If you're like the majority of Americans, you labor under the faulty and quite ridiculous assumption that everyone should have the right to vote. Even more outrageous, you probably think our nation is somehow benefited when everyone exercises that right.
It should be of some interest that our Founders -- you know, the guys who came up with this whole "America" idea --- had no such notion in mind. They only gave the vote to landowners, which, of course, had the effect of automatically disenfranchising blacks and women.
Thankfully, over the course of the next century and a half, voting was opened to those groups. But somewhere along the way we got it into our silly little heads that allowing whites, blacks, men and women to vote meant we must allow all whites, blacks, men and women to vote. We rightly did away with race and gender discrimination at the polls, but ran too far in the other direction, erroneously deciding that there ought to be no discrimination of any kind. We declared voting a "sacred right," and the best way to preserve its sanctity, we determined, is to shake the whole mass of the American electorate out of their drooling stupor for long enough to randomly cast a ballot based on which candidate has the nicest smile or most inspiring campaign slogan.
In those early days of America, when relatively few citizens had a say, we ended up with leaders like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. In recent times, with voting open to most adults, and with politicians and celebrities and Hollywood galvanizing the barely sentient hordes to intrude upon the electoral process of a nation they know nothing about, we've been subjected to a long succession of tyrants and buffoons in the White House and other elected offices. This all culminated in the record number of chumps who flocked to the ballot box in 2008 and settled on an obscure, corrupt, cliche-spewing left-wing radical named Barack Obama. And now many of those same negligent voters have brought us near the precipice of electing the likes of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders.
Enough is enough, I say. Not that it matters what I say. As a basically informed voter what I say matters less and less with each election cycle. That's the whole point, after all. Those in power aim to cancel out the Informed Vote by drowning it in a sea of stupidity and self-interest. They back up their dump trucks and bury the Discerning Minority under a mountain of ignorance and apathy.
To make matters worse, the whole dastardly conspiracy is disguised with righteous platitudes about "civic duty" and "honoring the Constitution." They encourage half-awake voters to close their eyes and throw a dart in whatever the direction the wind is blowing, and then they hand out "I Voted" stickers and send the semi-cognizant citizens home with an unearned sense of accomplishment.
Civic duty is a real concept, but our first and foremost civic duty is to be informed, aware, invested, contributing members of society. Alas, that duty proves too difficult for some, so they vote every two or four years and figure that's good enough. But claiming to have done your civic duty by voting in ignorance is like saying you practiced gun safety by getting drunk and playing Russian roulette.
If we wanted to correct the problem, we'd adopt the following three point strategy. I know this plan will never happen, but I'll flesh out each point anyway, in hopes that perhaps some of the more honest members of the Incompetent Voter Community might decide to abstain from voting for the sake of the common good.
In my dreamland where things are reasonable and laws are written in accordance with common sense, here's what we'd do to repair our electoral process:
1. Require Every Voter To Take And Pass A Fifth Grade Civics Exam
If you think planes fly because of pixie dust, you don't belong in the cockpit. If you think chicken can be consumed if it's cooked medium rare, you don't belong in the kitchen. If you think the phrase "branches of government" has something to do with arboriculture, you don't belong in the voting booth. This isn't a debatable proposition. If you lack even basic, fundamental knowledge about our government, our laws, and the current political scene, you should not be anywhere near a polling station on voting day. A country that cares about preserving itself would in fact take steps to legally enforce this point.
I'm not suggesting every voter should have a degree in American History or Political Science. I'm merely saying every voter should be able to stroll into any fifth grade social studies or history class on exam day and at least escape with a passing grade. I'm saying, as an adult, you shouldn't be able to walk into an elementary school cafeteria during lunchtime and discover that the discussions of politics and current events are flying over your head.
In other words, you should not be among the majority of American adults who can't describe the purpose of the Constitution, or identify the Speaker of the House, or name one of the senators from your home state, or name your governor, or give a brief explanation as to the function of the Judicial Branch. And you certainly shouldn't be one of the ignoramuses who constantly pop up in dumb-guy-on-the-street videos reacting with confusion when asked to name the winner of the War Between the States, or the century of our country's founding, or which side America fought on during World War II, or who our nation's capital is named after.
I would suggest a simple 10-question quiz, covering the questions listed above, administered at the polls on voting day, with an exceedingly generous five minute time limit. Answer seven out of 10 correctly and, after showing your photo ID, you can vote. Answer four to six correctly, and your voting privileges will be suspended for a period of two years. Answer zero to three correctly, and you'll be exiled to an island in the Pacific.
Perhaps that last step is a bridge too far for some, but at a minimum we need to prevent these people from inflicting their willful ignorance on the electoral process. If it's illegal to drive while drunk, it ought to be illegal to vote while clueless. There is a real moral imperative here. If you honestly have no idea how the government works, I believe you have a moral responsibility to stay home on election day. If we lived in a more rational nation, that moral responsibility would be a matter of law.
Some might worry that such a system would be abused, but I would argue there's a lot more abuse in a system that allows and encourages people who can't name the vice president to vote in federal and state elections. Indeed, the entire system is abuse.
