Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Should All Voters Be Allowed to Vote?

Ask this question to almost anyone, and the resounding answer will be something like: “Yes! It is the American Way. ‘One person, one vote’ is the cornerstone of any democracy.”

Just how deep this sentiment runs can be seen in the recent protests against policies requiring all voters to first produce a photo ID. The protesters seem to feel that any restrictions on the unimpeded access to voting attacks our very democracy. As the ACLU put it, “Voter ID laws have the potential to deny the right to vote to thousands of registered voters who do not have and in many instances, cannot obtain the limited identification states accept for voting. Many of these Americans cannot afford to pay for the required documents needed to secure a government-issued photo ID. As such, these laws impede access to the polls and are at odds with the fundamental right to vote.

[ I think that voter ID laws, are absolutely necessary. Without them, a single person could theoretically cast many votes during one Election Day by going to different polling stations; the fraud potential is enormous. If there are people too poor to procure an ID, the small amount of money needed for this purpose should be provided, either by government or private charities.]

Though politically incorrect to the extreme, I question whether all American citizens, even those with proper IDs, should be automatically permitted to vote in major elections, such as for both houses of Congress, the presidency, or even governorships. I do not have a firm opinion on the subject, for I recognize the potential for danger whenever government deprives people of their rights. I also harbor a feeling of profound respect and gratitude toward the American practice of all people always being allowed to vote. I nonetheless feel that there are valid democratic reasons for why all people should not necessarily be allowed to vote. At the very least, this issue should be publicly aired and debated.

For starters, let’s talk about the recent Super Bowl. Along with millions of other Americans, I watched (at least part of) that lopsided contest. Throughout the game, the referees made numerous decisions. I ask: would the NFL ever hire refs who knew little or nothing about football? Of course not!

This standard of required competence does not only apply to officials in blockbuster sports events like the 2014 Super Bowl that was watched by 111.5 million people in America alone. Even a local Little League baseball game would never utilize umpires who do not understand baseball. The parents would be furious if such people were allowed to officiate.

In a similar vein, imagine a team of hospital oncologists agonizing over how to best treat a heretofore unseen type of cancer. Would they put the matter to a vote of the hospital’s secretaries? Of course not! And this is not discriminatory. It is merely that decisions on such momentous life or death matters should only be made by those who understand the scientific and medical issues being discussed. All people would thus disregard the opinion of the secretaries on what was the best approach to treating the patient.

Casting a vote in a major election is a grave responsibility. Choices must be made between different positions on life or death matters of national security, for example, whether or not to bomb Iran, which currently poses a potential nuclear threat. Also at issue are the differing approaches to dealing with the huge and ever-increasing national debt that could destroy the U.S. economy and render its currency worthless. Voters must also respond to the current tendency of government to abuse personal freedoms, as witnessed in the recent IRS scandal.

Yet, many of the Americans casting votes on these weighty matters are appallingly ignorant of the issues they are deciding upon.

An October, 2013 Cato Institute article titled Democracy and Political Ignorance reported regarding Obamacare that: “Some 80 percent (of the U.S. public) say they have heard ‘nothing at all’ or ‘only a little’ about the controversial insurance exchanges that are a major part of the law.” The article also mentioned that: “Most of the public has very little idea of how federal spending is actually distributed. They greatly underestimate the percentage that goes to entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security, and vastly overestimate that spent on foreign aid. Public ignorance is not limited to information about specific policies. It also extends to the basic structure of government and how it operates. A 2006 survey found that only 42 percent can even name the three branches of the federal government: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial.

A British newspaper’s 2011 article reported that 70% of all Americans do not know what the Constitution is and 29% cannot name the Vice president.

To paraphrase this article’s title, “Should voters who know little or nothing about the issues they are voting on be allowed to vote?” Perhaps the U.S. should require all voters, irrespective of race, education, or income level, to first pass a basic exam on the issues of the day and the makeup of the U.S. Government. This policy would not be an exercise in depriving anybody of their right to vote. Rather, it would be a case of making the entirely reasonable demand that voters know the rudiments of what they are voting upon.

Certainly no effort should be spared to educate the uninformed so they can pass a voting competency test. Free course materials should be available online, in libraries, and so forth. But until people pass that test, they would be disqualified from voting.

There is a final argument I would like to make on this topic. The awkwardness of this article’s core idea is that it would deprive many honorable Americans of their right to vote, at least until they brush up on the issues. Many might thus view this approach as inconsiderate if not elitist. (As already mentioned, I don’t see it that way at all.)

I feel, however, that the law must also be considerate toward all parties – including those who do understand the issues they are voting on. At the core of the democratic process is a voter casting a ballot for the candidate he or she feels will rule wisely. The hope is that the majority will somehow opt for what is best. Returning to the example of Iran, if knowledgeable voters opt for a certain Iran policy, it is because they judge that such will best protect their lives.

It is thus terribly unfair to others for such a decision to be made in part by people who do not know whether Iran is a city, a country, a continent, or a private warlord. The disregard for the public’s safety inherent in accepting such ignorant votes is akin to having the secretaries determining the courses of treatment for a hospital’s cancer patients.

Whether a Little League pitch was a ball or a strike can only be determined by someone who understands baseball very well. Shouldn’t the same standard apply to those who decide on the weighty and complex issues that are always being confronted during a major election?

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