Not voting is a right too

By Steven Martinovich

(December 25, 2000) - There was a lot of gnashing of teeth in Canada on November 27 by the chattering class, not at the election victory by the Liberal Party, but because of the low turnout at the polls. That night it was estimated that 62.9 per cent of the 21 161 565 registered voters had actually cast their ballot. On December 19, chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley announced that the number was an even worse 60.5 per cent, a record low.

That number prompted Kingsley, the official charged with insuring that our democratic right to vote works smoothly, to state that if the participation rate falls below 60 per cent, Parliament may have to pass legislation that would force people to vote.

"Sometimes, in order to save democracy, you have to do things that might seem to run a little bit against it, but I certainly like the idea of voting freely, as opposed to ... being required to do it by law," said Kingsley, who admitted he found the idea "repugnant." Not enough, however, to avoid half-heartedly endorsing the idea.

The idea behind mandatory voting, which Oklahoma State University expert Wolfgang P. Hirczy de Mino believes would "likely ... enhance the legitimacy of representative institutions and of the political system," is that it enforces the idea that voting is a social norm and since government already mandates things like education and conscription for the social good, why not voting. That enforcement is seen in nations as diverse as Australia, Belgium, Costa Rica and Argentina.

As laudable as that goal may seem, there are a number of reasons why mandatory voting is objectionable in a democracy. The first is that mandatory voting partly frees political parties from performing legitimate responsibilities like campaigning and reaching out to voters, something seen in Australia according to that nation's Centre for Independent Studies. That sees established parties have an advantage over new parties and independents whose supporters are more likely to be motivated.

Mandatory voting also carries with it tremendous cost and administration implications for the state. There are the questions of the accuracy of the voters' list, voter information, and the mechanisms for the follow-up fine or punishment system for non-voters. This point cannot be overlooked. The November 27 election, the first which saw the across-the-system use of the permanent list introduced in 1996, had Elections Canada returning officers finding deceased people on the list while others who had voted for years were left off.

Finally, a right to do something suggests that a person also conversely has a right not to do something. It's only logical that a citizen ought to have the right not to vote as much as the right to vote. Some citizens who boycott elections on principle would argue that compulsory voting impinges upon this basic freedom.

As Southwestern University School of Law professor Butler Shaffer - someone who refuses to vote on principle - recently pointed out, "Political systems derive their power not from guns and prisons, but from the willingness of those who are to be ruled to expend their energies on their behalf. For state power to exist, a significant number of men and women must sanction the idea of being ruled by others, a sanction that depends, ultimately, upon the credibility of those who exercise such power."

By voting in an election, a person declares their support for the process that sees them ruled by another person. The imposition of mandatory voting proves that a system no longer has credibility with the citizenry, something arguably more dangerous then a dip in the participation rate and something that cannot be solved by an act of Parliament. You may be able to coerce a person to vote, but Kingsley is wrong if he thinks it would solve the root problems responsible for low turnout.

Future directions

By Steven Martinovich

(November 27, 2000) - I say this every year, but I hate resorting to that "year past-year ahead" editorial at the end of the year. Given, however, that I am completely tired of writing, editing and reading about chads, butterfly ballots, the entire state of Florida, recounts and ballot certifications, I may as well write one.

Two-thousand was a good year for Enter Stage Right. Our first full year as a regular weekly, our traffic exploded and we were exposed to quite a few people who had never heard of our humble little effort in 1999. We had some successes: getting the archive up and up-to-date, adding new services and features, increasing the number of articles every week, and finding new voices to bring to you. ESR also had some failures: the forum I installed drew decent traffic but few people ever posted anything, and ESR has stubbornly refused to turn profitable (I and my writers want to be paid and we're willing to admit it, thank you very much).

That said, I'm fairly happy with the year that went by and I'm looking forward to the new millennium (yes, I am one of those annoying people who knows the millennium starts January 1, 2001 and didn't celebrate it this past January) and some of the things that I've got planned.

Multimedia. Although it isn't ubiquitous, broadband access to the World Wide Web is no longer an unknown. I myself have been surfing using DSL since late June and I can't say enough positive things about it. In lieu of television, I regularly consume streaming video or audio over the web of things that actually interest me, such as the recent keynote speeches at Comdex. Within the next couple of weeks, ESR will be spotlighting more multimedia content across the web in several of our sections. Although this won't be coming soon, ESR will also begin producing some of its own original multimedia content...generally audio interviews with notable people in the United States and Canada. That, of course, is contingent upon ESR actually making some money to pay for the equipment and expenses I'll meet up with.