[sharequote align="center"]If it's illegal to drive while drunk, it ought to be illegal to vote while clueless.[/sharequote]
2. Abolish Early Voting
We refer to "voting day" but in reality it's more like "voting week" or "voting month." It's apparently too ambitious to expect citizens to get to the polls during a particular 12 hour span, so now we can leisurely saunter in at some point vaguely within the time frame of the election. Instead of 12 hours to vote, we're given a gaping window of 80 or 100 hours or more.
This is problematic for a few practical reasons, namely that people are voting before the candidates have actually completed campaigning. The Louisiana GOP primary on Saturday was called for Trump about 20 minutes after the polls closed because so many people voted before they opened that day. That means many of them probably voted before Trump's disastrous Michigan debate. They cast their ballot for him, then turned on the TV to see him bragging about his penis size. Perhaps that wouldn't have changed their minds, but it's nonetheless foolish to officially give your vote to a candidate before he's finished making his pitch.
That aside, why shouldn't voting be a bit inconvenient? Sure, The Powers That Be would make it as effortless and passive an activity as possible, but that's because effortless voting ensures the participation of people who aren't all that interested in doing it. I'm sure if our politicians could, they'd send lackeys to your home to cradle you like an infant and carry you to the polls while they sing lullabies softly in your ear. If the law would permit it, they'd let you vote through text message or an iPhone app. Eventually, if they get their way, you'll be able to cast your ballot over the phone while you order a pizza, and you'd get free bread sticks as a reward.
"Yes, I'd like a large deep dish with extra pepperoni. Oh, and put me down for Donald Trump. Man, if feels so good to be an involved citizen!"
Mark my words, if we continue on this trajectory, soon you'll be able to walk out your front door in your pajamas and belch, and there'll be some kind of satellite in space that picks up the sound and interprets it as a vote. And I'm sure voter turnout will be almost 100 percent! What a win for democracy!
Or maybe a real win for democracy would be a voting system that requires a small smidgen of sacrifice, energy, and effort. Yes, that sort of system would immediately weed out 30 percent of the electorate. That's the point. Our country would be better off if only the folks willing to make the sacrifice and the effort participated. I'm not saying you should have to ride a donkey into the forest and wade through a swamp and climb a mountain and plunge into a cave and navigate an obstacle course and find the Holy Grail in order to vote -- although I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to such a policy -- but I am saying, at the very least, voting should require you to carve out a couple hours on one particular day.
Obviously active duty military would be an exception here. Folks who are serving or who have served already made the sacrifice and the effort. If their duties require them to vote early or mail a ballot in or whatever, they've earned that right. They've earned the right to vote in every sense. The rest of us have not, which is where step three comes in.
3. Only Grant Voting Privileges to Tax Payers
My rights as a taxpayer are severely infringed when those who are not paying into the system get to decide how it allocates my money. This is called taxation without representation and we fought a war over it. A minority of voters can identify that conflict as "the Revolutionary War." A majority, when asked, identify it is as "oh crap, this is a tough one -- they made a Mel Gibson movie about it, right? I know it happened like a while ago probably in like the 1920's or something. Is it the one with the Nazis and Lincoln? Oh! HUNGER GAMES! Right? No?"
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It's been warned for centuries that democracies collapse when voters learn they can vote themselves money and entitlements from the public treasury. It collapses all the faster when the people awarding themselves money have not paid into the treasury to begin with. These are people with no chips on the table. They are permitted to steer the ship without contributing to its maintenance. They are eating from a bounty collected and harvested by their neighbors. They are participating in a variety of other mixed metaphors.
On top of the profound conflict of interest, there's also a matter of maturity. A college kid who has never worked or paid a bill or lived as an independent adult does not yet possess the experience and comprehension necessary to be granted the power to vote. She has been, up until this point, a taker not a maker. A receiver not a contributor. She has no skin in the game. Indeed, she's playing with someone else's skin. Now my analogies are getting creepy, but you get the point.
It's absurd to think that a 19-year-old college sophomore who lives in a dorm and spends his evenings getting drunk with the booze money his parents gave him has the same voice and the same vote as a grown man with a wife, three kids, a house, two cars, a job, a mortgage, and a PTA membership. These two people are not equal contributors. They are not equal, really, in any practical sense. They are equal only in human worth, but a first grader is also equal in worth and he is not granted the right to vote either. The college sophomore in this scenario is much closer to the first grader than the father or three.
The system is rigged against the informed, the competent, and the contributing. Yet, ironically, it's the uninformed and the noncontributing who often complain the loudest of being screwed by the system. The reality is precisely the opposite. These people shouldn't be given any direct influence on the government, but instead they are, when the numbers are added up, granted more influence than the people who do all the physical and mental work in this country. The ignorant and noncontributing folks should be falling over in gratitude.
Or perhaps they shouldn't be so grateful after all. The only reason they're involved is because they're easy to exploit. They may think it works well for them in the short term -- what with the perks and the entitlements they're promised -- but in the long run they're losing their liberty and their dignity just as quickly as the rest of us. For their own good, and for the good of society as a whole, they should be disenfranchised.
I know this will never happen. The tide is moving in the other direction entirely. But if you read this and see yourself -- as hard as it may be to admit -- among the masses of the uninformed and the noncontributing, I can only hope you'll choose to do the right thing and ban yourself from the voting booth until you can honestly look in the mirror and tell yourself, "I deserve to have a say."
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