Josh Marshall, over at Talking Points Memo, has an interesting post “Who’s Disenfranchised?” It offers the following argument. While those Democrats who voted in the Florida and Michigan primaries may be disenfranchised if delegates from those states are not seated at the convention, those who did not vote, because of the prior agreement by all parties concerned that no delegates would be seated, will be disenfranchised if delegates are now seated. (He refers to another TPM article, by Eric Kleefeld, that shows, on the basis of some fancy statistics that a million voters in Florida and half a million in Michigan may not have voted because they believed that there would be no delegates from those states.)

This is an interesting argument, though I’m not entirely convinced. I certainly agree that there would be something unfair towards those who didn’t vote precisely because it had been agreed that the ballot would not have any official significance, if the powers-that-be now turned round and decided to make that ballot official retroactively. But whether that unfairness would be a form of disenfranchisement is another matter.

To be more precise, Marshall is presumably assuming – though he doesn’t say explicitly – that the non-voters (as I’ll call those who did not vote because they believed that no delegates would be seated from their state) would not be disenfranchised if indeed no delegates were seated, as agreed, but would be disenfranchised if some delegates did end up being seated. After all, if they would be disenfranchised whether delegates were seated or not, the fact of their disenfranchisement in the case where delegates are seated could hardly be a reason against seating those delegates.

But, it seems to me, those non-voters would not be enfranchised just because the votes of those who did vote were not going to be counted. Can one’s status as disenfranchised be created by someone else’s vote’s changing from not being counted to being counted? Can someone else’s becoming enfranchised result in your losing your franchise? I don’t think so, though I’m not entirely sure on the matter.

Take an analogy. Suppose that, after the Civil War, when the vote was given to African American men, African American women argued that this disenfranchised them. Now of course, African American women were disenfranchised at that point, but could they have argued that they would not have been disenfranchised had African American men not been given the vote? Well, perhaps they could have argued that previously, they were disenfranchised as African Americans whereas, when African American men were granted the vote, they were not disenfranchised as African Americans any more, but newly came to be disenfranchised as women. So, in a sense, they did acquire a new disenfranchisement when African American men got the vote. On this line, how one is disenfranchised is relative to some group, and hence one can become disenfranchised merely by someone else’s becoming franchised because that re-aligns the groups relative to which your vote does, or does not, count. I see some further issues here but rather than let this post become bogged down in any further pedantry, I’ll stop. Any thoughts?

Advertisements