It’s not about your rights, it’s about their power…

Every time someone mentions requiring a formal system of voter identification, a hue and cry arises that it’s just people placing a structural and financial impediment in the way of someone exercising their rights under the Constitution. It’s all I can do not to laugh them out of the room when they roll out that old chestnut.

Let’s assume I’m a responsible adult with no criminal record who has never owned a firearm, but wants to purchase a handgun to protect my home and property. In order to exercise my rights under the Second Amendment, here’s a taste of the structural and financial hurdles the State of Maryland throws up between me and my rights.

To begin the process, I need to apply for the Maryland Handgun Qualification License (HQL). All told, the basic requirements involve paying a $50 application fee after completing a 4 hours course ($95) and submitting fingerprints ($65). Then I’ll wait for between 2-4 weeks while the state adjudicates my application. After that, I can go to a gun shop, purchase the handgun I want and wait an additional week or longer for that application to be reviewed by the state. This first hurdle involved a minimum of $210, 4 hours of class time, and 3-5 weeks of various waiting periods. Assuming everything is approved, I’ll then pay $20 every 10 years to renew my HQL. 

In order to take the next step and be approved to carry my handgun outside the home, I’d need to check off all the boxes to secure the Maryland Wear and Carry Permit. Submitting this application involves a $75 application fee, another set of fingerprints ($65), and a 16 hour class ($350). The state then has 90 days to review the application. The cost of meeting all the requirements for the wear and carry permit is $490, 16 hours of classroom time, and up to a 90 day wait. If successfully approved, the wear and carry permit in Maryland requires renewal after two years for the initial permit and three years for each subsequent renewal. There is a $50 renewal fee and 8 hour class ($125) for each renewal application. 

Without factoring in the additional costs of renewal or the cost of the actual gun, the all in cost to fully exercise your Second Amendment rights in Maryland involves $700 cash out of pocket, 20 hours in the classroom, and about 120 days of wait time. Talk about setting up financial and structural roadblocks.

So, you see, when they screech that the $24 fee for state issued photo identification that can be issued on the day it’s applied for is a roadblock to someone’s right to vote, I find that argument wildly unmoving… unless, of course, their argument really isn’t about helping people exercise their rights and more about maintaining institutionalized power among the political class. In that case, it makes perfect sense.

Show me your papers…

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the next of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.

I’ve spent a few Friday evenings opining on topics that would inevitably annoy my friends on the right, so it only feels fair that I offer up something to antagonize my friends on the left. 

You see, I support the notion that only citizens should be eligible to vote in our elections. What’s more, I believe where people vote should be inextricably tied to where they live. For instance, Mark Meadows should not have in any way been considered eligible to vote in North Carolina elections while not domiciled in that state any more than I should be allowed to vote in Tennessee elections simply because I use to live there once upon a time.

That there should be some form of identification required to ensure someone who seeks to participate in the electoral process is, in fact, eligible to participate feels like it should be a no brainer. 

“But,” I can hear the cry, “Voting is a right protected by the Constitution.” Yes. It is. Licenses and permits are required for many constitutionally protected activities. If I wanted to exercise my 1st Amendment right to stage a protest on the National Mall, for instance, I’d need a permit from the National Park Service. If, heaven forfend, I wanted to use my 2nd Amendment rights to purchase a handgun in the state of Maryland, I’d need to show ID, get finger printed, spend money to apply for a special Handgun Qualification License, and undergo an additional background check through the Maryland State Police. That hardly feels like unrestrained and unfettered exercise of a Constitutional right. 

As a nation, we’ve already accepted limitations placed on how and when we can exercise our rights under the Constitution. Unless we’re going to suddenly agree to roll back the others, needing to show some valid form of ID at the polling place hardly seems onerous or out of line with limits already in place for other rights. 

Perhaps more unpopular than my take on voter ID is my heretical notion that just because people are eligible to vote doesn’t mean they should. I think often of George Carlin’s quote that encourages us to “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” It’s a reality that makes me question if we really should be making such a big push by saying everyone should vote. Expecting everyone to have an informed grip on who or what they’re voting in favor of or against doesn’t feel strictly reasonable… which in my estimation leads to people simply voting for whatever voice happens to be loudest in their ear rather than any kind of informed self- or community interest.

