Monday, November 3, 2008

Freedom of Speech vs. Freedom to Vote

You protect yourself by making choices, by deciding that one thing is more important than another. If you insist that everything you want is a top priority, you end up being manipulated and possibly not getting anything on your list.

It might seem paradoxical to have to choose between two things that we can’t do without, but we have to do it. You can see an example of this tomorrow on Election Day. As important as freedom of speech is, we have to set it aside in order to protect the freedom to vote.

The rule in Pennsylvania is that political speech is prohibited inside a polling places and for a few steps outside the entrance. It is easy to see why some kind of line has to be drawn. Imagine what could happen if a candidate were allowed to hire goons who would come up to you while you were in the voting booth to tell you, “You’d better vote for our candidate or we’ll be very unhappy with you.” Or even if they were to stand, arms folded, looking surly, directly in front of the entrance to the polling place. To have a high-quality vote, that kind of behavior has to be prevented.

And in order to protect the voting process, the rules have to apply to everyone. That’s why, after you are inside the polling place, you can’t encourage the other voters waiting in line to vote in any particular way.

The way I explain it to people is this. We have freedom of speech all year long so that we can have freedom to vote on Election Day. When there is a conflict between freedom of speech and freedom to vote, freedom to vote has to come first. But it is not that we give up our freedom of speech for the day. You can carry a candidate’s sign around with you all day long if you wish. Just leave it outside when you go into the polling place to vote.