I honestly thought it was a joke when my dinner companion looked me in the eye and told me:
“We shouldn’t be letting anyone without a college degree vote.”
I laughed, responding, “Sure, and we can get England to let us back under the rule of the crown!” Shaking my head as I filled an appetizer plate with chicken nachos.
“I’m serious,” he said: “I support voter suppression.”
And so started one of the most illogical and insensitive dinner conversations of my life.
I should be clear, I generally like this guy. He is more conservative than I am(he is a self defined Republican), certainly more religious, but not in an in your face kind of way. He’s the kind of guy you could call at 3AM and he would come help you get your car out of a ditch.
Which is part of why I reacted sarcastically, and found myself surprised by his serious response. A restaurant booth shared with small minds somehow only gets more cramped throughout a meal.
The basic premise of my dinner companion’s argument was this: people who don’t have a college education cannot possibly be well versed enough in the nuances of political happenings, and the impact of their actions, to make a decision that is best for them, and for American society as a whole.
He gave the example of a group he overheard while waiting to vote in 2012. A man, standing a few people away in line asked his companion:
“Who am I supposed to be voting for again?”
“Obama. We only vote for brothers.”
My dinner companion was furious in that moment in 2012, and still carried that anger now, in 2018. These people were casting their vote wrong — not just because their vote would go to someone opposite his views, but because using skin color as their only criterion to cast a vote is something he believes to be detrimental- and also personally offensive to him; that their vote should count as equal to his own.
That view of the world poses a problem.
Being a one issue voter (i.e. someone who only votes for someone because of a single factor regardless of other stances) is a valid premise. If these people wanted to vote for Barack Obama simply because he is black, more power to them. They believe that race is an important aspect of being a good leader, and their vote is no less valuable because of their views.
It is no different than if you are passionate about the second amendment, healthcare, or abortion- and choose who to vote for a candidate based on that one issue, so be it. Its YOUR VOTE. I’m not your supervisor.
Beyond just morality, here’s the problem with seeking to control a vote: someone else sets the standard. If those in power decided tomorrow that you had to have a college degree to vote, the next day they could decide you also have to be white, then the day after you also have to be male, then the day after that a new leader decides only minority females without college degrees can vote, in a misguided attempt to level the playing field. Everything comes full circle when one group works to suppress another.
Preventing the free exercise of basic rights places power in the hands of a select few — and there is no guarantee that those select few will act in anyones best interest but their own. That is precisely why we have states and not just a single federal government, checks and balances at all levels, branches of government, limited constitutional powers… we are insulating ourselves from both the tyranny of the majority, and the tyranny of the minority.
I agree with a single aspect of my dinner companion’s point; the people making decisions at the ballot box are not always prepared to accept the consequences.
It’s not his premise that I have a problem with, but his conclusion.
Voter suppression is wrong. As a country, the solution is ensuring we do a better job educating voters. We need solutions. Why isn’t Election Day a national holiday? Why aren’t more private companies taking on the task of providing non partisan voter education?
Disenfranchising voters simply because they aren’t politically or issue savvy is unacceptable. A single issue voter casts a valid vote.
Protecting the rights of all people is of the upmost importance, and everyone needs a gentle reminder on occasion that rights to not come from the government, but that they exist independent of any authority.
…Pause with me for a second…
I didn’t get into all of this at the dinner table. My stomach couldn’t have taken the focus of a fight, on top of spicy cajun chicken nachos and my mahi mahi tacos.
When dinner ended, however, the conversation of voter suppression versus voter rights had taken up most of the meal. We went back and forth on the topic without it blowing up to a yelling match, and we left the table with each of us probably glad the other wasn’t running for public office.
In his mind, I would continue to ruin the country by fighting for the voting rights of those who aren’t legal or political professionals.
In my mind, I lost respect for someone who would see millions of citizens disenfranchised because they do not have an advanced degree.
I think I’m right.
He probably does too.
I’m going to keep fighting for his right to vote — even if I think his “one issue” of voter suppression is terribly bigoted.
Thats the beauty of the system, and the terrible truth.
No one has the right to tell you how to vote, or demand your reasons.
Clap to spread awareness, and register yourself to vote: www.vote.gov