With another election behind us, there are some lessons we learned, some lessons we know we didn’t learn, and many lessons we don’t know we didn’t learn.
Over the next several
days weeks months years, we will undoubtedly all be inundated with reams of analyses breaking down this election and the events that preceded it. Each analysis will undoubtedly describe, in exhaustive detail, several lessons we can learn about ourselves, democracy, the United States of America, social media, our political system, our media ecosystems, epidemiology, and the net electoral effect in Wisconsin and Michigan created by the merger of Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson Motor Car Company in the 1950s. Some of it might be insightful, some of it might be entertaining, and some of it — like an analysis of the net electoral effect in Wisconsin and Michigan created by the merger of Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson Motor Car Company in the 1950s — will undoubtedly turn out to be the reddest of red herrings.
Since our time on Earth is short, however, and since the internet only has so much bandwidth, I shall exercise a modicum of restraint and limit myself to only two of the lessons we should take away from the past few days. As an added service to you, dear reader, not a single lesson will involve the next taxpayer-funded lodger of the White House.
Enjoy the break. You’ve earned it.
We learned voting takes too long.
When conservatives discuss socialism, they frequently reference Soviet bread lines as proof government-provided services are both unreliable and incapable of meeting the needs of the people governments claim to have the right to govern. When conservatives discuss voting lines, however, they wax rhapsodic about the opportunity to get to know their neighbors and discuss the finer points of political philosophy while awaiting their opportunity to exercise their civic duty.
Though I’m not conversant in Russian, nor do I know many former Soviet citizens, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone wax rhapsodic about how they miss the opportunity to discuss recipes and cooking techniques with their neighbors while waiting outside in line before they enter the grocery store. The internet is a big place, so I’m sure there’s someone openly nostalgic for this, but if they’re out there, I haven’t found them yet.
The reason government-provided services (and, for that matter, services provided by other overly large, monolithic command-and-control organizations) tend to fail is because command-and-control organizations have every incentive to prioritize the needs and desires of those in charge over the needs and desires of their customers. When private organizations become solipsistic, other private organizations can compete against them and provide better service. When governments are competed against, however, we usually call that “war” — a monopoly on violence, it turns out, provides an opportunity for organizations to seize several ancillary monopolies should they choose to.
Nevada’s election officials, to be clear, are good people doing good work within the incentives and structures they are employed in. Many of them, as we’ve learned over the past several months, are some of the most professional officials any state would be proud to employ. However, those incentives and structures are steered towards minimizing the costs and resources assigned to elections — thus minimizing monetary costs to the taxpayer — at the cost of convenience and ease for the voter. This benefits the sort of politicians and officials who value “good governance,” as well as the sort of politicians who don’t trust their constituents to reliably re-elect them, but harms each and every voter who waits in line to have their voice heard.
Election lines, in other words, are a tax — a tax against our time, which is far more precious than money. Each of us can always make more money in a pinch; none of us can make more time for ourselves.
COVID-19 caused a lot of problems, but one silver lining it provided was it gave many Americans a crash course in the convenience of mail-in ballots. It’s true mail-in ballots are a bit less convenient to count and verify for election officials than in-person ballots cast with electronic voting machines, but they are considerably more convenient for many of our election officials’ customers — the voters. All we have to do is quietly live our lives, receive our ballots by mail, fill them out at our leisure, and mail them in when we’re ready.
We don’t have to sit in line and we definitely don’t have to listen to some insufferable neighbor explain the esoteric flavors of left-libertarianism to us while we do our very best to ignore both their incessant chatter and our inconveniently but persistently filling bladders and colons.
My neighbors, in other words, are very thankful for the opportunity to vote in peace and convenience. You should be, too — and if you are, now’s the time to contact your county election official and ask for an absentee ballot for the next election.
We learned Americans are ending the Drug War.
If one thing brought Americans together this election, it was a universal de-escalation of the Drug War.
Every single drug decriminalization and legalization law put before American voters passed — and with solid majorities. More than two-thirds of New Jersey’s voters, just under 60 percent of Arizona’s voters, and over 55 percent of Montana’s voters all voted to legalize recreational marijuana consumption within their respective states. Mississippi, meanwhile, overwhelmingly voted in favor of legalizing marijuana consumption for medical purposes; South Dakota, not to be outdone, legalized both medical and recreational marijuana at the same time (as well as sports betting in Deadwood — watch out, Las Vegas sports books!).
Marijuana legalization, however, is boring. Passeé. Yesterday’s news. Even Utah has medical marijuana now, after all.
Pushing the boundaries past where even Nevada maintains them, the voters in our nation’s capital — truly a hotbed of small government-favoring libertarianism if there ever was one — approved, by a three-to-one margin, a ballot measure which effectively decriminalizes psychedelic plants and mushrooms.
Not to be outdone, Oregon’s voters decriminalized every single drug in existence.
Now, before you get carried away and plan your next road trip to Klamath Falls to reenact a Hunter S. Thompson novel, there’s a difference between legalization — the government permitting consumption of something under specific conditions, usually in exchange for considerable tax revenue — and decriminalization. It is still not permitted — still not technically legal — to consume psychedelic mushrooms in Washington, D.C. or Oregon. However, your chance of getting arrested in our nation’s capital for doing so is much lower than it used to be; in Oregon, meanwhile, you might be subject to a $100 fine.
What Oregon is doing, and what other jurisdictions are moving towards doing, is demonstrating Portugal’s model for drug control — treating drug addiction as a medical issue instead of as a criminal issue — reliably produces fewer addicts, fewer felons, fewer broken families, and less social dysfunction than labeling drug users as unemployable felons and throwing them in prison. American voters are well aware now that the Drug War was originally conceived as a way to exert control over politically undesirable populations — hippies and people of color — and not to meaningfully improve public health.
Now armed with this knowledge, Americans aren’t surrendering to the harms caused by excess drug consumption. We’re simply recognizing federal drug policy as an enemy combatant in the cause of actually addressing them.
With these results and the forthcoming legislative session in mind, it’s clear the first legislator who openly comes out in favor of being led by their constituents towards keeping constituents out of prison will undoubtedly be considerably more difficult to remove in a subsequent election than one unwilling to take the easy win. Since Nevada is no longer at the forefront of legalizing vice, said legislator can even be tastefully lazy and just send Oregon’s Measure 110 to the Legislative Counsel Bureau for localization to our state’s statutes.
Given this, I sincerely hope at least one bill draft request in Carson City is reserved by someone, somewhere, to not only do the right thing, but to do the popular thing.
David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at [email protected].