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:
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