by Paul Engel
- Is voting a right, a moral duty, or a legal requirement?
- Do states have the authority to mandate that people vote?
- Even if you believe everyone should vote, does that mean states can fine you for not doing so?
Do the American people have a right to vote or a duty? The difference may seem minor, but according to a proposed bill in Connecticut, it’s the difference between whether or not you can be fined for not voting.
When I first heard about the bill State Senator Haskell proposed in the Connecticut General Assembly, part of me wondered if someone was pulling my leg. But as I read the bill, titled AN ACT CONCERNING UNIVERSAL CIVIC DUTY VOTING, I believe it’s a misguided attempt to get people to engage in the voting process.
Statement of Purpose:
To make several changes designed to institute universal civic duty voting.
Unlike a lot of the other legislation I read, this one doesn’t really describe why it should be enacted. All that is stated is that the purpose is to institute a universal civic duty to vote.
Those of you who follow The Constitution Study know I’m a stickler for words. Most of us are familiar with our right to vote, but what Senator Haskell wants to do is create a civic duty to vote. Why is the distinction between a right and a duty so important, especially in regards to voting?
Right vs Duty.
- Just claim; immunity; privilege.
A right is a just claim of either immunity or privilege. Your right to vote means you have a just claim to the ability to vote. Not only must the state provide the opportunity to vote, they have the duty to insure that the votes tallied are not corrupted by those who do not have the just claim to do so. In other words, it’s the government’s responsibility to insure that only those who can legally vote are allowed to do so. In other words, our right to vote places a duty upon the government.
But do the American people have a legally binding civic duty to vote?
- That which a person owes to another; that which a person is bound, by any natural, moral or legal obligation, to pay, do or perform.
Do you owe your fellow citizens an obligation to vote? Well, let’s start with understanding why we vote.
The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government,
First, we need to recognize that the United States has a republican form of government, and must guarantee that each of the states have a republican form of government as well. What is a republic?
- A commonwealth; a state in which the exercise of the sovereign power is lodged in representatives elected by the people.
So, the sovereign power of the people is exercised by representatives we elect to office. We choose these representatives, these servants, these employees, of the people by voting in elections.
VOTE, verb transitive
- To choose by suffrage; to elect by some expression of will; as, the citizens voted their candidate into office with little opposition.
Since those representatives elected will exercise the sovereign power of the people they represent, I would say we have a moral obligation to participate in that choice. Does that mean we have a legal obligation to do so?
Universal Civic Duty Voting
That title 9 of the general statutes be amended to provide that (1) at the 2024 state election and each state election thereafter, all qualified electors shall either cast a ballot or provide a valid reason for not casting a ballot,
Most Americans want their elections to be free, fair, and transparent. For an election to be free from possible influence or coercion, the voting must be secret.
The right of secret voting shall be preserved.
CT Constitution, Article Sixth, Section 5
If I have a right to vote, is it not implied that I have a right NOT to vote? While the government has a duty to keep a list of eligible votes, does it have the right to place the duty to vote on those citizens? While I am not an expert on the Connecticut constitution, I have found no language that grants the government of the State of Connecticut the authority to place such a duty upon its citizens.
(2) following the 2024 state election and each state election thereafter, (A) the Secretary of the State shall mail to all qualified electors who did not cast a ballot at the most recent state election a form inquiring as to why such elector did not cast a ballot, which form shall advise that valid reasons for not casting a ballot include travel, illness, conscientious objection or such other reason as the Secretary may prescribe, and (B) failure to respond to such form with a valid reason shall result in a fine of twenty dollars paid to the Office of the Secretary of the State,
While the legislation does not say how the Secretary of State will determine who has not cast a ballot, I think it’s pretty obvious that this will be done by checking the list of registered voters with those who actually cast a vote. Of course, recent reports about the state of these “voter rolls” seems to show that they are about as accurate as broken clock. Reports of people receiving multiple mail-in ballots for previous residents and issues with voters not being allowed to vote in person because the government claims they voted by mail when they didn’t, are just a few of the reasons not to trust that the State of Connecticut can actually determine whether or not someone voted.
