Why Libertarians Should Vote: Restoring Liberty via the Ballot Box (Part 3 of 3)

I am not a fan of direct democracy. As I pointed out in part 2 of this series, the Colorado ballot has a number of anti-liberty ballot measures from the Left and the Right. The Colorado ballot is a classic example of how democracy can be reduced to tyrannical of mob rule.

Having said that, the system is what it is; why not use the system in a way which restores the rights of life, liberty, and property?

When Democracy is used to Promote Liberty: The Compassionate Use Act of 1996

Paradoxically, direct democracy has in some ways advanced Libertarian issues in ways which would have been difficult if not impossible given the current two party power structure. Libertarian activist Steve Kubby was a key player in advocating California Prop 215 (a.k.a. the “Compassionate Use Act of 1996”) which legalized the use of cannabis for medical purposes.

Unfortunately Prop 215 has failed numerous legal challenges and patients, vendors, and doctors have suffered severe punishment at the hands of the federal government despite the state law (click here, here, and here for details). Prop 215 has, however, at the very least forced policy makers to rethink prohibition of medical marijuana.

Since the passage of Prop 215, 11 other states have passed similar laws (7 through the initiative process 4 through state legislatures). Earlier this year, Barney Frank (D) introduced HR5843 which would go even further to decriminalize use of marijuana by adults. Still, it may take some time before Washington catches up with the progress being made at the state level but if/when Washington does get over its reefer mania, it will be due in no small part to those who fought for the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.

Pro-Liberty Ballot Measures on the Colorado Ballot?

As terrible as the Colorado ballot is, there are more than a few measures which would restore liberty to Coloradans. Amendment 46 would prohibit state and city governments from using race, gender, or ethnic, based preferences (a.k.a. “affirmative action”) for hiring or promotion considerations.

Amendment 50 would take decisions regarding casino gambling away from the state and allow the local communities where the casinos are located to decide hours of operation, the games which will be played, and maximum wager.

Referendum N removes obsolete language from the Colorado Constitution as originally adopted in 1876 regarding the prohibition of the importing, manufacturing, and selling of “impure” alcohol. Proponents of N point out that the problem of impure alcohol no longer exists as it did when Colorado first became a state. The only argument against the measure in the 2008 Ballot Information Booklet is that enacting N “may diminish the historical character of the constitution.”

And perhaps the best ballot measure of all this November: Referendum O. Referendum O would improve the process of citizen-initiated state laws by raising the requirements for amending the state constitution while simultaneously lowering the requirements for citizen-initiated statutes. Currently, the requirements for statutes and amendments are identical but the state constitution is supreme when statutes conflict with the constitution.

This would encourage activist groups to focus their efforts on statutes rather than litter the state constitution with every wacko proposal the mob wishes to impose. And not only does Referendum raise the minimum number of signatures to qualify for the ballot but it also requires that 8% of the minimum required signatures are collected from each congressional district (rather than the will of people of Denver vs. the rest of the state).

Final Thoughts

When the prospects for liberty are not so good, it’s very tempting to drop out of the process. Although I am supporting Libertarian Bob Barr for president in this election, I realize that he does not have a realistic chance of winning.

But don’t tell me I’m “throwing my vote away” because I’m voting my principles. If I were to choose between “the lesser of two evils,” then I would be throwing my vote away. Beyond that, I also realize that in voting Libertarian, I can help pave the way for other Libertarians to have easier access to the ballot in future races from sheriff all the way up to president.

But even if you believe that Barr is not a “real Libertarian” and therefore, cannot support him, I would urge you to skip the presidential race and work down the ballot. Are there any other Libertarians, “Ron Paul Republicans,” or Libertarian leaning independents running? Are there any ballot measures which will either advance or reduce liberty?

As John Philpot Curran once said, “Evil prospers when good men do nothing.”

While it is true that evil may still prosper despite our best efforts, we can each at least say we did our part to resist the emotional whims of our friends, the tyrants next door.

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  • freewheeler


    You of course are touching on a topic of hot debate amongst libertarians – especially this election cycle. But what about the idea that by voting you are implicitly consenting to a system that by design you vehemently oppose? I am fairly certain I will not vote much in the future, but I am probably going to vote for Barr or write in Paul. That being said, I cannot help but feel I am betraying my ideals in some way. I like Ron Paul a lot. But I don’t know that I agree with him that the system can be reformed; or that we are advancing liberty by restoring some level of faith in the system. Isn’t that what gets people, even relatively free people, in trouble to begin with: trusting those with the ability to coerce?

    I am sure you have heard this argument before, being part 3 of your piece and a voting libertarian in the past (assuming), but I have yet to see a response that satisfies my concerns. Also, as an aside, it is great that some politicians are willing to consider the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. But as I am sure you are aware, that is not the core issue at hand here. Even if they do approve such legislation, which would certainly help some sick people now, it still presumes that government has the right to tell me what I can and cannot put in my own body. Do we not do a greater service to liberty by promoting the undermining and lack of confidence in a system that presupposes ownership over the people?

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Stephen Littau


    Those are all great points. Your overall point, as I understand it, is that by participating in the system we accept the system.

    I get that.

    The proplem is that if we do not participate, those who do will always get their way. The powers that be do not care if we choose not to participate out of principle or apathy; either way they win and we lose.

    Consider some of the anti-liberty ballot measures I wrote about in Part 2. If these measures pass, they will have a very real impact on my life for the worse. I cannot idly stand by and not at least formally show my disapproval and possibly stop some of these measures from passing.

  • http://pith-n-vinegar.blogspot.com/ Quincy

    Freewheeler –

    There isn’t a repsonse that would satisfy your concerns because there’s no way other than violent revolution to prevent the political class from granting themselves the power to coerce. Simply sitting back and ignoring the system will do nothing, because the political class can already grant themselves power because of the Republicrat duopoly that currently has a stranglehold on who gets to compete for the power to coerce.

    Because of this reality, I take the approach of using the ballot as effectively as I can, which admittedly is not much because in my home state decisions are made by the Democratic party robovoters. The only things that are really competitive where I can make a difference are the propositions since they’re not party-based. Like Colorado, I’ve got the chance to vote against some things that would really have a negative impact on my life, and I’m not going to pass it up.

    Until people get really fed up with the political class and their Republicrat duopoly, small gains at the ballot box are all we can expect. Violent revolution when most of the people are mentally committed to the status quo will produce a lot of bloodshed for nothing, and sitting back and doing nothing is not going to bring the Republicrats down any faster while resulting in a worse quality of life.