In my book, To My Countrymen, in the last few pages, I write these words: “If you, a native-born American, cannot pass the citizenship test that wanna-be citizens must pass, do you think that you should have the right to vote?”
It is easy to misunderstand my words, as they seem to suggest that I want to strip you of your right to vote if you can’t pass a test. Honestly, I want everyone to vote. Voting is the LEAST any honest citizen can do, any less than that and why call yourself a citizen at all? Why boast about being an American citizen if you don’t even VOTE? However, I do NOT approve of what both parties practice on Election Day: they make millions of cold calls and offer to drag registered voters to the polls, voters who were probably not going to vote, not that they couldn’t make it there on their own, but they were not motivated enough to vote without being pushed. I frown on such activities; if a citizen does not want to vote, he ought to have that right, no matter what the reason. And I can think of one really good reason not to vote: “I don’t know what I am voting for or against.” I beg you, please don’t cancel my informed vote with your uninformed vote!
Every citizen over age 18 has the absolute right to vote; those battles are behind us (actually, this is not 100% true as there are places, too many places, where the right to vote is still ... iffy, but that fact does not undercut the sense of my argument here). But what implicitly goes with that right is each citizen’s responsibility to know what’s going on, to know what he is voting for or against. It has been my experience – traveling the highways and the by-ways of this great land of ours – that all too many Americans are damn sure that this or that is “unConstitutional.” Mister, if you can’t pass this citizenship test with flying colors, you sure don’t know what is or is not Constitutional! I don’t want you NOT to vote, but I DO want you to be honest with yourself and see your deficiency and FIX IT! The citizenship test is a far, far easier test than any state’s driving test, and you passed THAT didn’t you?
I want you to know what you are voting for or against. And if you are a one-issue voter (who doesn’t need to know anything else but how each candidate would vote on his single issue), you should be ashamed of yourself for you surely are NOT a “good citizen.” War and peace, international trade agreements, the Economy, jobs, tax policy, citizens’ rights, workers’ rights, regulations, education, health care, the Environment, Energy, Ebola & AIDS, religious rights. You know I could go on for a page or two, right? And all you care about is the candidates’ stands on abortion? For shame!
Finally, my book, To My Countrymen, asks for your participation, your commitment, your time, your passion and your energy. If you can’t pass the citizenship test, we don’t want your help as you will only embarrass the rest of us. If you are not willing to fix a small problem with a little study – a small gap in your knowledge of the country you love – you sure won’t be willing to do the hard work that will be needed to fix our REAL problems.
Not passing a test is a temporary thing. If you flunk the test the first time, you have learned something valuable: that you have some studying to do. So, study up, re-take the test, pass the test, and join us as an equal partner as we fight to restore an honest democracy to the United States of America!
Addendum: Literacy Tests
Some of you may remember that literacy tests were declared illegal during the mid-1960's along with the other Civil Rights legislation at the federal level. They were made illegal because historically they were only administered to adults who had never voted before (AKA non-whites in the South). They were Constitutional as long as everyone was tested. I am as OK about literacy tests as I am about citizenship tests, as long as they are applied to everyone. I don't want to disenfranchise anyone, but I do want everyone who votes to know what he is doing, and that is not something that more fortunate folks are born with, that is something that everyone has to learn, and why not? No native-born American should flunk a citizenship test, it is just too easy. And no native-born American should flunk a basic literacy test, either. By the way, if you are curious what the Founding Fathers would think of my suggestion that we have at least some minimal level of literacy and knowledge of our country as a prerequisite for voting, not one of them would disagree, they would ALL approve, even that great "commoner" Thomas Jefferson.
Addendum: Monday, 11/09/2015
The voting age in the USA is 18 years of age. The voting age had been 21 in most states before the 26th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1971. The reason - stated and true - for the amendment was: "if we can be asked to die for our country, surely we should be allowed to help choose her leaders." The draft was alive and well in 1971. Not for long. It was done by 1973 and we have had a volunteer military ever since. In other words, the justifying rationale for the 26th amendment - the existence of the draft - is gone, a thing of the past. I would not be unhappy if we modified that amendment to give the vote to citizens 21 years of age or older, unless they are or have been engaged in military service. We are not as mature as we once were. Except for the military, of course, who get to grow up fast.