Should We License Voters?

by | Aug 26, 2012

In every state of the union, individuals are required to obtain a driver’s license in order to legally operate a motor vehicle. Further, specialized licenses are also required to operate specific types of vehicles, such as large trucks and motorcycles. To obtain such licenses, individuals must demonstrate competency in operating the appropriate vehicle, as well […]

In every state of the union, individuals are required to obtain a driver’s license in order to legally operate a motor vehicle. Further, specialized licenses are also required to operate specific types of vehicles, such as large trucks and motorcycles. To obtain such licenses, individuals must demonstrate competency in operating the appropriate vehicle, as well as knowledge of the rules governing their operation on the roads.

Across the nation, doctors, lawyers, plumbers, and electricians must prove their competency and obtain a license to ply their trade. In Arizona, rainmakers must secure a government license, as must manure applicators in Iowa, lobster sellers in Rhode Island, and mussel dealers in Illinois.

However, when it comes to voting, no such competency or knowledge is necessary. To attain a “license” to vote, an individual need only reach the required age.

Certainly, an individual who does not know how to drive or is ignorant of the rules of the road poses a threat to others. An incompetent doctor, lawyer, or plumber is also a threat to others. But consider the threat posed by an uninformed, or misinformed, voter.

While campaigning for office, political candidates voice their positions on a wide variety of issues. Candidates for local offices talk about land-use policies, infrastructure, and taxes. Those running for state offices might discuss educational reform, job creation, and balancing the budget. Federal candidates might address all of the above, plus health care reform, foreign policy, and energy policy.

In addition, voters are often asked to decide issues such as whom may marry whom (gay marriage), what individuals may legally ingest (medical and recreational marijuana), or the minimum wage that a business must legally pay. All told, voters are asked to judge virtually every issue under the sun, despite the fact that it is impossible for even the most conscientious voter to be knowledgeable on every issue and candidate.

Whether a voter is extremely knowledgeable or completely ignorant regarding a particular issue has no impact on his right to vote on it. Whether a voter unthinkingly accepts the sound bites of a candidate or analyzes them for their long-term implications has no bearing on his ability to vote. Whether a voter can even name the three branches of government is unimportant. In short, a voter’s knowledge and competence is irrelevant.

Yet, the decisions made by a voter have a dramatic, and oftentimes destructive, impact on others. Non-parents may see their taxes rise for the purpose of financing government schools. Two individuals who are in love may be prohibited from marrying. Businesses might be forced to redesign a product. The lives of every American are impacted by the decisions of voters. And the ignorant and uninformed have as equal a voice as the enlightened and expert.

Some may argue that this is the democratic way—we are bound to live by the “will of the people.” But what this really means is that voters can choose to place controls and restrictions on others. It means that if “the people” wish to prohibit some action or mandate another, there are no limits to their power to do so. All they must do is amass a majority. In a democracy, the rights of individuals are continually threatened by voters.

But this is not what was intended by the Founding Fathers or the Constitution. The Founders sought to prevent a tyranny of the majority by limiting and enumerating the powers of government. They sought to protect the minority—and the individual is the smallest minority—from the passions of the majority. They understood that individual liberty could be threatened by the whims of a king and the passions of a majority. The Constitution was written to protect the moral right of each individual to his own life, his own liberty, and the pursuit of his own happiness.

A proper government protects the right of each individual to live his life as he deems best, free from the controls and dictates of others, including the majority. A proper government protects the freedom of each individual to voluntarily produce, trade, and associate with others, with each individual acting on his own judgment in the pursuit of his own happiness.

Do you think that voters—most of whom know nothing about you—truly know what is best for you? Do you think that complete strangers are competent to decide how you should live your life? In truth, voters do not know your dreams and desires; they do not know what values you seek in your pursuit of happiness. Why then, should they have the ability to arbitrarily wreck your dreams or seize your values at the ballot box?

The solution is not licensing for voters (or any profession). The solution is to protect individual rights—the moral right of each individual to take the actions that he believes are best for his life. And that means recognizing that the decisions regarding your life belong to you, not voters.

Brian Phillips is the founder of the Texas Institute for Property Rights. Brian has been defending property rights for nearly thirty years. He played a key role in defeating zoning in Houston, Texas, and in Hobbs, New Mexico. He is the author of three books: Individual Rights and Government Wrongs, The Innovator Versus the Collective, and Principles and Property Rights. Visit his website at texasipr.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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