There is a marvelous ambiguity in the question that Mike and I are debating. Idiomatically, a question that begins “How do you . . . ” might be asking how one should do something; or it might be asking how, typically, it is done. As with any ambiguity, the interpretation depends upon the context.
For example, if an older person who looks a bit baffled asks, “How do you use an iPhone?,” you would show him how to enter a code to unlock it, how to swipe a finger across the screen to make various icons appear and disappear, perhaps even how to dial a call. If, by contrast, a 20-something carrying an iPad asks “How do you use an iPhone?” you would assume he or she was taking a survey, and you might answer by mentioning your favorite apps and showing him or her some favorite photos or videos.
So, if someone asks our question, “How do you choose when you vote?,” one would consider the questioner. If a neighbor or a stranger asks, one might answer “Democrat” or “Republican,” or “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” or even say “None of your business!” But if a student asks, or someone young enough not to be fixed in his or her opinions and habits, then perhaps the questioner means, how should one think about voting, how should one go about making a political choice?
When it comes to voting by citizens in a democracy, there are four essential questions, as I see it, in marrying up the “should” and the “is.”
Dispensing first with the obvious, that Nancy Pelosi’s suggestion that 16-year-olds be allowed to vote is asinine, and second with the obligatory, that any malevolent impediments to grownups voting ought to be removed, we may proceed to the particular premises behind the House Democratic Leader’s brainstorm and what they disclose about the sorry state of American politics. Speaking to Generation Progress, Pelosi warmed the audience by emphasizing a plan to allow refinancing of student loans, then dived, or rather wandered, in: [T]here is a direct connection between legislation and the quality of life the people enjoy, and elections. To achieve what we…
Ilya Somin has posted an essay at Volokh that narrows that gap between our views on the source of the moral obligation to obey the law—I certainly agree, for example, that there are exigent circumstances in which one might be not merely entitled but obliged to disobey—but our underlying disagreement persists: whether the calculation itself is an individual or a political one.
In a letter to Harold Laski, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote:
I always say, as you know, that if my fellow citizens want to go to Hell I will help them. It’s my job.
And he meant it. Beyond such obvious examples of this philosophy, such as Buck v. Bell, where Justice Holmes upheld a law requiring the sterilization of those deemed mentally incompetent (even if there was no real evidence they were mentally incompetent), I was recently reminded of this quotation when I taught Giles v. Harris.