The comment stream under ‘How to Protect School Children in Schools’ is another long one which inevitably becomes a bit hairy by developing threads that start covering the waterfront of issues of interest in these times. Voter qualification was a thread that, to the best of my knowledge, appeared through some process of immaculate conception. While entirely appropriate to the season, that thread diverts quite a bit from the posted topic and deserves its own venue for discussion. This is it.
My long held position has been that more than being able to fog a mirror should be required of a US citizen before he is allowed to vote; even more than gaining a majority of 18 years, or not having been convicted of a felony, or not being institutionalized as a mental incompetent. In short, there should be some intellectual and/or cognitive skills that the citizen should demonstrate that may even alleviate the majority and/or mental incompetency requirements. But what would these skills be and how would they be measured and certified?
Our Founders recognized similar requirements and left it to the states to set the specifics. Many required the demonstration of substance through ownership of land, or commercial interest, or wealth. Various levels of these were judged to be a sufficient proxy for some minimum level of intellectual and cognitive skills. Later, and mostly under Jim Crow laws, specific tests were imposed that required literacy (gasp!) and a basic knowledge of US civics. These were struck down under various civil rights rulings.
So now we have a nation of voters who are 40% functionally illiterate, almost totally innumerate and innocent of science, and possess no essential knowledge base of how their governments at any level are constituted and work. These people are supported by certain of our political minions as long as they can be reliably convinced to vote for bigger government, concentration of federal power, and more transfer payments paid for by higher taxes from the producing class. And their proportion, as demonstrated by the last election, is such that we are now way past the tipping point at which democracy begins to devour itself.
So, before I taint the discussion with my own prejudices on voter qualifications, can you dear readers present any reasonable basis for change, if any, and if so, what kind?
[29dec12 update] This post’s comment stream is now mature enough to detect some trends in how the title question is being answered. First, what some of the progressive readers have confused are the orthogonal notions of 1) what improvements could/should be made to the voting franchise that is granted to some citizens, and 2) what is the likelihood that any given set of changes to voter qualifications would actually be adopted.
In any event, as introduced above and reinforced in these comments, we already do proscribe certain citizens from voting on the basis of residence, continued punishment (ex-felons), and presumed mental capacity to render an informed decision. The last requirement clearly incites the most interest, as it should. Our Founders thought, debated, and wrote quite a lot about mental capacity (to understand and know the issues) and the notion of fairness or justice.
Regarding fairness, most people understand that democracies can and do destroy themselves – our Founders most certainly knew that. Since governments must tax to survive, some people thought and still do think that the vote should be restricted to those who actually pay taxes. As government became more rapacious in reaching into our wallets, the taxpayer voter argument has become somewhat moot, since everyone who has any commercial or private dealings involving assets is now taxed – i.e. everyone can be said to pay some taxes somewhere.
Skipping over the perennial punishment levied on ex-felons, that leaves mental capacity as the attribute to be considered. We already presume, somewhat arbitrarily, that such capacity is sufficiently absent in citizens under 18. And people institutionalized under various judgments are also proscribed. So mental capacity to render an informed decision has already been on the table for quite some time. We here seek to discover refinements that may increase the likelihood that the Republic will survive in any form that resembles our world celebrated legacy.
Certain lockstep leftwingers feel strongly that this entire discussion is out of bounds, and should be left to the sharp wits who gather in the various branches of the federal government – SCOTUS seems to be a favorite. But I am of those who believe that it is we the citizens who should launch such re-examinations and keep them going to the profit of all.
It is actually Congress and the state legislatures that have the power to say who votes and who doesn’t. As of late Congress has begun behaving more or less reprehensively, and shirked and/or reassigned its duties to the Executive and Judicial (SCOTUS) branches. In the January 2013 issue of Chronicles, William Watkins Jr has written ‘Making More of the House’, a fine essay on the subject of representative government as reflected by our Congress, that should be considered in this discussion. (Unfortunately I can’t find a link to the damn thing, please help.)