So maybe we should back off this “get everyone to the polls” bit. If you’re not interested enough to know it’s election day without being bludgeoned over the head with that information, what are the chances you’ve spent even ten minutes “studying” the issues at hand? This business of getting everyone to the polls has contributed largely to getting us exactly the kind of government we deserve, so all I’m saying is maybe try a slightly different approach and focus in more on eligible voters who are halfway informed than the broader pool of eligible voters who don’t know or don’t care what’s happening in the wider world.

For most of us, voting is the most important responsibility we’ll ever exercise as citizens of the republic. Cleaning up the process a bit doesn’t feel like it should be a bridge too far. 

Elections still have consequences…

There are a million talking heads and bloggers saying this, but it bears repeating: the results of the 2021 off year election would scare the hell out of me if I were a democrat expecting to be on the ballot in the 2022 midterm election.

Republicans won state wide office in what the experts a year ago would have called “reliably blue Virginia.” New Jersey, not exactly known as a hotbed of conservative politics, has a governor’s race decided by a razor thin margin. The “Defund the Police” referendum in Minneapolis went down to defeat.

Keystone pieces of President Biden’s agenda, even after being dramatically descoped, remain stalled in the Democratic controlled Congress. His approval rating is sinking towards 40%. If Democrats want to hold on to power in 364 days, they’re going to need better arguments than Trump Bad and a solidly left-wing agenda.

What the election yesterday tells me is that even though voters soundly rejected a second Trump term, they didn’t go off to embrace wild “progressive” policy positions. The American Moderate, labeled almost extinct by pundits, is apparently alive and well and making their presence felt at the polls.

There’s obviously still plenty of room for Democratic candidates to win, but that path gets harder if they collectively insist on just keeping on with what they’ve been doing for the last twelve months.

Beyond the big show…

It’s election day in America – or rather it’s the last day of voting season in a presidential election year. 

What people seem to forget is that the election, the physical act of voting is just part of the process. The act of citizenship isn’t a one and done. Casting a ballot is the big, showy event, but the governing that comes after is where it matters – and where people generally lose interest unless the issues involved directly impact them in some way.

It’s a fine thing for your party of candidate to win an election, but what do you do after that? Do you stay engaged? Do you show up at council meetings, call your elected representatives, donate to your favored causes? Do you keep fighting for your ideas, how you think the country should be run, or your vision for the proper role of government in the 21stcentury? Do you tune out until the media starts beating the drum for the next big election?

Tonight (and probably for the next couple of nights) we’re going to count the votes. There will, eventually, be a winner. Some will celebrate. Others will look into the camera with that thousand-yard stare wondering how their candidate could possibly lose. Elections, even more so those in the media age, are moments of high national drama. It’s easy to get so caught up in that drama that you forget there’s a tomorrow, and a day after that, and a day after that one.

What we do with those days after is at least as important in the small role we played in the big show on election day. Having voted Libertarian, I know even before the counting starts that my preferred candidate isn’t going to win when the final votes are counted. That’s ok. I won’t be taking to the streets later howling for blood or at least hoping to loot the local Best Buy. 

Instead of rending my garments, I’ll spend tomorrow and all the days after doing what I do every day – I’ll talk about the issues that are important to me. I’ll advocate for more severe penalties for animal abuse. I’ll lend my name and occasionally some cash to organizations fighting to preserve the 2nd Amendment. I’ll call and email my county commissioners and state representatives when local and state government get a little too open handed with our tax dollars. In short, I’ll continue to be an engaged citizen.

For tonight, though, I’ll sit back, keep a stiff drink close at hand, and see how the big show plays out.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Interesting times. People always say they want an adventure, or value new experience. They throw it all over social media, on their dating profiles, or bring it up any time they have introduce themselves. Now all you seem to hear is gnashing of teeth because someone isn’t getting an “authentic” high school experience or their long-awaited vacation was cancelled or their favorite holiday will look a little less Currier and Ives. They’ve landed smack in the middle of a once in a century pandemic and an election cycle like no one currently living has ever experienced… but that’s apparently not the “interesting times” they had in mind. It turns out what people really mean is they wanted entertainment and the illusion of adventure because the real thing is much harder to wrap your head around.

2. The Midwest. Talking heads keep yammering on about midwestern states “like Pennsylvania.” Buy a goddamned map. I know you’re using midwest as shorthand to mean “post-industrial” rust belt states, but you sound like an idiot somehow implying that Pennsylvania isn’t right here on the east coast. I suppose expecting nuance and detailed analysis from the professional media is far too much of an ask in this era of short attention span theater.

