Shouldn’t all voters possess that same rudimentary knowledge of the Constitution and our federal system of government as naturalized citizens? Why not require all citizens to pass the same civics exam as immigrants have to pass if they want to join the voter rolls?
Our naturalization laws require all legal immigrants seeking to become citizens to pass a civics exam before joining the ranks of two hundred million other voters— and the exam is administered in English. They can remain legal immigrants forever without becoming naturalized citizens, and many do, but if they want to vote they have to pass a civics exam as part of the naturalization process.
So, in a similar vein, we should say to natural-born citizens, you can be a citizen forever and enjoy all the rights and privileges of citizenship, but if you want to be a voter, if you want to choose the officials who make laws and decide on war and peace, you have to pass a simple civics exam.
Unlike the Jacobins in France, the Founders were realists, not radical egalitarians. They believed that while God endowed everyone with the right to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that if you wanted a larger role in society it had to be earned. They are roundly condemned today for not creating a universal franchise. And yet, the ignorance of so many modern voters would seem to imply there was wisdom in that approach.
As I’ve said before, we do not assume people have an inherent right to drive a car without being tested on their ability to do so in a way that doesn’t imperil others. Why, then, do we turn people loose with ballots without examining whether they even understand the system in which they seek to participate? And while we’re at it, let’s note that the original requirement to be a property owner to vote at least meant you had a stake in the outcome, and were thus more likely to pay attention to the effects of proposed legislation. In a similar vein, those who live long-term on public assistance today should have to forfeit their ability to vote until such time as they show the ability to provide for themselves. In one stroke this eliminates the self-serving welfare voter, and the ‘low-information voter’ shock troops for those who seek ever-larger government that comes at the expense of someone else. For those who think expanding the franchise is always a good idea, consider the path Rome took from a patrician society that eventually ruled the known world of its day, to a plebian mob that was only satisfied with ever-larger bread and circuses. Sound familiar? It should.(*)
We hand out privileges such as immigration or the ability to vote far too cheaply in our land today. People are allowed to jump across our borders in flagrant disregard of our laws, and too many of our own people believe doing so then entitles them to a drivers license and a voice in our public policy. That’s ridiculous. “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.” While Thomas Paine was referring to the price of the struggle in the winter of 1776, I submit we are no less in an “American Crisis” today, in large part because we no longer see these privileges as precious gifts to be treasured and guarded from those who have no appreciation for them.