Law in Contemporary Society
All of the Laws are Wrong

We proceed from bad premises.

There are roughly 320 million Americans. Our representative government purports to represent the population. In assembling the body of lawmaking representatives, we exclude children—roughly 73 million—and are left with roughly 247 million Americans, or 76.9% of the population. Few bat an eye at this concession; children are not informed or responsible. We also exclude certain felons—roughly 6 million—and are left with roughly 241 million Americans, or 74.5% of the population. More eyes are batted at this concession, but not enough to disrupt the status quo; felons are bad, after all. For more nebulous reasons, 88 million of the remaining pool do not register, and we are left with roughly 153 million registered American voters, or 47.8% of the population. For deeply troubling reasons, 27 million registered American voters do not vote, leaving 126 million Americans, or 39.4% of the population, to shape the State for everybody.

Even gleefully running with the fiction that this group has the power to discern and decide, one cannot but scratch his head at the logical gymnastics necessary to deem our government representative. If we must follow the law because we make the law, then all should follow the law because all participate in its making. All do not participate—our electorate is alarmingly shallow, particularly when compared to the robust percentage of taxpayers in our country.

Americans, by and large, do not consider this a problem worth addressing. Those who do not vote are moral sloths foreclosed from engaging in the time honored American tradition of political complaint.

“We” blame the government for many things, but a failure to vote in this country seems to be either squarely the fault of the non-voter or an unremarkable non-issue. Non-voting complainers are silenced by their voting counterparts—this, up until relatively recently, is where the conversation usually grinds to a halt or shifts to a subject more innocuous than “politics.” Few are interested in carrying the issue to term: should the government demonstrate a greater interest in the completeness of its assembly team? Should we?

When I was fifteen years old, I heard on the news that the 2008 general election was a shining example of the civic process—that it had been a very long time since so much of the population had gone out to vote. Having not yet stepped onto the beige carpet, you can imagine my surprise and confusion when I learned that the historically heroic proportion of voters amounted to 57.1% of the eligible adult population.

When confronted with the reality of the meagerness of the electorate, the Patriot, the Realist, and even the NPR Listener all seem to point to the same monolith: Civic Duty.

Civic Duty.

“Voting is your Civic Duty”—a truth so fundamental that no one bothers to dissect it. “Scrub behind your ears, eat your broccoli, and voting is your Civic Duty.” If the question is “why don’t more non-Floridian Americans vote,” then there are two simple answers: non-voters are either lazy or dispassionate. This is where the discussion grinds to a halt. John F. Kennedy knew about Civic Duty when he told Americans to do things for their country (for themselves?). But less of the population voted in the 1964 general election; in fact, for all our bells and whistles, we have yet to recreate the 63.1% turnout that Kennedy and Nixon elicited in 1960. We are not a dutiful bunch.

No one talks about our other civic duties as Civic Duties (jury duty does not count—the presence of the word “duty” creates too simple of a linguistic bridge to Civic Duty. Jury duty is a cliché). Paying taxes is undoubtedly a civic duty. If you do not pay your taxes, you are fined or jailed; the government has put a system of punishment in place to deter you from forbearing your civic duty. The government goes to great lengths to make sure that everyone has filed his taxes; the individual decision to pay taxes has a tangible effect on all Americans.

But voting is not a duty, civic or otherwise. Voting is a right. The government should secure and protect our rights; it should do more in the case of voting. Voting is the wellspring from which all other rights are created and maintained. The government need not hand out megaphones to protect freedom of speech, but it at least ought to ensure that City Hall has adequate acoustics. It ought to do more than tolerate and receive the opinions of its citizens—it ought to welcome enthusiastically each and every voice.

Voting should be made easier to the point at which it is practically compelled—it should at least be given the governmental attention of a compelled responsibility. Election Day is not a federal holiday. Conversely, I can do my taxes at my leisure over a period of weeks. Voting more or less requires that I physically cast my ballot at a public place. Conversely, I can do my taxes on my cell phone. In order to be eligible to vote, I have to register well in advance. Conversely, the government will sometimes pay me to do my taxes even if I am three years late.

Some states are better than others. According to the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, fourteen states offer online voter registration. Thirty-two states allow voters to show up weeks before Election Day to cast their ballots. Twenty-seven states do not require a reason to obtain an absentee ballot.

But these steps have not driven us back above a 60% turnout. Let people vote from home—from their cell phones. Individual voter fraud is virtually nonexistent. If we are not serious about the full involvement of the electorate, then we cannot be serious about the legislative process. The federal government collected $3.2 trillion in tax revenue in 2015; when pushed in the right direction, Americans become capable of remarkable things—even Civic Duty.

Substantially improved. Now it might also be worth asking why people do not vote. Piven and Cloward comes to mind....


Webs Webs

r5 - 09 Jun 2016 - 14:45:49 - EbenMoglen
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