Voting With Your Feet

Foot-Voting Nation

My new book chapter is now available for free on SSRN. It desccribes how "voting with your feet" played a central role in American history, how foot voting is at the heart of much of the nation's success, and the recent rise of dangerous new obstacles to foot-voting. Part of a new book, "Our American Story: The Search for a National Narrative."

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

My just-published book chapter, "Foot-Voting Nation," is now available for free downloading on SSRN. It is part of a new book, Our American Story: The Search for a Shared National Narrative, edited by Joshua Claybourn. Here is the abstract:

Democracy and ballot box voting have often been held up as central elements of the American political tradition. Less emphasis has been placed on the centrality of "voting with your feet." Yet in many ways, it is an even more fundamental and distinctive feature of American politics than electoral democracy. Many nations have had democratic governments, and the idea of democracy long predates the founding of the United States.

In modern times, a good many political systems have been more democratic than the US, in the sense of giving greater power to political majorities. By contrast, few if any other nations have been so heavily influenced by "foot voting," through both internal and international migration. Both immigration and internal migration between states are, in most cases, forms of foot voting: the use of mobility to choose which government policies one wishes to live under.

Part I of this chapter provides a brief overview of the role of immigration in the American political tradition, which has deep roots going back to the Founding. Part II focuses on internal foot voting. Unlike immigration, the importance of the latter was not well understood by the Founding Fathers. They nonetheless designed a political system that facilitated it in crucial ways, and it has had a profound impact since.

Finally, Part III considers the continuing importance of foot voting in modern times, and emerging threats to its effectiveness, in the form of nationalist movements hostile to immigration and regulatory barriers that impede internal foot voting.

Other contributors to the book include prominent legal scholars Richard Epstein, Cass Sunstein, and Gerard Magliocca, historian Gordon Wood (probably the leading historian of the American Founding), David Blight (author of major works on race, the Civil War, and Reconstruction), Jim Banks, Spencer P. Boyer, Eleanor Clift, former Senator John C. Danforth, Cody Delistraty, Nikolas Gvosdev, Cherie Harder, Jason Kuznicki, Markos Moulitsas, Alan Taylor, James V. Wertsch, and Ali Wyne.

I thought it interesting that both Yale historian David Blight and I begin our respective chapters with quotations from Frederick Douglass' 1869 "Composite Nation" speech,  which I previously wrote about here. Hopefully, our two chapters will stimulate new interest in Douglass' underrated classic rumination on the meaning of America and the right to freedom of movement.

In June, the Volokh Conspiracy will be hosting a symposium that will include many of the contributors to Our American Story. Stay tuned!

NEXT: Victims of Communism Day 2019

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  1. The link for the download doesn’t seem to work.

  2. The only people “foot-voting” these days are the illegals that are coming into our country and then vote for Democrats!

    1. I’d really like to see some citation for their voting at all, let alone for voting Democrat. Otherwise you’re just fuming in hatred.

      1. A careful examination of voter registration records in Texas, cross-referencing residents who were present on a green card or visa with those who registered to vote under the Motor Voter provisions of Federal law, found that more than 95,000 non-citizens were registered to vote in Texas, and of those, over 58,000 had voted in at least one Federal election since 1996. Does that answer your question?

        1. “Careful examination?”

          I think you mean the piece of crap that this is about.

          1. I take it that you have no familiarity wit U.S. District Judge Fred Biery, who browbeat the State into that really silly settlement.

            1. True, I’m not. And I take it you haven’t looked at the study, which was extremely careless, and the various criticisms of it, whatever your opinion of Judge Biery or the settlement.

              If it never even occurs to the people looking at the data that there might be some issues with matching records created at widely different times then I don’t have much confidence in their work.

              I notice that even Abbott is more or less acknowledging that the study was nonsense, and has blamed the Department of Public Safety for giving Whitley flawed data.

              Even though I am not familiar with Biery, given what a debacle the whole thing was, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to award the plaintiffs their legal fees.

              1. bernard, Any study of this nature can be criticized. Let me guess, it is an article of faith for you that no illegals or non-citizens don’t ever vote? And that there is never any voter fraud? But also our elections are being hacked by foreigners? And Republicans cheat and undermine democracy? But also we must never have voter ID or other measures to prevent voter fraud?

                1. M.L.,

                  Of course any study can be criticized. Sometimes those criticisms are valid, as they are here.

                  Look, even Gov. Abbott is backing away.

                  it is an article of faith for you that no illegals or non-citizens don’t ever vote? And that there is never any voter fraud?

                  Funny you should talk about an “article of faith.” AFAICT it’s the people claiming widespread voter fraud – “millions of illegals in CA” – who are operating on faith, because nobody, not the state of Texas, not Jon Husted in OH – one of the complainers, no one, has produced any evidence. So who is going on faith?

                  Is there some illegal voting? There may be a negligible amount. I’m sure you can find one or two or ten, like that poor woman who got sent to prison for 8 years(!!) in Texas.

                  Oh yes, by the way, I do think Republicans try very hard to undermine our system, but that’s irrelevant to this discussion, and they don’t do it by voter fraud.

                  1. Bernard,

                    Let’s look at verified facts instead of questionable suppositions. The mantra “there is no voter fraud beyond a negligible amount” is a politically motivated article of faith, just like “there were millions of illegal alien votes in California.”

                    Here’s a fact verified over millennia: people will generally lie, cheat and steal. Especially if they think they can get away with it. We don’t know how much voter fraud there is, or isn’t, precisely because of the fact that it’s largely undetectable and therefore undeterred.

