Suffrage: Not what we expected.

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Rational, thoughtful, educated, informed, and with a vested interest; these were the hopes of many of America's founders for the integral characteristics of those who vote and participate in the democracy portion of our Republic. Universal suffrage wasn't even close to being considered desirable at the founding of our nation.

Yet, universal suffrage is what we have delivered unto ourselves in the name of Women's rights, African American rights, Civil Rights, and Ignorant and Uneducated Rights. America decided that even the ignorant and uneducated are entitled to a voice in electing not just their district representatives of the U.S. House of Representatives as originally intended, but the Senate and the President as well.

Many attempts along the way were made by states to insure education and literacy were part of the voting experience. But, for the most part, where these attempts were made, the motives were publicized as racist as most of the states attempting such tests were former slave states. Thus, literacy tests were denounced by the general public and the Supreme Court as having no legitimacy. This was the case despite the fact that our Founding Fathers quite specifically designed a system in which democracy would be participated in by that class of people most likely to have the most education, be best informed through literacy and news print, and vested in the protection of what's theirs from those in power. Namely, these were white male landowners.

The issue of who should participate in our democracy is not however a settled issue. Just this week the Supreme Court upheld a state's right to require picture ID in order to vote. It should be quickly noted that in this narrow ruling, the state's right was upheld on the conditions that the state provided such ID free to those requesting it, and that those without it could still vote on the provision that they would provide such ID immediately after the election to validate their vote. The ACLU, opposed the Court's ruling. On this issue, many ACLU supporters stand at odds with the ACLU.

Democracy should not be left vulnerable to wholesale fraud or abuse. That, most people would agree with. Indiana's ID law is one way of addressing the fraud and abuse of the voting system. Though fewer agree this is the best way. But, the issue of whether voters even have the capacity for informed, rational, educated, and self-interested voting is a far more controversial issue, and one with far greater consequences for America's future and governance than the Indiana voter ID issue.

Yet, neither the media, nor the politicians, nor the public seem interested in the issue. Just as Ethanol subsidies and fuel conversion were adopted by the Congress and President, only to have been proved to be a very bad idea, universal suffrage too has enormous costs and negative consequences associated with it.

Many scholars and political philosophers would argue that the reason this issue is settled is because all measures to test voters have proven to be discriminatory and unfairly, unjustly, and unequally applied, with horrible negative social consequences bearing down on other citizen and human rights. But, something in their arguments rings hollow when compared to reality.

States reserve the right, and the Court's have upheld their right, to deprive felons of voting rights. This constitutes a judgment that a person upon conviction, is deemed from then, and forever, to be unqualified to vote, without opportunity to prove differently or appeal, and shall remain a life sentence regardless of any other sentencing provisions. This is far more permanent a judgment than a voter awareness test in which a prospective voter may fail one year, but, upon improving their civics education, pass the test the next year. Is not the lifetime loss of voting to a convicted felon more onerous than a voter awareness test in which the voter at least has the opportunity at reprieve from their former ignorance?

The concept of the Founding Fathers that voters should, with some measure of assurance, be capable of understanding the import and consequence of their vote, in order to better insure responsible government, is a valid concept. Implementing the concept has been fraught with racism, class warfare, political party warfare. The concept of responsible government, is entirely void and null in a democracy if it is not the voters to whom elected officials are responsible to. Yet, we have witnessed decades of both the major parties abjectly failing the expectations of the majority of voters, culminating in the present with both the Congress and the President having some of the the lowest approval ratings in American history.

Not all the blame must fall upon the politicians. The voters themselves, specifically those who would never read an article like this, vote for candidates, yet allow ignorance and disinterest to dominate their political perspective between elections, relying on their Party to tell them how good or bad their politicians have performed. Needless to say, objectivity and holding their representatives to account for their actions is not what follows from such ignorance and disinterest in what politicians do between elections.

Would it be possible in America to require voters to know their precinct number, their Congressional and Senatorial District numbers, and the names of their US Congressional representatives and challengers before becoming qualified to vote? Would it be possible to ask American voters to name 5 of the 10 original Bill of Rights and what rights they protect, in order to qualify to register to vote?

The answer is clearly no, at this time. But, isn't that answer precisely the explanation for so much that is dysfunctional and unnecessarily costly in our federal government today? Our democracy was never intended to be overseen by an ignorant and civics undereducated electorate. Voters should be able to give an informed definition to the word the 'electorate' before being allowed to become a member of it.

We don't grant children the right to vote due to lack of education and rational judgment in their own self-interest. Nothing unconstitutional about that. Why should we not impose the same constraint upon adult voters demonstrating a similar lack of education and rational judgment about learning civics as our children? Surely a vote in one's self-interest requires a minimum of objective information and education about our process and government. It is a fundamental question and issue that must be addressed before America can reclaim a responsible democracy with the results the Founders intended. (The word responsible here being defined as 'the ability to respond appropriately').

'All men are created equal"... but, all voters certainly are not, anymore than all students of math or music are created equal. Universal suffragists failed to take into account the reasons the Founders did not advance universal suffrage, and those reasons were sound and valid, if not also peppered with other unsound and invalid motives of the Constitution's signers. America is on the wrong track, and this is one of those fundamental and unquestioned reasons why.

Universal suffrage should be an American goal, accomplished by elevating the education and information breadth of all potential voters universally to a minimum qualification. Universal suffrage which permits political automatons to vote as they are directed by their Parent's unquestioned Party affiliate is guaranteed to produce the kind of government and political system most Americans no longer trust or have confidence in today.

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This page contains a single entry by David R. Remer published on April 29, 2008 12:20 AM.

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