November 6, 2012

Putting voting in proper perspective

By Christina M. Martin Attorney

Sunday, I saw school children dressed in red, white, and blue, lining a sidewalk, holding patriotic signs that encouraged people to vote. The overwhelming sentiment was that voting is not only an American privilege, but an essential ingredient to freedom. While voting is a privilege, it can lead to the same sorts of excesses as any tyranny. James Madison wrote in the Federalist Paper No. 10, that pure democracies become “spectacles of turbulence and contention,” are “incompatible with personal security or the rights of property,” and “have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” As the saying goes, democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what is for dinner.

America is not a pure democracy; it is a republic, since Americans vote for a relatively small number of individuals to represent them. The “compound republic of America,” further insulates individuals against the whims of the majority by dividing power between the states and the federal government and then subdividing those portions of power to different branches of government: “Hence a double security arises to the rights of the people. The different governments will control each other, at the same time that each will be controlled by itself.” (The Federalist No. 51).

Voting is, of course, a valuable opportunity and a privilege. However, as you vote today, remember that it is not merely the right to vote that makes this a great country, but rather the principles laid forth in the Constitution that protect individual liberty from the unjust whims of individuals and groups. It is for those principles that PLF fights.

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