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Voting, Equality, and Duty vs. Responsibility
By RU Contributor Antonio Aguilar
This past week the internet and some news channels started blowing up with the news of a lawsuit filed in Ohio. A political party that I won’t name supposedly sued to end early voting for one group of people, specifically… the military. On the surface, obviously, that sounds about as unpatriotic and discriminatory and evil as anything you could imagine. But, digging into it, there were some halfway reasonable sounding arguments on the side of the politicians involved.
Of course, digging into it took a lot of effort and in the end I couldn’t get an official copy of the complaint from a government web site; I had to turn to the blogosphere and wade through piles of electronic bullshit from all sides to find a copy that someone posted. In the end, after reviewing it for myself, it all became a little more clear.
The argument from one group of politicians was that in the past everyone in Ohio was able to use early voting closer to the election date, but that time frame was rolled back for everyone but the military. The claim, according to the complaint, was that this was an effort to hurt groups who voted for one political party while helping groups, presumably the military, that tended to vote for the other party. Essentially, the idea of the lawsuit was to give everyone the same early voting rights, regardless of military service or not.
Of course the other group argued that they had valid reason for supposedly rolling back the early voting, while keeping it in place for the military. The plaintiff claimed that “The Ohio General Assembly has failed to articulate any justification for this differential treatment of UOCAVA [Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voter Act] and non-UOCAVA voters, and no justification can be discerned…”
Ah… and that was the point where my blood started to boil. Up until that point of reading I was willing to give the plaintiffs the benefit of the doubt. Everyone in America is equal and we all get equal rights. But then saying that there is no discernible justification to give soldiers preference when it comes to early voting… There arises a little problem; the problem of rights versus privileges and duty versus responsibility.
Let me break it down for the politicians who probably will never read this or understand it if they did. You see, there is a discernible justification. The right to vote and the privilege to vote early both come from one group of people… If you guessed “soldiers” then you guessed right. Soldiers (and police) are a different class of people because of a second set of similar but different terms than “rights” and “privileges”. They are different because of “responsibility” versus “duty”.
A responsible citizen, when seeing another person threatened by danger, would act to help them. If they don’t society may frown on them (hopefully) but that’s the end of it. There’s no repercussions for failing to act to help their fellow man. There’s no overarching authority with such power that it can come down upon them and crush them; and they can even go through their lives demanding that everyone else in society give them help while refusing to offer a helping hand to anyone else. Society will, unfortunately, allow them to do just that. On the other hand, people who put on a uniform and pick up a gun are ruled by a different set of rules. They have a duty to act. When bullets start flying, they have a duty to run towards the gunfire. When a foreign threat rears its ugly head and slaughters thousands of Americans they don’t just stand by in shock and horror, they pick up their weapons, talk some shit, and then get on a flight to a dusty, nasty part of the world and back up their words with a good ol’ fashion American style ass kicking.
That’s not to say that, when confronted with something as horrible as war or an active shooter, people are wrong to react with horror and run rather than act. The average person does not have the training or willpower to face something like that and take aggressive action against it. The classic description of the wolf, sheep, and sheepdog comes into play here. The average person is incapable, except under great stress or duress, of taking violent action against other humans. Some people, however, are capable of that and they are broken down by their empathy for their fellow man or lack thereof. A quote often attributed to George Orwell states that “people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf”. Soldiers (and law enforcement) are those rough men (and women).
Some people might ask what the willingness to put one’s life on the line to confront a violent or bad situation has to do with the privilege to vote early. It’s simple. If you tell one person that they are required to do something terrible and harder than pretty much anything else in the world and another person that they aren’t required to do anything really aside from abiding by a few simple social rules, which person deserves a greater reward?
That reward, in our society, isn’t that great considering what some servicemen and women endure. For others it’s pretty fair. I didn’t suffer much in Iraq so the education benefits and the five points I got added to my Civil Service Exam score are enough to satisfy me; the VA home loan was a nice little perk too. What about other people who hobble out of the military missing limbs or missing the peace of mind that they went into the service with? Well, they deserve a little more back from society.
In light of the risk that is expected of soldiers though, is it that much to take the leap and at least acknowledge that they deserve the privilege to vote earlier than other people if they have a need to? Yes, I get it, some civilians have jobs that interfere with being able to vote easy such as working a night shift. But I work a night patrol shift at my local police department and I still made it to the polling place. Had it been my drill week though then that would not have been possible. Civilians don’t usually go to the field. They don’t usually have jobs that sometimes demand everything of them, up to and including their lives. Civilians have the luxury of being able to simply walk away from their profession if they so choose to. In the military that lands you in jail. Even a police officer can quite on the spot if they so desire, but not a soldier.
Should the plaintiff in Obama vs Husted come up with a valid reason for reinstating the old early voting rules for all people, civilian and military alike, that’s fine with me. Equal is equal, and that’s what all Americans are. But, to say that when handing out privileges such as early voting, the military should not be at the front of the line for those who get that privileges while their own supporters should… I have to call bullshit on that.