We’ve been indoctrinated to believe voting is a “right,” and that much of progress in America is related to the gradual expansion of the franchise to the point where anyone with a pulse can enter a voting booth. We’ve even become so “inclusive” that some cities are allowing non-citizens(!!) to vote.
Before I get bombarded with the usual Progressive insults, let me state for the record that I do not believe voting should be limited on the basis of ethnicity or wealth (i.e. landowning requirements). But on the question of voting, there is one thing of which I am certain: the automatic universal franchise for those born here is the worst idea in the history of republican thought. Why have I reached this conclusion? Consider this:
A new survey conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center finds that most Americans are ignorant of many very basic facts about the Constitution.
* More than one in three people (37%) could not name a single right protected by the First Amendment.
* Only one in four (26%) can name all three branches of the government.
* One in three (33%) can’t name any branch of government. None. Not even one.
You can’t do anything in life well without knowing the rules. Why should voting be any different? Now, note carefully what the Washington Post (motto: “Democracy Dies In Darkness“) says next:
The protection of constitutional rights is in large part the business of lawyers, judges, government officials, and other experts. But public opinion plays an important role, as well, which it is unlikely to do as effectively if most of the public is ignorant.
No. Emphatically no.
The informed and invested citizen is the primary protector of our constitutional freedom. Therein lies a major part of the problem: being informed and taking action requires effort and some level of personal sacrifice (such as leisure time). For the vast majority of people, this is simply too much work. It’s well-said that “Few men desire liberty; most men wish only for a just master.” Voting is not a “right.” It is a privilege, and carries with it the reverse of the coin: responsibility. To hand over the responsibility largely to “lawyers, judges, government officials, and other experts” (notice the order in which these are listed?) is to hand over the privilege of having a voice as a citizen. By not acting to enforce the Constitutional role on our various government functions, the public has allowed them to determine the limits of their own power (hint: none). A true citizen refuses to accept that, and challenges — physically, if necessary — undermining of the Constitution.
The only way to be able to do that is to know the Constitution. It’s no surprise to anyone who’s read this blog for long that I believe voting should be restricted to those who have passed a civic exam at least as difficult as the citizenship test (which, frankly, is not a high bar). Such an arrangement does not preclude participation on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender, wealth or any of the other categories that have been used historically to deny the franchise.
What it does is require the would-be voter to earn the privilege — something nearly everyone can do (excepting the mentally incompetent, who already are not allowed full privileges in society). By bestowing citizenship on those who enter our nation illegally, and allowing anyone with a pulse to vote, our nation shows it does not value either.
“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.”
— Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, 1776
Frankly, studying for an exam is a small price to pay for the franchise. Others have theorized about requiring much, much more. (While I don’t subscribe to Heinlein’s exact solution, the requirement to have a “citizen” demonstrate a commitment to something more than their own narrow self-interest would go far to fix what ails us.)
The next time you’re contemplating the sorry state of our nation, just remember it’s likely a good number of the people surveyed were in a polling place last November, and their vote was swayed more by emotions (“I feel like there should be universal health care”) than by knowledge and analysis (“There is no such thing as a free lunch“).