Wednesday, May 25, 2016

David Harsanyi Has A Proposal To "Weed Out Ignorant Voters" - But Would It Be Constitutional?

In his article in yesterday's Denver Post ('Weed Out The Ignorant Voters', p. 15A), David Harsanyi makes an impassioned plea to "weed out" ignorant and irresponsible voters. I will let Harsanyi make his case in his own words then look at his solution:

"Never have so many people with so little knowledge made so many consequential decisions for the rest of us.

A person need only survey the inanity of the ongoing presidential race to comprehend that the most pressing problem facing the nation isn't Big Business, Big Labor, Big Media or even Big Money in politics.

It's you, the American voter. And by weeding out millions of irresponsible voters who can't be bothered to learn the rudimentary workings of the Constitution or their preferred candidate's proposals or even their history, we may be able to mitigate the recklessness of the electorate."

Harsanyi goes on to rule out such nonsense as "checking the box for the candidate whose campaign ads you like best", or the one you'd most like to have a brewskie with. Those don't count because they are the emotional province of the political moron. No, what is needed is a solid knowledge test to see if people casting ballots are truly qualified to do so. (Bearing in mind the enormous consequences of elections, and how they can impact millions of people's lives.)

As a first approach in determining whether a person meets minimal qualifications for participating in a democracy, Harsanyi recommends the prospective voter pass a basic civics test  - the same one administered to prospective citizens. This, by the way, is not the same as the old "poll tax" type test  given in the Jim Crow South to blacks. The latter were always given at the whim of the precinct captains and could be as long or as short as they wanted, and as complex and quixotic as they needed - to exclude African Americans,

NO, Harsanyi's version would for basic civics that any citizen worth his salt ought to know. It would be the same 10 or so questions each year though obviously the content would change for the questions because we can't have answers being memorized - as that destroys the whole purpose.

Example questions offered by Harsanyi:

1) If both the President and Vice President can no longer serve who becomes President?

This one is so critical it ought to be a disqualifier if anybody gets it wrong (The answer, of course, is the Speaker of the House).  Given the U.S. electoral system has a rigid line of succession there ought to be no argument that some questions are just too important to be missed.  Call them 'bomb out' questions - you "bomb out" and you can not vote in that general election. (You can in the next cycle  if you get the bomb out question correct and at least  7/10 overall, which seems to be the  Harsanyi  standard.)

2) There were 13 original colonies, name three.

Again, this is important but I wouldn't rank it at the criticality of (1).   (Though being unable to name at least one comes close to meeting the 'bomb out' standard for abject historical ignorance. But who knows, the bozos who believe Larry Schweikart is the last word on historical veracity might come close!)

3) What is one right or freedom from the First Amendment?

Again, easy peasy, and to me - anyone who can't recall or name "freedom of speech" doesn't merit having any!

4) What is freedom of religion?

This one also ought to be straightforward but given today's 'Know nothing', FAUX News and sloppy media culture I wouldn't be surprised if many got it wrong.

Other questions for the Voter Qualifying test I'd consider along with Harsanyi's :

-  Name three amendments from the Bill of Rights.

-  Is there such a thing as "state's rights? Explain

- What is meant by an unenumerated right?

-  Name your state's governor and two Senators, and the party of each.

 None of these ought to give anyone shock or hysteria.

Personally, if a citizen can't even name 3 out of 10 of the amendments of the bill of rights, s/he doesn't deserve to be called a citizen,  far less be allowed to cast ballots. (This issue also came up after 9/11 when Bush and Company were jettisoning civil liberties left, right and center (under the 'Patriot Act') and polls showed most Americans who clamored most  ardently for these "security" precautions couldn't even name 6 of the amendments of the bill of rights.)

State's rights also ought to be a disqualifier if anyone gets it wrong especially in state elections. Any imbecile ought to know only flesh and blood HUMANS have rights, such as embodied in the Bill. Of Rights. States, by contrast, have prerogatives which are made and enforced by contract.

An "unenumerated right" may well be the most important of all because it includes all rights not specifically listed in the Constitution. Yet many Americans even today,-  thanks to propaganda, PR and BS -  think it means state's rights.  (Confusing it with the tenth amendment of the Bill of Rights, i.e. "powers not delegated to the federal government are delegated to the states or to the people".  Meaning of course, the powers are in the form of prerogatives for the states, and rights for the people.)

Lastly, if you can't even name your state's two Senators and governor you have more business playing tiddly winks than voting.

At the end of his proposed questions, Harsanyi writes:

"I have tempered confidence that at least a majority of the voting public could pass such a test - though I couldn't say the same for a majority of the presidential candidates. Certainly this should be a breeze for citizens who are so intensely involved in the process they feel compelled to plaster bumper stickers on their cars and attend rallies of their favorite candidates."

I totally concur.

In the next breath Harsanyi wonders if he's being "too optimistic", citing the case several years back when Newsweek asked a thousand voters to take the official citizenship test. In that scenario, "nearly 30 percent of voters couldn't name the Vice -President. More than 60 percent did not know the length of U.S. Senators' terms in office, and 43 percent couldn't state that the first 10 amendments to the Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights."

To say this result is appalling is an understatement.

Harsanyi then cites an Annenberg Public Policy Center finding that only 36 percent of Americans could name all three branches of the U.S. government. Are you kidding me?

Harsanyi's, final point is one I totally support but likely we will never see it manifest, because in this country ignorance is considered bliss and the laws too often protect the ignorant:

"It literally takes seconds to learn about the fundamentals of our republic and the positions of candidates.  If you forsake the power of information you have no standing to tell the rest of us how to live our lives. Don't vote!"

I also agree when he avers:

"I refuse to believe that working class or underprivileged citizens are any less capable of understanding the meaning of the Constitution or the contours of governance than the supercilious 1 -percenters."

Speaking of the Constitution,  what does it have to say about the right to vote and whether having prospective voters prove they're qualified is disallowed?  Amendment XV, which was ratified by the states in 1870 in Section 1, declares: ."The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

Note carefully the wording in the last sentence. It does not say anything about use of a basic civics test to determine qualification.

Never mind. The absolute right to vote will mistakenly be seen as god-given to every 'Murican - no matter how ignorant, brainwashed or unquaified the voter may be.

To the detriment of the rest of us, as Harsanyi puts it so well.

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