Friday, March 18, 2016

Universal Suffrage

“Universal suffrage” means everyone has the right to vote.  Everyone a) who is a citizen, b) who is at least 18 years of age (and c) who is not a felon (serving time) (a state by state requirement)).  Universal suffrage does not imply that a “democracy” prevails, because democracy means “the people rule.”  And while the people do choose their leaders, their representatives, their public servants, those who they choose seem more beholden to their “funders” – their significant campaign contributors – than to those who elected them to office in the first place.  This is a huge problem, of course.  It is the core of everything that I write about, that our democracy is a sham.

But universal suffrage may not be the route to a proper democracy.  Perhaps undiluted universal suffrage makes voting too easy.  Maybe if voters were more vested in the process and in outcomes, we might get closer to having a real democracy.  I do not believe that the right to vote should be easy to deny to any American who wants to exercise his right.  But I do believe that the right to vote OUGHT to impose a burden of political literacy on every would-be voter.  What is gained by allowing citizens ignorant of our nation’s birthday, ignorant of our flag, ignorant of our Constitution, and ignorant of the name of the sitting Vice-President, of his state’s governor and his city’s mayor?  What is the profit allowing ignorant voters to vote?  I don’t want to deny the vote to ignorant voters, I want ignorant voters to fix their ignorance before they vote.  Ignorance – unlike race, sex and age – is easily fixed.

Even after the 15th amendment to the Constitution quite clearly granted the right to vote to former slaves, it was not enough as Southern states imposed literacy tests on (some) voters to keep blacks from voting.  The notion that literacy tests could not be used to limit suffrage was not in itself the problem (see Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections), but these tests were administered only to those who had never voted before (otherwise known as blacks).  The Lassiter decision had NO issue with literacy testing, as long as it was imposed equally on all (blacks and whites alike).  Indeed, it was a 9-0 decision.

I don’t want to live in a democracy where I have ten votes to your one because I know more American history than you do.  But I am hugely offended knowing that you can be totally ignorant of American history, of our political institutions, of who sits in the governor’s mansion, and be able to neutralize my exceedingly well-informed vote.  If the most liberal Supreme Court of the 20th  century could vote 9-0 that literacy tests are OK as long as they do not discriminate, then maybe we ought to give them a try.  As I said, I don’t want to deny the vote to ignorant voters, I want them to fix their ignorance before they vote.  Maybe they will get used to paying attention to the world.

And I understand that many politically active Americans will fear that such a regime might cost their party (perhaps MY party!) many many votes.  Votes of folks who are proud of their ignorance, at least content with it.  I am not sympathetic.  Indeed, I have always resisted both parties’ efforts to “get out the vote,” to get to the polls voters who really don’t care.  If both parties agreed to suspend such activities, I think that we would be better off.

That’s my 2¢ worth.

Addendum: Friday, 06/10/2016
First, if you haven't already, please read my earlier companion post called A Citizenshp Test.

This addendum clarifies ideas that I gave birth to in both these posts.

I am completely content that the "Literacy Test" that I propose be exactly the same test that immigrants must take to win U.S. citizenship.  With these modifications:
  1. Today's citizenship test is taken from a list of 100 quite specific questions; I want 100 questions more added to the list, added by the same folks who design and administer the citizenship test now, the USCIS.
  2. An immigrant taking a citizenship test is asked ten questions and he must answer six out of the ten correctly in order to pass.  I want my politically literate American to be asked 20 questions and answer 14 correctly.
  3. The right to vote so earned must be repeated every ten (twenty?) years.
  4. Anyone who fails the test at any stage may repeat it in a year (six months?).
  5. The test may be taken on demand at any federal government office that is open to the public.
  6. Every (federal, state, local) government office in the country (even public schools and libraries) will make available free paper handouts containing the 200 questions (two pages, double-sided) that may be asked on the test.
If you can think of any way in which this idea is unfair, please let me know your reasoning.  As I have said more than once: I don't want people NOT voting, I want voters to take some responsibility for their votes.  Liberty without responsibility is license, not true liberty.  Too many Americans don't understand this.

Finally, Dad said this: "What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value."  People will value their right to vote more highly; who has a problem with that?