Sometime last year, after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, an American journalist was interviewing an Iraqi about the prospect of voting. The Iraqi (having been educated with only Hussein's political doctrines, and probably genuinely curious) asked the question: "So now we are going to vote? What if we vote for a theocracy?" The American journalist (having probably been educated by statists in the U.S.) did not have an answer. This was unfortunate, because it offers a clear example of the role of voting within the framework of a free society.
How might I answer the Iraqi's query? I would say that nobody can vote away another person's rights. To vote for theocracy would imply that a portion of society would be denied their rights, and therefore illegal (or, if allowed by the political masters, wrong). Replacing a single brutal tyrant with a million little tyrants does not improve one's position.
Rights are based in our nature as a thinking, acting beings. In order to live, we must act. In order to act, we must think. Discussion of rights (REAL rights, not made-up ones like "the right to steal item X") leads to discussion of the role and limits of government. A limited government allows the growth of a civil society, a society formed of people acting voluntarily to produce what they value. Society is at its best when the productive minds of its citizens are free to explore all of the possibilities in nature.
So why do we vote, then? Couldn't the form of our government be different, as long as it respected our freedoms? Possibly, but history has shown that it would be an unstable situation. Monarchs (either as a single person or as a group of people) tend to accumulate power over time, and a democracy (or, really, a representative republic) has been shown to provide a check on that stealing of freedom. That is the reason behind electoral college, and many of the other structures that our Founding Fathers built into the government: Political change requires a massive consensus in the United States, and has to be embraced by many people over a wide geography. We are thus less likely to be swept away by feverish mistakes, like fascism or socialism.
So voting, at its best, is a way of providing a check on the growth of government. It is a necessary exercise, even if it is not fundamentally the source of the United State's success.
This entry was inspired by my friend Andrew Sincic's recent email.