ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE SOUTH, states below the Mason-Dixon Line gave “literacy tests” to voters to determine their level of education. While these tests were theoretically for ALL voters, they were—need I say, needless to say?—given disproportionately to black voters. Some of these tests were nigh on impossible to pass, regardless of one’s level of education!
For example, Louisiana’s 1964 test had these “questions”:
• Spell backwards, forwards.
• Print the word vote upside down, but in the correct order.
• Place a cross over the tenth letter in this line, a line under the first space in this sentence, and a circle around the last the in the second line of this sentence.
While these tests have carried the stench of the worst kind of racism for decades, theoretically, they suit me just fine. So, the recent Supreme Court decision in Shelby County vs. Holder overturned Section 4(b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This section mandated federal oversight of changes in voting procedure in jurisdictions that have a history of using a “test or device” to impede enfranchisement.
Lousy choices mean sleazeballs can get elected with 25% of the popular vote!
That is, this section exists to keep racist jurisdictions from implementing so-called tests to prevent legitimate, registered black and Hispanic voters from casting their ballots.
Well now, this Supreme Court decision (the usual 5-4 vote, with the five racists appointed by Reagan and the Bushes in the majority) can actually be put to GOOD use.
Devise an intelligence test based on current political and economic events that would indicate the voter’s awareness of the FACTS in the consensual reality in which he or she lives and votes.
And, again, needless to say, apply it across the spectrum to every single voter!
Once upon a time in the northeast
Jon May and I grew up together, our families living a few blocks from each other in the leave-it-to-beaver-like neighborhoods of Kingston, Pennsylvania, in the ’60s. Somehow, I became what others perceive as a “hippie” while Jon ended up a “cowboy.” The former (inaccurate) perception should be easily understood by a glance at my photo in this site’s sidebar.
The latter perception is made because Jon lives in Texas on a small ranch with his wife and a lot of horses. There are no cows but nonetheless, we call such people cowboys, not horseboys.
Fortunately, the Lone Star State’s predilection for growing secession-minded righties was not the reason that Jon selected it as his home.
It was the horses.
He is one-half of HorseFlicks, a company that promotes horsemanship in a variety of ways, notably in making documentary-style movies of people’s horses. Texas is a good place to run that kind of business.
Cartoon by Rob Rogers for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
None-of-the-Above as a choice
We occasionally discuss the better-known politicians from Texas and how much of the rest of the country is often baffled as to how they get elected. Recently he remarked:
“The problem is the best people to help run the [state] won’t run. Only the sleaziest who can stomach the entire campaign / media / election process will run, so we are left with lousy choices, no matter what. Lousy choices mean more voter apathy, so these sleazeballs get elected with 25% or less of the popular vote.
That’s not a majority.
The reason Perry was elected for fifteen years was that the Democrats would line up against him each election and the opposition vote was therefore fractured among several candidates. So he’d waltz back into office with 20% support, and then he acts like he’s invincible.
To win an election, I think a candidate should have to have over 50% of the eligible voters to win, not those who still have the ambition to go out a vote, but 50% of all eligible voters.
And ‘None of the Above’ should be a legitimate choice; if NOTA wins, you start over with NEW candidates until someone gathers enough votes to beat out NOTA. Of course, I think conscription is still the best answer.”
Countering all that money
Around the same time I received the above from Jon, I also received an email from End Citizens United that contained a poll. Here are the email’s contents:
“President Obama just raised a bold idea to counter the influence of money in politics: Mandatory Voting. Last election, just 36.4% of Americans turned out to vote.
Because of the disastrous Citizens United decision, billionaires like the Kochs are free to spend unlimited amounts to deceive this small slice of the electorate to vote Republican.
Take our instant poll to tell us if you support or oppose President Obama’s idea to counter the influence of money in politics by making voting mandatory for American citizens?”
The poll consisted of one question: “Do you support President Obama’s idea of making voting mandatory for American citizens?”
The options were Yes, No, and Undecided.
I selected Yes.
There was a comment section, to which I added, “I have believed in mandatory voting since before I was old enough to vote for McGovern!”
That is true, but it is now my second choice among my political “beliefs.”
An informed voter test
My first choice is an ideal: universal electronic voting machines that begin each election with a quiz in the form of ten (10) true-or-false statements about the events upon which one is casting one’s vote.
Local representatives of the Democratic and the Rep*blican parties can each select five statements. (The two big boys can decide whether to include or exclude third parties through the questions they submit. Or accommodations can be made for independent parties with a certain membership or who gather a certain amount of signatures.)
I am not suggesting that citizens need a refresher course in politics or current events. The ten statements can be insultingly stupid, just as long as they are germane to the election. To avoid lengthy delays in voting, a time limit of ten minutes can be set on the test.
Any number of other minor tweakings could be done to make this work. But if you don’t know what is happening in any given election, you do not get to vote in that election.