                    For those concerned about protecting the integrity of elections or “protecting our democracy” as you might put it, supporting measures such as Voter ID is a perfectly reasonable position.

                    Look at it this way. You are no doubt extremely concerned about the possibility that someone, somewhere might not get an ID because they are too unmotivated to do so, or too inconvenienced, or incompetent, or they just missed the bus or whatever. That’s fine, I can respect your concern about that.

                    As an aside, if you raise this as a concern that is disproportionately about black people, then a number of interviews have shown that anecdotally a lot of black people on the street will find your premise to be somewhat bogus and racist and patronizing. That’s a fact to consider, but set that aside.

                    I can respect your concern about someone not being able to vote because the ID requirements were too burdensome. But you must also realize that each case of voter fraud actually robs citizens of their lawful vote. That’s much worse than merely requiring some procedure to be followed. Citizens who actually took time and effort to vote have their vote canceled out. Even if you don’t agree with specific voter ID policies or any ID requirement at all, can you at least respect this concern, rather than engage with the far left hate campaign of racism mongering against the very idea of voter ID?

                    By the way, I recognize that voter ID isn’t likely to address what may be the most common forms of voter fraud (things other than “in-person voter fraud”). It doesn’t directly address suspicious counts, or election officials busing in carloads of suspicious absentee ballots and things of that nature.

                    1. M.L.,

                      Again, it is you, not I, who are proceeding on faith – meaning your belief is not founded on any evidence, despite the fact that people, including those with a strong interest in finding it, have looked for it and come up essentially empty. All your arguments that it “must exist” are based on faith, nothing more.

                      As to the “far-left hate campaign,” well there actually is evidence that there is more behind the voter ID move than concern about election integrity. When AL passed an ID law they soon after shut down DMV offices – one of the main places where you coud get an ID – in many heavily black counties. NC’s law was found, by the appeals court, to “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” These are just examples.

                      You can rail against “far-left” complaints all you want, but the fact is that the main supporters of voter ID laws have not operated in good faith, and the field has attracted its share of slimeball hucksters, like Kris Kobach, Hans von Spakovsky, Christian Adams and others. These guys are just making a living hawking the fraud snake oil.

                      You effectively are asking me to use common sense about people lying, cheating, etc. OK. I’ll ask you to use some. How likely is it that there is some big undiscovered conspiracy, managed by Democrats, to use vote fraud to rig elections? How many participants would it take, and how would you ensure their silence?

                      It’s a fantasy.

                    2. “your belief is not founded on any evidence”

                      What belief is that? I’m correct in saying we don’t know how much voter fraud there is, and that it’s largely undetectable.

                      You are wrong in saying there is proof that material voter fraud doesn’t exist. That’s pure fantasy. There is no such evidence. Just a politically motivated article of faith on your part.

                      I’m sure not every voter ID law has been optimal, and perhaps there have been problems with specific circumstances around specific voter ID laws. Go right ahead and address those issues. But that’s completely irrelevant to the point here.

        2. That article is news to me. I will take it with a grain of salt, since your link to a three month old story is the first reference I have seen to it. But I will still read it.

          Finder better citations would help your cause.

      2. It is common knowledge that illegals vote Democrat all the time. Just roll into the illegal section of town a few weeks before an election and watch the DNC foot soldiers signing up everyone and anyone.

        1. Common knowledge! Hah.

          1. I think it’s time to consign JtD to the batshit crazy bin, along with the Man of Many Names.

            1. And Vek. And Shitlords. I think all of them have counseled political violence at one time or another, which is a crazy level I will mock, but not engage with.

              1. The two you mentioned — and the Man Of Many Names — are Prof. Volokh’s favorite commenters.

        2. The “illegal section of town”???

  3. In addition to the well taken point about political freedom, it’s worth giving more thought to the under-appreciated role of internal migration as an anti-poverty program.

    Everyone here as they read that instantly thought of the Great Migration when African-Americans moved from the South to jobs in Detroit. There are many more examples.

    In West Virginia, it was a common saying that the three R’s were “Readin’, ‘Ritin’, Route 50 to Ohio”.

    One of those good ideas that you see flash across the sky and disappear forever was from a Republican congressman who tried to fund relocation grants. It can be pretty tough to move to a new state where you have no family if you have no money. He proposed eliminating that barrier. I don’t know how big the grants would have been, but the cost of a U-Haul, first and last month’s rent and deposit, and a few weeks of groceries would be way less than keeping somebody in Mingo County in perpetuity.

  4. Did you ask the Stanford University Press to publish this material?

  5. Is there a chapter about same day registration where one can literally walk across the state line and vote?
    A Democratic vote makes little difference in Maine or Massachusetts but it can turn an election in New Hampshire.

    Rumor has it that thousands of activists who have no intention of living there are registered to vote in New Hampshire because Democratic Votes Matter

  6. It is interesting to me that in these discussions about the ability of different states to provide policy which will attract or in some cases repel segments of a population that while those who believe in states’ rights and the founding principles always and dare I say, intentionally, by pass the subject of freedom of association. Just as it would seem that the entire world appears to be protected by our 14th amendment when of course it was never intended to provide blanket privileges and immunities to everyone who touched the soil of our great country, the commerce clause has been twisted to provide constitutional cover to the extermination of the right of free association. As with the ruling that took ‘equal but separate’ nationwide allowing government to slice and dice populations at will its antithesis coupled with the redefinition of ‘public accommodation’ has once again put (kept) federal government front and center in the business of value and behavior setting.

  7. Is there a chapter about “practice what you preach”, or is this idea still just for poor people?

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