In re: "Even More on the Franchise"

[This post is a propos Grim's "Even More on the Franchise," shortly below. Sorry for the long post….] It's not strictly true that the Founders we less concerned with voting rights per se; they simply left, by design, the manner of enfranchisement to the individual states. The Constitution, after all, was envisioned as creating a federated alliance of States, with the central government concerned with national-level interests (primarily outward looking at the time—national defense, vice individual State defense, for example), and with the central government granted authority to see to the individual States' "foreign" policies—not just with, e.g., European nation-states, but the united States' [sic.] policies vis-á-vis their fellow States—the original purpose of the Commerce Clause, for instance. Indeed, the house of Congress envisioned as being closest to the People—to the voters—was to be directly elected by the People (The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States,…. Art I, Sect 1).

Since the Founders were trying to guts up a new nation, they left what was at the time viewed to be a local matter to the locals—but they expected voting rights to be granted (acknowledged?) in fashion. It's true that it wasn't until after the Civil War that the concept of voting rights—of the franchise—was nationalized; the Federal government having decided that too many of the States had abused their voting-granting authority (if only because they could enforce that decision, having just won the war). But voting, of some segment of the population having the franchise, is well entrenched in the American polity.

I'll turn now to my view of limiting this franchise, if we should at all. T99 is concerned that those not enfranchised, or actively disenfranchised, might not behave as well as those who are enfranchised, perhaps to the point of active detriment to society as a whole. I'm not convinced that not having the franchise is necessarily a significant limit on freedom, and so a significant incentive to act up. In Heinlein's construction, for instance (which I mention without judgment of its technical or operational merit), all citizens had the same rights, liberties, and responsibilities, save only the vote. Thus, the nonenfranchised citizen was in the same position as the enfranchised who had lost the vote; the nonenfranchised simply lost every vote. This is a significant disability, to be sure, but I suggest it would be no significant loss of liberty, since the nonenfranchised could take steps to cure the disability at any time. In our own American mechanization of the franchise, we actively exclude felons, they having demonstrated by their behavior a sufficient lack of virtue (I'll elide here a definition of virtue).

Thismay well be a valid exclusion; however, American society must ask, and answer, one important question of itself. We believe, as a Christian nation, still, in the possibility of redemption on earth. We also claim that once a felon has paid his/her debt to society—that is, satisfied the court-imposed judgment, including whatever jail time plus parole might have been required—that felon should be restored to more or less full citizenship. I say more-or-less because we still restrict felons from possessing fire arms and from the vote. The question to be answered is, "At what point will this felon truly have paid his debt? At what point will we truly restore this person to his full citizenship?" (Note that I'm tacitly including the franchise in "full citizenship.")

I think the general consensus building is that we do want to limit the franchise, and we do want only the virtuous citizen to vote. This legitimately, I believe, includes felons while in a felonious state (and I suggest that some felonies indeed should cause a permanent felonious state, even though a punishment meted out may have been fulfilled); and noncitizens, even though present legally, regardless of how virtuous. I suggest that such exclusions are legitimate, because they are disabilities that can be remedied by the individual in question: the first by not committing the felonious act in the first place, and the second be deciding to become a citizen. If this construction is accepted, then I suggest that the acceptable window of the definition of "virtue" gets a whole lot broader—because whatever we decide should be grounds for exclusion of the franchise, the individual so excluded has the power to correct the grounds for exclusion himself.

Some miscellaneous minor points. I speculate the Normans' use of the diminutive "franklin" for the Anglo-Saxons was an insulting usage, and that they reserve "frank" for Normans. I speculate this based on the esteem in which the two groups held each other, and the typical attitude of the conqueror toward the newly conquered, as well as your own view that there were simply too many freemen Anglo-Saxons to easily, umm, disenfranchise.

(Note that this was not 'universal franchise' in the American sense either, however, as Athens had a number of non-citizen resident classes, and citizenship was linked to military service.) This distinction may not last: there are various American municipalities that are experimenting with the idea of extending the vote to non-citizens (in Colorado, because they live there, too…) and granting six votes per person (in New England, to improve the chances of electing Hispanics who cannot get elected on their merits). For all that, my remarks will proceed from the current meaning of "the franchise," that is the right to vote.

(Can someone who knows Elise invite her in? It may be that she'd be a willing participant if asked. I'm new to blogging, so I don't know the ethics of this in the blogosphere.)

Eric Hines

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