I’ll take rule of law over majority rule
Opposition to a photo ID requirement stresses the importance of voting, but it forgets the more important principles of republican governance and rule of law.
Earlier this week, John Fund (co-author of Who’s Counting?) and Mike Freeman (Hennepin County Attorney) debated the issue of photo ID at the University of St. Thomas Law School. Two thoughts stuck out to me as I listened: Parochialism is universal, and majority rule is inferior to republican governance and the rule of law.
We’re all above average!
A common complaint of photo ID opponents, such as Freeman, may be summed up with the words, “There’s no trouble here; we’re above average.” At one point, Freeman thundered, “This is not Florida!” echoing a justice who dissented from a recent decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court.
What to make of that claim? I’d say there’s at least a small measure of parochialism at work. Ironically, you might say that parochialism–a sense that “we, us, our group is superior”–is a universal trait. It’s certainly evident in public opinions outside the photo ID question. As the cliché goes, people hate Congress, but they love their own congressmen. They think that government schools in America do a lousy job, but their own schools are doing just fine.
I will concede that political cultures can and do vary from place to place, so some amount of local pride can be justified. Perhaps Minnesotans do have a higher regard for election integrity than residents of some other states. But they’re still human, which means they make mistakes and at least some will use shady and illegal practices to further their aims—meaning in turn that a photo ID requirement could still be useful, even here.
A reasonable person can look at recent developments in Minnesota and conclude that it is time for tightening up the integrity of our voting system. What, for example, of the thousands of postal validation cards that come back to county officials as undeliverable? Or the felons who voted? Or the fact that voting fraud is sometimes by its nature hard to check? When I moved to Minnesota in November of 2002, I could have easily voted in two states. And vouching for up to 15 people? Sorry, but that’s a joke.
Benevolent despots preferable to tyrannical majorities
Here’s the other idea that dominated my thought during the debate: Democracy is overrated. The anti-ID argument places too much faith in democracy and too little value on republican institutions.
There should be a few conditions on voting, to start with. Mr. Freeman did allow that the mentally incompetent and felons should not vote, for example. But his animating spirit seemed to be “Voting is what makes America great.” I must disagree, and do so strongly. Voting, by itself, is meaningless, and even dangerous to human rights.
America’s founders were well aware of the dangers of making majority vote the arbiter of everything, so they put in other measures, and put some options beyond the reach of voting. For example, the Bill of Rights guarantees that a majority vote cannot give police the green light to torture suspects or plant evidence. Furthermore, our very structure of government — high school civics stuff — reveals that a majority vote isn’t everything. To cite one obvious example, Wyoming and Minnesota both send two people to the U.S. Senate, though you could fit all the population of Wyoming into Hennepin County.
The American political system is great because it has multiple checks on the use of power, including federalism, division of power, the rule of law, and yes, voting. In fact, I’d take rule of law over the right to vote any day, if I were forced to choose. Fortunately, I don’t have to choose. A photo ID requirement combines the rule of law with the right to vote, and Minnesotans would be wise to embrace it.