Voteers in election line

Questioning an accepted truth about voter turnout

Kevin Williamson asks National Review Online readers to consider whether government actually works better with more voter participation.

Much of the discussion about proposed changes to voting laws backed by many Republicans and generally opposed by Democrats begs the question and simply asserts that having more people vote is, ceteris paribus, a good thing.

Why should we believe that?

Why shouldn’t we believe the opposite? That the republic would be better served by having fewer — but better — voters?

Many Americans, being devout egalitarians, recoil from the very notion of better voters as a matter of rhetoric, even as they accept qualifications as a matter of fact.

Categorically disenfranchising felons has always been, in my view, the intelligent default position, with re-enfranchisement on a case-by-case basis. It is likely that under such a practice some people who ought to be considered rehabilitated would be unjustly excluded. But all eligibility requirements risk excluding somebody who might make a good voter, or a better voter than someone who is eligible. There are plenty of very smart and responsible 16-year-olds who would make better voters than their dim and irresponsible older siblings or their parents. That doesn’t mean we should have 16-year-old voters — I’d be more inclined to raise the voting age to 30 — it means only that categorical decision-making by its nature does not account for certain individual differences.

Similarly, asking for government-issued photo ID at the polls seem to me obviously the right thing to do, even if it would result in some otherwise eligible voters not voting. I’m not convinced that having more voters is a good thing in any case, but, even if I were, that would not be the only good, but only one good competing with other goods, one of which is seeing to it that the eligibility rules on the books are enforced so that elections may be honestly and credibly regulated.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...