Friday, September 30, 2011

Is it Moral to Play Defense in a Democracy?

Voters in Ohio have successfully filed a petition to vote on rolling back the shrinking of the state's early voting which was an act of the Republican legislature there. It is a part of a larger movement by conservatives to play electoral defense, that is, to keep people who would vote for your opponent from voting. It is one thing to play offense, that is, to either organize strong get out the vote pushes to make sure your people arrive at the polls or to do your best to convince undecided voters that your candidate is the one to vote for, but what about defense?

The idea that offense wins games, but defense wins elections was first publicly enunciated by Paul Weyrich, a major player in the rise of modern conservatism:We DON'T want everyone to vote. Weyrich is correct, the political power of certain interest groups does increase when the number of voters decrease. This is the explicit strategy of Republicans now -- see Ari Berman's article for a thorough account. They had been using the "voter fraud" ruse as a cover in the last couple of cycles, but at this point, it simply is what it is.

The thing is that it is all perfectly legal. What is happening is well within the bounds of the law. These are democratically elected representatives using democratic means to limit access to the democratic process. Kurt Godel famously worried about taking the oath of citizenship to become an American because doing so would force him to swear to defend the Constitution which he realized could be used by a smart and unscrupulous dictator to democratically create a dictatorship. That is clearly beyond what is happening here, but the sentiment is similar -- what is being done to play electoral defense is within the rules. Does that make it ok?