So, my “belief” regarding President Obama’s statement above is that either everybody in every election is required to vote as a duty of citizenship, or only informed voters get to vote. Mandatory voting is usually referred to as compulsory voting and can be considered a form of egalitarian voting. It would seem to be the voting that we would expect the Democratic Party to back.
The informed voting could also be considered a form of elitist voting and would seem to be the voting that we would expect the Rep*blican Party to back.
Although my suggested true-or-false quiz can be considered an Elite Voter Test, for this essay I am referring to it as the Informed Voter Test.
Cartoon by Matt Davies for Newsday.
It ain’t no ‘literacy test’
Such a test is not to be confused with what was called literacy tests in some states prior to the Civil Rights era.
“A literacy test refers to state government practices of administering tests to prospective voters purportedly to test their literacy in order to vote.
In practice, these tests were intended to disenfranchise African-Americans. For other nations, literacy tests have been a matter of immigration policy.
Southern state legislatures employed literacy tests as part of the voter registration process starting in the late 19th century. Literacy tests, along with poll taxes and extra-legal intimidation, were used to deny suffrage to African-Americans.
The tests were usually administered orally by white local officials, who had complete discretion over who passed and who failed. Examples of questions asked of Blacks in Alabama included: naming all sixty-seven county judges in the state, naming the date on which Oklahoma was admitted to the Union, and declaring how many bubbles are in a bar of soap.” (Wikipedia)
The Informed Voter Test that I believe in is based on the need for voters to be making their decision based on awareness and understanding of the issues—not on popularity or name recognition, party identification, incumbency, but especially on manipulation through demagoguery.
“A demagogue is a political leader in a democracy who appeals to the emotions, fears, prejudices, and ignorance of the lower classes in order to gain power and promote political motives. Demagogues usually oppose deliberation and advocate immediate, violent action to address a national crisis; they accuse moderate and thoughtful opponents of weakness.
Demagogues have appeared in democracies since ancient Athens. They exploit a fundamental weakness in democracy: because ultimate power is held by the people, nothing stops the people from giving that power to someone who appeals to the lowest common denominator of a large segment of the population.” (Wikipedia)
“In popular usage, demagoguery simply means ‘effective rhetoric on behalf of a political agenda I dislike.’ Not only is that a useless definition, but, if anything, it increases the likelihood of people being persuaded by demagoguery. . . .
Demagoguery is a discourse that promises stability, certainty, and escape from the responsibilities of rhetoric through framing public policy in terms of the degree to which and means by which (not whether) the outgroup should be punished for the current problems of the ingroup.
Public debate largely concerns three stages: group identity (who is in the ingroup, what signifies outgroup membership, and how loyal rhetors are to the ingroup); need (usually framed in terms of how evil the outgroup is); what level of punishment to enact against the outgroup (restriction of rights to extermination).” (Trish Roberts-Miller)
The existence of demagoguery is the primary reason that the Grand Old Party would not support even the Elite Voter Test: as exit poll after exit poll has shown over the past twenty years, Americans who vote for Rep*blican candidates are often clueless as to the issues in the election in which they are voting.
This is almost universally true of those voters who rely exclusively on Fox News for their “news.” Many of the ‘commentators’ that Fox uses or sources that they turn to can be considered demagogues of a sort.
Voter turnout is a problem
For this and other reasons (like the fact that the station presents editorial comments as news presentations), those people who rely on Fox often score lower in current events tests than people who watch no news or read no newspapers at all!
So, as it is almost certain the Reps won’t support either movement and the Dems are unlikely to support the Elite Test, then we are left with the Mandatory Voter possibility, hence my support for such a piece of legislation.
There are many websites with the pros and cons of compulsory voting, and I agree with points on each side. The interested reader should go to his favorite browser and type in “compulsory voting” and do his own investigating.
I found this in an article titled “What We’ve Seen in Australia With Mandatory Voting” by Lisa Hill, a professor of politics at the University of Adelaide, Australia:
“America has a serious voter turnout problem, yet none of the attempted remedies have been able to solve it. The problem is not just that turnout is low but that it is also socially biased. Failure to vote is concentrated among groups already experiencing one or more forms of deprivation, namely, the poor, the unemployed, the homeless, indigenous peoples, the isolated, new citizens, and the young.
This transfers greater voting power to the well-off and causes policies to be geared disproportionately to the interests of voters (politicians aren’t stupid: they know who their customers are). The legitimacy of American democracy is thereby undermined, assuming you agree that political inequality and unrepresentativeness are bad for democracy.”
FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of this page was taken by Bruce Davidson and was lifted from the article “Voting Rights in America: Two Centuries of Struggle” by Bruce Hartford. About this article, Hartford notes, “This brief timeline describes an American history of oppression, persecution, and discrimination in regards to voting rights. But in all of the events described here, those affected were not submissive or passive victims, rather they fought for their rights with whatever means they had.”