Furthermore, Senator Haskell is proposing that the Secretary of State should have the power to decide if the reason you chose not to vote is valid. And if the Secretary of State isn’t satisfied with your reason, you get a $20 fine, paid to the office that gets to decide if your reason is valid or not. Doesn’t anyone in Hartford see the conflict of interest? Hasn’t anyone been watching the dissension between the parties? Does anyone really believe that some political actor won’t abuse this for their own party’s gain?
which fine shall (i) not be increased through penalty fees or accrued interest, (ii) not be the basis for criminal enforcement or denial of government services or benefits, and (iii) be directed to the State Elections Enforcement Commission for deposit in the Citizens’ Election Fund, except that an elector may perform two hours of community service for a Connecticut-based nonprofit organization if such elector is unable to pay such fine,
While this legislation doesn’t put any real teeth into this fine, does anyone believe that would not change in the future? So, at least for now, that fine will not accrue penalties or interest, or be criminally enforced. If you cannot pay the fine, you can work it off at a government approved organization.
(3) one month prior to the 2024 state election, the Secretary of the State shall mail to all qualified electors a notice that (A) explains the changes that will take effect beginning at the 2024 state election, as described herein, and (B) includes a statement that each qualified elector will be required to either cast a ballot, with the option to leave such ballot blank, or provide a valid reason for not casting a ballot,
This legislation would allow someone to simply submit a blank ballot, but that seems small compensation for the theft of liberty that Senator Haskell is proposing.
I understand the desire for everyone to fulfill their moral and civic duty to participate in the selection of those who will exercise their sovereign powers. While many of us may not be happy with the eventual choice, I find it quite hypocritical for those who have decided to let others choose for them to complain about the choice. Would your vote have made the difference between who eventually assumed the office? Maybe yes, maybe no, but that does not absolve you of the consequences of your decision to let others choose. The fact that your decision has an impact on others does not give them the authority to compel you to vote.
This is another example of how our lack of knowledge and understanding regarding our state and national constitutions leads to an inversion of power and eventually tyranny.
All political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their benefit;
CT Constitution, Article First, Section 2
POLIT’ICAL, adjective Pertaining to policy, or to civil government and its administration.
If all political power is inherent in the people, doesn’t that include the power to not participate? What Senator Haskell is claiming is that the state has the authority to dictate to the people how they will exercise their political power. Literally, it’s the creation of the people telling the people they no longer have inherent political power, the state does. Because if the state does not like how or why you exercise your power, they will fine you. In short, this would be the state claiming that the people serve it rather than the other way around.
What most pundits and politicians won’t tell you is that this legislation is an exercise in tyranny and oppression.
Civil liberty is the liberty of men in a state of society, or natural liberty so far only abridged and restrained, as is necessary and expedient for the safety and interest of the society, state or nation. A restraint of natural liberty not necessary or expedient for the public, is tyranny or oppression.
The people of the State of Connecticut did not grant their creation, namely the government of Connecticut, the authority to force people to vote. That means this is an attempt at a blatant usurpation of power by some in Hartford. Since this legislation would not only abridge the liberty of the people of Connecticut, and does so for reasons other than are necessary and expedient for the public, it’s by definition an act of tyranny and oppression. By depriving the citizens of the State of Connecticut their liberty to not participate in elections, and doing so without due process of law, it would be a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States as well.
nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;
No matter the reasons or justification Senator Haskell may provide for this legislation, anyone who votes for it has violated their oath to support the Constitutions of both the State of Connecticut and the United States. They will have shown themselves to be tyrants and despots, and should be removed from office and banned from ever holding office again. If the citizens of Connecticut wish to be servants of princes and princesses in Hartford, that is their choice. Just don’t expect the rest of the union to come charging to the rescue when this goes horribly wrong.