The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

19 February 2005

A less-universal franchise

I dropped into Selma, Alabama in the summer of 2001 and paid a visit to the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute. One of the exhibits I was allowed to take with me was a copy of Alabama's onerous voter-application form, authorized by the state's 1901 constitution and administered in such a way as to minimize black participation in elections.

I thought about this while I was reading Francis W. Porretto's article The Vote, in which he proposes, as a condition of voting in the Republic, a test of Constitutional knowledge that seems at first glance uncomfortably close to the "literacy test" from mid-1960s Alabama.

There are, of course, differences. The most obvious: FWP is no racist. He thinks that every prospective voter should be required to demonstrate better than passing familiarity with the Constitution:

The Constitution covers nine sheets of parchment and is written in very plain English. He who can't comprehend it is obviously unfit to elevate executives, legislators, or judges who will be bound by its provisions.

But this is the really interesting provision:

In exchange for the privilege of voting in a specified election, [the voter] must agree to forgo and forswear until after the next general election:
  • any position of profit or trust under the Constitution, in any federal, state, or local office, whether elective, appointive, or Civil Service;
  • any and all payments from any organ of government, regardless of the reason for them;
  • any and all personal or categorical privileges, exemptions, or subventions that may be awarded by any organ of government.

Apart from temporarily disenfranchising candidates for office, which probably isn't a bad idea at all, the kicker here is in the middle, which presumably would bar anyone drawing Social Security or welfare. I understand his point, I think — one thing that perpetuates the welfare state is support from people who benefit from it directly — but I'm not sure I'd want to implement this particular plank in his platform until such time as we've made some substantial cuts in entitlement programs generally, and in a vestige of bleeding-heart liberalism, I am not at all keen on cutting persons out of the franchise who may be drawing legitimate disability payments.

FWP's larger point, though, is that in our post-1965 rush to extend the franchise to seemingly anything that moves under its own power, we have wound up with an electorate that isn't well-informed, that doesn't understand the government it's supposed to control, and that won't turn down opportunities to seek largesse from the Treasury. Or, as he puts it:

It might reduce the enfranchised element of the populace to ten or twenty million persons, at least at the outset. But if it were to cleanse our Republic of the enemies of the Constitution numerous at every level of government, the flagrant self-seeking of millions of persons who continually vote for bigger subsidies for themselves, their favored groups, or their favored causes, and the ignorance of those who think President Bush somehow traduces the Constitution when he quotes Isaiah, it would be worth it and more.

About 122 million voted in the 2004 Presidential election.

Posted at 10:35 AM to Political Science Fiction


Death to the Nanny State.....Death to the stupid, lazy,and mercenary lame-o's. Either be informed enough to vote or lose the privilege. Go live in some third world nig-nog boondocks...smoke reefer
eat hardtack.

Posted by: paulsmos at 1:02 PM on 19 February 2005

Hey, I like hardtack.

Posted by: CGHill at 1:24 PM on 19 February 2005

You have to be at least this smart (holds hand up to forehead height) to vote.

Some might say I set the standard too low.

Posted by: bruce at 3:57 PM on 19 February 2005

Paulsmo, you should label whether you are making fun of a ridiculous mindset or not, otherwise I am inclined to assume that you are, in fact, an idiot.

Does Oklahoma count as some "nig-nog boondocks"?

Posted by: bruce at 4:05 PM on 19 February 2005

Aw, come on, Bruce. I can't imagine any reasonable "citizenship" test you can't pass, and I'm disinclined to recommend any unreasonable ones.

Posted by: CGHill at 4:12 PM on 19 February 2005

Article III of the Oklahoma Constitution, written under the guidance of a populist, Wm. H. Murray, and reinforced in an amendment adopted November 5, 1918, provides ". . . nor any person kept in a poor house at public expense, except . . . ex-soldiers and sailors . . . shall be entitled to register and vote."

Does this still hold, and does it have any significance if there are no more "poor houses?" Some court may adopt a "broad interpretation." Seventy years ago, a poor house was maintained by the county (?) on E 23rd St. It was not very inviting.

Posted by: ben acton at 6:42 PM on 20 February 2005

Well, a poorhouse is not supposed to be particularly appealing. And really, there's not much of anything on NE 23rd, even today, that's especially inviting.

Laws from the first decade of statehood mandate that the county provide some form of "asylum" for indigents who had been resident for six months; the Oklahoma County poor farm was in Crutcho Township, probably near what is today the intersection of NE 23rd and Air Depot.

The State Election Board doesn't mention this particular requirement, which I suspect was probably superseded by the national "motor-voter" law in 1993.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:18 PM on 20 February 2005