Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 796, November 9, 2014

We live in a Republic, not a democracy,
so politicians have a legal right to
ignore the will of the people.

Special to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Well, the last time I was down at Oregon DMV getting my latest badge of slavery, the DMV bureaucrat asked me if I wanted to register to vote. At first I said "No,"—almost "Ugh, no,"—but then I reconsidered and thought that I might as well vote against tax hikes. So at that point I became the proud owner of not just one, but two badges of slavery.

Sure enough when election "day" rolled around (meaning, receiving our ballots in the mail, the system Oregon uses) I sat down at the kitchen table and voted. But I didn't forget I was still an anarchist.

For one thing, I didn't vote for any human being. While I don't quite buy the argument that voting per se is aggression, it's hard to dispute that notion where humans are concerned. While it may be possible to see in the future a rare case where a Hitler clone runs against a Ron Paul clone (even conceding Ron Paul could also be corrupted by the Ring of Power), the everyday reality is that human political contests are Tweedledee vs. Tweedledum, with both of them being power-mad bribe-grubbing busybodies. At the old saying goes, those who run for office are precisely the ones you don't want in office.

That left the ballot measures, the central part of my defensive voting "strategy". I didn't vote in all of them either, but there were a few fairly clear cases where I did vote. To lay it all out in a sentence, I voted against the establishment of a new county tax, for legalization/regulation of "recreational" marijuana, for adding "equality before the law" of both sexes to the Oregon Constitution, against a new state fund for post-secondary education, and for people to be able to get driver's licenses despite having no proof of permission to be in Oregon or the US. Statewide measures can be seen online here.

Before defending those particular choices, let's consider the more philosophical (ugh!) issues. I'll start with this one: If there were a ballot measure allowing people to opt out of being controlled by government, would anarchists vote for it?

If not, then we would have the strange situation of anarchists getting their liberty by depending only on statists to vote it for them!

After thinking about this for a while, I decided that, just as the case with NAP, not voting is not an iron-clad principle, but a general rule of thumb with exceptions. One of the exceptions, I contend, is that anarchists can vote against new taxes; another might be that anarchists can vote themselves out of government control if ever presented the opportunity.

Whether it is effective action is another question. I myself have argued it is pointless, and I think that argument is still correct—as far as it goes. The people who count votes are people who believe in government and who probably also like things such as tax hikes, so we can be pretty sure if the count is just a few votes more against a tax hike, those ballots will be lost and we still will get the tax hike. But there is more to it than that. The larger the margin against a tax hike, the more difficult it becomes to throw the election in favor of a tax hike. The bottom line (absent electronic voting machines) is that we are back with the "votes do count" scenario—but that, instead of the decision on who wins being based on which side gets 50% of the vote, it is more like on which side gets 51%—enough extra to make vote fraud difficult. My vote against a tax hike still gets thrown on the pile against it, and still may help overcome the weight for it.

The probability my vote will be the deciding one is still low (there is really no one deciding vote in any case); but let's face it, the cost of voting is low also, in Oregon at least. Sitting at my kitchen table and making a few marks on paper and putting a stamp on an envelope is not difficult. Voting then becomes a mostly-ineffectual exercise that costs me almost nothing. But guess what? Our lives are full of ineffectual actions. Anarchy does not mean ineffectual actions don't happen, but that we get to choose our actions without government interference, even if some of them may be ineffectual.

I'm not unaware of the problem with the act of voting being a support for the state (even my votes against tax hikes). That is a problem with my position. If the voting participation among the public were dropping below something like 1%, I would certainly have to reconsider and would probably then come down on the side of not voting at all, to help de-legitimize government (note how the strategy of not voting is itself a way of expressing a preference—it is a vote!). But right now, just as my one vote does not do much to help liberty, it also does little to hurt it, on the legitimacy question. At any rate, anarchy means "no rulers," and I did not vote for any.

We can discuss some more philosophical aspects in the comments. Maybe I will change my voting ways if I get talked out of it.

As to my votes, I assume nobody is going to wonder about the votes against government taxes and new funding.

The one for sexual equality before the law could well have been left blank, since constitutions are pretty meaningless documents. But I didn't see how it could hurt much. If thugs want to get quota systems out of equality before the law, they can pretty much do the same thing without it.

The marijuana one, I actually had some problem with. Let's face it, smoking a joint is often the first real experience many people have had with first, understanding how rotten government and lawmaking is, and then with breaking those laws. It's a shame to lose that. But the War on Some Drugs has ruined so many lives I just had to vote for that thing. I should add that the measure allows the personal cultivation of 4 plants without government interference, so it's not all about regulation and bureaucracy and new tax dollars. Pot being what it is, most people will grow rather than buy at a regulated store, or will (illegally) buy from a neighbor who grew some. And we can still break the law in other ways and grow 10 plants anyway.

The one about driver's licenses appears to be backlash against the ever-encroaching national ID schemes. Yes it too has drawbacks, but maybe some day we will get our driver's license off the back of a cereal box. One can only hope.

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