Almost everything has been said about elections the last few months that can be said. For many tired, impatient people, depending on which side of the fence you’re on, the last election was either a safe and secure exercise in democracy, or a total fraud.
For those of you who have been following my thoughts the last decade you’ve seen that I’ve never fit neatly into one box. This is no exception. That does not make me a moderate by any means, but nuanced. I believe truth is found in nuance. The truth can exist in several places at once, and it doesn’t have to contradict.
REASONABLE REGULATION IS PRUDENT
Confidence in elections is the cornerstone of a functioning democracy. 12 years ago, I saw shenanigans both locally and in other states that raised concerns about election integrity. The voter ID movement began in earnest, and in my home state of Wisconsin, when Republicans took full control of the state government in 2011, they passed at least 15 election reforms, and even created a new independent entity to oversee them. These reforms varied from requiring a photo ID and verifying election returns between clerks, to standardizing polling hours statewide.
I was OK with these. Several close elections heightened our concerns, and I was still in the talk radio/Fox News bubble at this point, so I felt the ideological pressure to agree that voter fraud is a major issue. But I couldn’t prove it. Democrats scream “voter suppression“ at every turn, but I’ve dismissed them out of hand. I have no intention of suppressing anyone’s vote. Neither did anyone I knew. We just wanted there to be confidence in the results. I do not however support the wave of election reforms filling legislatures right now. By last count 253 bills in 43 states aim to restrict voting in one way or another. Why? Most existing rules were already written by Republican legislatures. Now they’re bad because we lost a single election?
Each one of us likes to be right, and hates to be wrong. And part of my learning process is debating an issue so I can learn to better defend my position on it. When I find myself unable to, I adjust or change my position. I’ve done this over the years on the legal institution of marriage, the drug war, some immigration laws, and now elections.
For most of my life, I have either been taught, or myself learned to appreciate the structure and method of our American government. From the local and state to federal level, America was an experiment, built on a mostly faith-abiding society that’s become history’s biggest melting pot of cultures from around the world. Our constitution, while constantly threatened, has stood the test of time, and given us what I believe is the greatest form of self government there is.
The bedrock of that Constitution is limiting the government’s control of certain inherent rights like speech, assembly, right to grievance, defending one’s self, jury trial, representation, agency, property ownership, due process, citizenship, and the right to vote.
This is how I used to think of conservatism.
TODAY WE FIGHT RATHER THAN THINK
Russell Kirk, one of the early founders of modern conservatism aptly noted that our philosophy could be described as the negation of ideology:
“It is a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order. The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata.”
He also said, “The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects.” How things have changed.
While I have nuanced positions on various issues, they are because of my conservatism, not in contradiction of it. One thing we agree on is that over-regulation of any activity or industry ultimately leads to its demise, or a loss of freedom. That’s why…
We generally oppose socialized healthcare, because it attempts to fix a broken system with a broken method: government.
We oppose many environmental policies, because they often assume we can improve an imperfect world through an imperfect entity: government.
One of the biggest things you heard the last few years was Trump’s repealing as many overbearing regulations as possible, from the mining industry, to forestry, to automotive, to tax policy. While I’m no fan of Trump, I did appreciate the attempt to eliminate wasteful or redundant laws that slowed down or harmed the economy.
In short, we believe that there should only be as much government as necessary to prevent one person‘s freedom from inhibiting another’s, right?
I feel the same way about the modern-day election reform movement. Therefore, I am no longer a fan of over-regulating the process of voting.
I still support things like proving your identity, residency, and only being able to vote once. But beyond that, voting should be one of the easiest things we can do as a citizen.
Likewise, I’m a firm believer in the right to carry, and defend oneself, and it should be easy to do. The second amendment might as well be part of the first, in my opinion. I oppose gun registration, controls on production, limits on purchasing, etc.
But I see a significant disconnect among today’s conservatives between these two fundamental, constitutional activities.
OVER-REGULATION IS ANTI-FREEDOM
The intention of most conservatives really is to secure election integrity. We’ve had the voter fraud mantra beaten into our heads by our own media for decades. But I believe we have been misled by those who see it much more cynically. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but we aren’t the ones building it. They are.
The fact is, Republican lawyers, politicians, and power brokers have seen election reform as a way to make it more difficult for people to participate. I know that this is a Democrat talking point. But it is also a reality in some circles. I’ve heard it. Most won’t admit it, but some have, here and here.
As many over-regulations of industry often do, election reforms have created so many points of potential conflict, that natural circumstances or human nature result in “irregularities“ that give the impression of fraud. But it’s almost never actual “fraud.“ A missing ZIP Code, bad signature, or a ballot arriving five minutes late is not “fraud.” There has been no greater example of this than the 2020 presidential election, where virtually every possible or perceived mistake was translated into a lawsuit. Only in the states that strategically mattered, of course. And those lawsuits cast the impression that these “fraudulent“ mistakes were virtually all Democrat voters. It must’ve been, since the Democrat won! /sarc (Several high profile cases here in WI in the past have been Republican voters.)
A common refrain is “I am perfectly fine with the right to vote, if you follow the rules!” That’s fine, except we’ve created rules that are difficult to follow, let alone enforce. Add a global pandemic to that…
Even before this election, I began evolving on this. I realized one’s agency in a representative government is more important than perfection of the process. We can and must do things to make the structure of elections consistent, transparent, and fair. But actual election or voter fraud is extremely rare, and difficult to pull off.
I am not saying it does not exist. But it is neither widespread or statistically significant. WI had 43 “possible” cases referred to the DOJ stemming from the 2018 midterms. Oregon has been doing universal mail-in voting since 2000, and only discovered a dozen cases of fraud. State Republicans support the system there. The Georgia signature audit found two examples in the 2020 election. A trump voter who signed her husband’s ballot.
The #StopTheSteal movement this last election was itself the actual fraud, designed only to raise $300+ million for trump’s post-presidency PACs. But the semantic wrangling and fevered pitch arguments are dangerous for a free society. It serves neither the conservative cause, or the American way of life. Only the radio jocks, clickbait websites, or conspiracy theorists thrive on whipping you into a daily rage.
As with any industry - or constitutional right - abuses will always exist. It is prudent to create checks to assure that one’s liberty does not infringe on another’s. So we have permits for large gatherings, registration for voting, and background checks for firearm purchases. But why are we conservatives so obsessed with applying layer after layer of regulation on just one of them? Is it because we are afraid that that one citizen may conspire secretly with others to double up their votes, and swing a single election? We have over 11,000 elected positions at all levels of government in the country, yet we’re so afraid losing one of them that we’re willing to throw away the virtue of voting entirely, under the guise of “election integrity?“
I’m not, and neither should you.
I believe the Democrats are wrong on most issues, but on this one they are at least partially right. Fools on the left and right are willing to do what it takes to beat the other guys, and break the law to do it. But unfortunately, our side (the conservative Right) has found a legal method of doing so that is inconsistent with our values.
As I said, I am OK with protecting election integrity. But we should be doing what we can to protect constitutional rights even more.
All of them.
Conservatives can become dominant again by owning the issues like voting rights, and persuading others. We can’t do either by casting doubt on the process, or regulating it like it’s the Green New Deal of voting.
You can contact Ed Willing on Facebook.
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