Washington City Paper has a story this week about how gun control became the issue that sank voting rights for the District of Columbia’s congressional representative. Over at Hit & Run, Matt Welch has blogged it, but what I want to focus on is the normative question of whether D.C. has a right to be represented in Congress – or equivalently, that Congress has an obligation to give D.C. residents voting rights. Welch seems very sympathetic to the position that they do: “It is always instinctively repellant (sic) to see a piece of legislation–particularly one having to do with basic enfranchisement–get saddled and ultimately sunk with a completely unrelated provision” (emphasis added).
But is enfranchisement really a human right? After all, the constitutional framers clearly had reasons for disenfranchising D.C. Perhaps they did not anticipate that the city’s population would grow so large, but surely they did anticipate that the city’s population would be dominated by federal politicians, bureaucrats, and people who serve them. If they wanted to put into the Constitution a little check, however minor, on the growth of government, disenfranchising D.C. would fit the bill. After all, isn’t there some conflict of interest in allowing government(-subsidized) officials to vote themselves more jobs, higher salaries, and less oversight? I don’t advocate totally disenfranchising government employees and contractors – after all, they (we, actually – I work for a state university) have a legitimate interest in curbing potential abuse of their rights too. But I just don’t think there’s an inherent individual right to vote. Voting is a means to an end, so I favor whatever enfranchisement scheme in the long run best protects everyone’s liberty, even if such a scheme disenfranchised me.