ESR won't be moving away from the traditional magazine as HTML is still the common standard and will be for years to come so no worries about being left behind if your PC can't handle web-based multimedia. ESR is created by writers, not hacks in Hollywood, and the written word will still rule.

An increased schedule? I know I hazily promised this last December but I am aiming for ESR to publish on a more rapid schedule. Although the details have yet to be sorted out, you may be seeing a Monday and Wednesday edition of the magazine. As with all things, it largely depends on several factors: a regular stream of quality work and time. I wouldn't count on this happening before June 2001.

I've other ideas which I will be pursuing over the coming months which I won't share here because they are pretty ambitious and may never come to fruition. Watch this space in the coming months to find out more.

I'd like to thank Michael Miller of Quackgrass Press for the help he's been over the past year. Thanks to his help, I've managed to avoid embarrassing myself on more than one occasion. Although you rarely see him "in front of the camera," Editor-At-Large Steve Lendt has been a boon in the background. He's gotten me to move in new directions just by asking a question and more than once come up with information that I didn't even know I needed.

I'd like to also thank ESR's senior writers, those voices you see every week because they graciously commit themselves to writing and submitting regularly to this magazine: Steve Farrell, Michael R. Allen, Diane Alden, Antonia Feitz, Joe Schembrie, Charles Bloomer, W. James Antle III and Shelley McKinney.

Besides our senior writers, ESR also depends on a large number of contributors to this magazine. In roughly the order they appeared in 2000: Henry Lamb, Scott Carpenter, Vin Suprynowicz, Timothy Rollins, Peter J. Fusco, Steve Martin, Erik Jay, Buster W. Newton, Bruce Walker, Lewis J. Goldberg, Robert Levy, Linda Prussen-Razzano, Alan Caruba, David Hackworth, Diana Furchgott-Roth, David Bardallis, Peter Zhang, Dennis Rice, Christopher Summers, Christopher Yablonski, Kimberley Jane Wilson, David Ridenour, Eric Miller, Walter Robinson, Lawrence W. Reed, Ron Nehring, Nicholas Sanchez, Dr. Michael S. Brown, Scott Tibbs, Paul Weyrich, Sean Hackbarth, Amy Ridenour, Robert McFarland, Lisa S. Dean, Deroy Murdock, Joe Roessler, David W. Almasi, Scott T. Hiestand, John K. Carlisle, Thomas Kelly, Paul Fallavollita, Ralph Reiland, Mitchell McConnell, John Nowacki, Andy Seré, A. C. Kleinheider, Brian Carnell, Leo K. O'Drudy III, Jonah Goldberg, Richard Allen Vinson, Robin D. Roberts, Daniel T. Oliver, Karen De Coster, David Wilens, Gerard Jackson, Leo Troy, Roger Banks, Michael J. Centrone, Carol Devine-Molin, Thomas Jipping, Charles A. Morse, Isabel Lyman, Philip K. Kelly Jr., Greg Kaza, Robert McFarland, Nicholas Stix, Harry Browne, Martin Morse Wooster, Kevin Avram, Stuart Buck, Nathan Porter, Mike Antonucci, Dr. Jeremy Blanks, Rush H. Limbaugh Jr., Peter Shaw, Bill Barnwell, Bobby Unser, Mike Wasylik, Lloyd Billingsley, Dr. Dirk C. van Raemdonck, Douglas Newman, Angie Wheeler, George S. Kulas, Stephen Moore, Ed Rauchut, John Guthmiller, Joyce Mucci, Samuel L. Blumenfeld, Mark Trapp, Jamie Glazov, James Bovard, Michael E. Kreca, Richard Esenberg, Aaron Lukas, E. Ralph Hostetter, Notra Trulock, Bill Gertz, Tom DeWeese, David Holcberg.

I think you'll grant us that it is a pretty distinguished list and I thank each and every one of them for their help in turning out this magazine, whether they submitted one piece or several dozen.

And thank you. This wouldn't be worth doing without your patronage, encouragement, criticism, suggestions and comments.

Thanks for reading,

Steven Martinovich

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

web posted December 18, 2000

Smaller is better

You may have noticed ESR's front page loaded a bit faster this week. I went on a major trimming operation and cut the number of articles offered on the front page to only two weeks (with the rest on a sub-page) instead of the regular four weeks -- meaning the page falls in size nearly 20kb. Doesn't sound like much but people with slow connections will surely appreciated it. I also cut out some other stuff which detracted from the size and focus of the magazine.

web posted November 27, 2000

An award is always nice

On November 21, Enter Stage Right was named the Site of the Day by Political USA. They don't supply a citation with their award so I'll just thank them for giving ESR some exposure. Very much appreciated!

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