Are We At The Mercy Of Stupid People?

Ken AshfordEducation, Election 2016Leave a Comment

David Harsanyi, senior editor at the Federalist, opens his op-ed at the Washington Post:

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.

No, we shouldn’t erect physical barriers to ballot access. Let’s purchase more voting machines, hire additional poll workers, streamline the registration process, mail out more ballots for seniors and produce more “Rock the Vote” ads imploring apathetic millennials to embrace their civic duty.

At the same time, let’s also remember that checking a box for the candidate whose campaign ads you like best is one of the most overrated obligations of the self-governed. If you have no clue what the hell is going on, you also have a civic duty to avoid subjecting the rest of us to your ignorance.

Unfortunately, we can’t trust you.

Harsanyi then goes on to suggest that the way to weed out ignorant voters is to have everyone take the citizenship civics test. After all, if prospective citizens are required to know about our nation’s history, the Constitution, and the government, wouldn’t it stand to reason that the people actually deciding the fate of our nation also be equally well informed? And obviously, with the internet, all the necessary information is readily available to study up on. In other words, there is little excuse to remain uninformed.

And in light of some awful statistics he cites, it’s clear that at the very least, brushing up wouldn’t be a bad thing:

When Newsweek asked a thousand voters to take the official citizenship test a few years back, nearly 30 percent 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 say that the first 10 amendments to the Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights.

Only 30 percent knew that the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land.

Further, only one-third could name all three branches of the U.S. government!

Harsanyi also addresses the inevitable accusations of elitism and unfairness to minorities and the poor:

Unlike the many who depend on ignorant voters to wield and secure their power, 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. I believe this despite the widespread failure of public schools to teach children basic civics. It’s still our responsibility as voters.Of course, we also must remember the ugly history of poll taxes and other prejudicial methods that Americans used to deny black citizens their equal right to vote. Any effort to improve the quality of the voting public should ensure that all races, creeds, genders and sexual orientations and people of every socioeconomic background are similarly inhibited from voting when ignorant. For the good of our democratic institutions.

Amusingly, an incredulous Jake Tapper asked if this was serious, and Harsanyi answered:

@jaketapper well, actually: yes-ish.

A sampling of questions on the test, which Harsanyi describes as running from the “very easy to the preposterous”:

“If both the President and the Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President?”

“There were 13 original states. Name three.”

“What is one right or freedom from the First Amendment?”

“What is freedom of religion?”

The idea of a test for voters is frightening, and invokes the dark days of civil rights violations when blacks in the south were denied voting because of tests.  Obviously, I don’t support them, and they would be constitutional.  But I suspect that Harsanyi, writing for the conservative The Federalist, thinks that if we had more educated voters, we would have a more conservative government (because all those uneducated blacks would not vote for Obama and Hillary).  But I don’t think so.  Over and over again, the polls show that a higher education leads one to vote liberal.  Heck, even Trump knows that his bread-and-butter supporters are uneducated.

It’s unconstitutional and abhorrent to the idea of a democracy, but it would be nice if only people with a basic knowledge of civics were allowed to vote.