Is Government Legitimate Without the Right to Vote? by Jordon M. Greene | September 22, 2010 | JordonGreene.com Just as representation without voters has little meaning, voting without free choice cannot result in representative government and becomes nothing more than the peoples periodic renunciation of their sovereignty. - Giovanni Sartori in The Theory of Democracy Revisited Most political scientists would agree that there is one basic criterion or variable upon which the legitimacy of government hangs. That criterion is that of frequent and free elections. Moreover, there must be choice among candidates; and the voters choice should have a fair chancehowever remoteof winning. Through frequent and public elections the people are able to have a voice in electing those who will administer their government and who will make choices on their behalf. Those whose choice succeeds in an election likely have a stronger belief that government is legitimate; conversely those whose choices lose the election will likely believe less strongly in the governments legitimacy. Nevertheless, political scientists typically agree that that loss does not equate to the absence of legitimacy, though a citizen may not agree with the office holder. . However, a governments legitimacy rests on knowing that everyone has a chance at being represented by the possibility of electing their preferred candidate to office through free and open elections. Put bluntly, we do not see people raiding the US Congress or White House every two or four years with guns and pitchforks because their candidates lost the election. Instead, the supporters of those losing candidates accept the results of the election as long as foul play or fraud is not evident and accept the legitimacy of those elected in most cases, despite their personal view of the person in office. This all sounds great and wonderful and even plausible. However, I submit to you that there is one major flaw in this idea. The flaw itself is not contained directly in the idea or simple construct, but the actual application and definition of elections, and more importantly free elections. If one is speaking of the simple ability to cast a vote, then yes we have free elections. The right to vote in its most basic form is being able to vote; women fought for a Constitutional right to vote in the early 1900s during the womens suffrage movement resulting in the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, I argue there is a vast difference in this simple form of the right to vote and the full and genuine right to make your choice; the right to vote ones own conscience. The right to vote ones conscience is absent in most states in the Union and most assuredly absent in North Carolina. You ask why? It is due to North Carolinas anti-democratic and free speech-damning ballot access laws dating all the way back to 1901. For this reason, the choice of many North Carolina residents has a near-impossible barrier to overcome to obtain a place among the choices of others. These ballot access laws artificially and without reasonable justification restrict the right to vote by limiting voter choice to a select state-approved list of candidates or parties, typically the Democratic and Republican Parties. Since Parties such as the Greens and Constitutionalists among others are not state approved they are denied the right to vote by these laws. Therefore, ballot access laws devaluate the right to vote to its most basic form. Being able to go to the polls and mark a ballot is not enough to claim we have voting rights. I truly believe that these laws are comparable to saying that people have the right to vote in countries where voters are coerced to vote for a certain candidate or only given a select number of choices on purpose by the government. The right to vote is empty where there is not choice. With that said, it would seem to me that political scientists are really only speaking of perceived legitimacy based on the perceived notion of the right to vote (something quite different from the actual right to vote in my opinion as I explained earlier) and in which case, political scientists need to clarify this and qualify it so as not to be misunderstood. However, I dare say that political scientists are unwittingly stating something rather negative about our system of government. In this case, they may very well be saying that, by the standard given, American government has lost its legitimacy, as people do not have a reasonable expectation or chance that their candidate or choice will prevail in the coming election as their candidate may be entirely excluded from placement on the election ballot. For this reason, modern day elections simply serve, as Giovanni Sartori so aptly stated in his book The Theory of Democracy Revisited, as the peoples periodic renunciation of their sovereignty by furthering the hold of the two major parties who are unwilling to permit truly free elections in a system of which they are the principal beneficiaries as Theodore J. Lowi put it. The issue is the right to vote, it is the potential of representation, the possibility of a voice and the legitimacy of the government we live under. I submit to you, that if we truly derive legitimacy of government from the opportunity to be heard, the chance of winning the next election and the competence and freedom built into the system, then sadly American government has been sorely illegitimate for over one hundred years. I say it is high time that we tell those in power that we want our right to vote back. That we reach out and show others in our state and around the nation the need for reform at the ballot box to open up the electoral process to more voices and make it a truly competitive process where people are heard and where the choices made lead to legitimate government once again. Constitutional, democratic and lawful government is not legitimate where the state does not allow the full and unequivocal right to vote. An arbitrary and restrictive limitation on voter choice is not and cannot be consistent with government legitimacy. Copyright © 2010 Jordon M. Greene. Jordon M. Greene is the President and Founder of the North Carolinians for Free and Proper Elections, he served as campaign manager for his fathers unaffiliated congressional campaign in 2008 and as a member of the Constitution Party of North Carolina State Executive from 2008 to 2010. Jordon is a student of political science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. I would like to thank Dr. Martha E. Kropf, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for her assistance with this article.