3. Election month. Back in my day, elections were held in on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. If you couldn’t make it to the polls on that day you could send in an absentee ballot. It seems to work well enough. I don’t know when exactly we started moving to having first an “election week” and now something more like an “election month,” but I’m not sure we’ve done much more than make what should be a simple proposition far more complicated than it needs to be.  And for the love of God don’t get me started on the people who are stomping around wanting to count mail in votes that arrive six and a half weeks after “Election Day.” If it’s really important to you, you wouldn’t have dawdled and would have had your shit in order well before the deadline. Personal responsibility matters.

Working for it (just a little)…

I’m not a stranger to staking out unpopular opinions. It’s why I’ve never fit comfortably in such descriptive categories as conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. I take a bit from each, apply my own logic and analysis, and come up with a position that makes purists in all categories somewhat uncomfortable. I’m fine with their discomfort.

It shouldn’t be surprising that I also have what I’m sure will be an internet-unpopular take on voting.

I simply believe that requiring a bit of effort to exercise the vote isn’t the worst thing that could happen to the Republic. 

There. I said it. I don’t think voting should be turned into a sacred quest, but participating in an election should require at least a minimal amount of work. Showing up on the appointed day and time or needing to request a ballot isn’t a high bar to cross, but it does demonstrate personal commitment to the process. It’s a small, perhaps only symbolic gesture that someone is taking their role of citizen seriously… and we put a much higher burden on exercising other essential liberties.

Needing to work for it, if even just a little bit, implies a level of commitment to the idea that your vote is the matters not just to the process, but also to you as an individual… and that doesn’t sound like the worst idea I’ve ever heard.

Pen and ink…

This weekend I visited the Maryland Board of Elections website and applied for a general election absentee ballot. I know, I know, my hard right friends will be sure I’m throwing my ballot into a swampy morass of leftist vote rigging. My leftist friends will be offended that I had to actually apply for the ballot instead of them being airdropped from one end of the state to the other. When both sides are pissed off, I generally feel like I’m getting something right.

Due to circumstances, I’ve voted absentee in presidential elections at least twice previously. Licking a stamp doesn’t give me the same warm fuzzy that I got from walking into the old-fashioned voting booths, throwing the lever, and closing the curtain behind me, but then again neither does the little scantron forms used with “modern” voting machines. Still, when possible, I like voting in person when it’s possible. It makes me feel like I’ve done something a little more important than sending in a rebate or paying the phone bill.

Look, you’re free to do whatever you want, but the idea of standing around for half an hour or more with several hundred of my closest neighbors, touching all the same things they touch, breathing in the recirculated air, and watching them argue for their “right not to wear a mask” has very little appeal. That’s especially when there’s a simple and effective alternative – although how effective it will be across each of the 49 other states remains to be seen. This feels like a good time to remind everyone that we don’t have national elections in this country – but rather a host of state elections by which we decide who represents us and forms that national government. 

Frankly, influencing an election to determine who makes up that government by hacking into an electronic machine feels a lot more likely to than doing so via pen and ink ballots, so I’m a little perplexed at why it’s even a thing we’re supposed to worry about. Then again, everything has to fit someone’s narrative so I’m sure there will be plenty of coverage about how both options are awful and we’re all doomed.

A love letter to Iowa…

Grumble grumble Trump. Grumble grumble impeachment. Grumble grumble senate. Grumble grumble State of the Union. Grumble grumble Brexit.

In this, the winter of our discontent, the Iowa Democratic Party and the state’s quirky method of awarding primary election delegates, steps into the breach and mutters, wild eyed, “Hold my beer.”

For my entire life, Iowa has been the “first in the nation” to express their choice in the primary cycle. It’s a valuable piece of electoral real estate and has always given Iowa an out sized importance during election years.

If the Iowa Democratic Party didn’t single handedly end both the state’s first in the nation role and ye olde caucus method of casting votes, I’ll be amazed. The first story from the heart of primary season is of a party and an entire slate of candidates in disarray. The campaigns and the DNC can’t be happy that the biggest story of the election isn’t an impeached president, but rather a relatively small Midwestern state’s inability to count the 147 people or so who live there and report back who they caucused for in something like a timely and efficient manner.

