is the government’s property. And whatever it giveth, it may also taketh way.