It’s the kind of thing that basically writes it’s own Republican ad. It’s not hard to imagine the tens of thousands of mailers coming out of print shops even now asking “If the Democrats can’t be trusted to hold their own caucus in Iowa, how can you trust them to run the federal government.”

Accurate or not, fair or not, reporting on the debacle in Iowa will be red meat for the opposition. The fact that it appears that figuring out how and where Iowa Democrats came flying off the rails is going to take well over 24 hours is just embarrassing… especially when receiving precinct reports and tabulating totals feels like something that could be achieved over the phone using a pretty basic Excel spreadsheet without all that much fuss. It really, really shouldn’t have been a heavy lift.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Getting in through the back door. Every time I hear one of the Democratic primary candidates wax philosophical about one of their wealth redistribution schemes by confiding to the camera that “it’s a tax on Wall Street,” I look around and wonder how many people really believe that. My reading on their collective plans is that this chimera of making the “big banks and hedge fund managers” pay is ultimately a tax on every working person who has a retirement account. Your 401k, 403b, IRA, or TSP can’t help but be taxed under these plans, because at heart these accounts are nothing more than fractional shares that get traded on a regular basis to keep the fund balanced… and these funds are the definition of big players in the financial market. The Democratic candidates know they’re going to have to tap into huge sources of capital for their plans. I just wish they had the stones to admit that getting it done is going to require levying this backdoor tax on every man and woman in America who’s bothered to make an effort to save for retirement and not just the guy in charge of running the fund.

2. When you can’t even half ass the work. I worked on three things today. Simultaneously. All were a priority of effort… at least to someone. What that really means, of course, is each of them got exactly the level of effort and attention you’d think they got. Instead of half assed efforts, the very best they could hope for was being third assed. It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad. You’d think after 17 years I’d have started to get use to the idea that most days good enough just has to be good enough. Then again some days don’t even rise to that paltry standard.

3. Facebook memories. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to disable Facebook Memories, because every morning I open the damned app I’m met with the picture of a bulldog doing something alternately ridiculous or endearing. Jorah has done quite a lot in the last six months to patch up the sucking chest wound Winston left behind, but those pictures every morning still catch me directly in the feels. Despite the myriad of issues, vet bills, and costs, I don’t think I’ll ever really get to a place where I don’t miss such a good dog.

In support of natural consequences…

October 1st in Maryland is notable for really only one reason I can think of – a shit ton of new laws come into effect on this day every year. 2019 is no exception. As usual, there’s at least one of these new laws that leaves me baffled and vaguely annoyed.

Starting today here in the great State of Maryland, you have to be 21 years old to buy cigarettes. That’s fine. I suppose if you’re going to have an age limitation you have to set it somewhere, but let’s not pretend that setting it at 21 is anything other than arbitrary.

So, you’ve got to be 21 buy your pack of Marlboro’s or enjoy a cold beer. You can start working at age 14 (with a permit). You can get a driver’s license (provisional) at 16 years and six months of age. The state’s age of sexual consent is 16. You must be 18 to rent a hotel room for the night and 21 years old to rent a car.

At 18 a person is legally considered an adult. They’ve had 12 years of education made available to them. If the individual in question happens to be male, they’re eligible to be drafted into military service. It’s the age when we’ve collectively decided people are legally responsible for their own actions. It’s also the age we’ve decided that people are smart enough to begin voting.

Fundamentally I believe the question is whether we believe an 18 year old is an adult, capable of making responsible decisions, or do we not. As the age for “rites of passage” in our society slowly marches later and later into life, perhaps we should re-evaluate the definition of adulthood altogether since 18 is clearly arbitrary and we seem to be determined to surround the little darlings in bubble wrap, except when it’s time to decide who to fuck or whether they get to go to Southeast Asia to fight Mr. Nixon’s war. At exactly the time when we appear determined to defer adulthood well into people’s 20s, there’s a nascent move to lower the age of majority in order to allow even younger people to vote.

I find it the height of hypocrisy to believe an 18 year old (or someone younger) should be entrusted with the most valuable jewel of citizenship, yet also allowed to extend their childhood in almost every other meaningful way indefinitely into the future. People are either an adult, with the accompanying rights and responsibilities, or they’re not.

Creating a system in which people are adults for some purposes but not for others feels like creating an increasingly fractured and nonsensical universe out of something that really just shouldn’t be that damned complicated. Some people make shitty decisions whether their 18 or 58. Removing the natural consequences of those decisions isn’t doing any of us a favor.