During the 2000 Election, Matt Stone and Trey Parker were asked to make a South Park style cartoon advertisement for MTV as part of their Rock-the-Vote/Choose-or-Lose/etc. voter registration drive- basically “let’s make voting look hip and cool”. Stone and Parker refused, their logic being that people who register to vote because a cartoon on MTV makes it look hip and cool should stay home instead because they’re way too ignorant (not their exact words, which included expletives).
Totally different subject: My father and mother, both of them white middle class Alabamians, registered to vote in the 1940s and 1950s respectively. For both of them the literacy test was- literally- signing their names to a form saying they were literate. (When my father registered he had to fill out the registrar’s portion of the paperwork because the registrar couldn’t spell Stephen.)
At the same time black people who registered to vote in the exact same place might be asked “what is the tax on a $5,000 piece of property if the MIL rate of 237 1/2 mils with an exemption for the first 25%- you can’t use pencil and paper”, and if they happened to answer that then they’d go onto the next question (“Recite the 4th Amendment and identify three Supreme Court cases that have dealt with it…” or something similar).
The reason I mention the first anecdote is that I’m totally with Parker and Stone. I honestly don’t believe everybody should vote, and that especially goes for the easily influenced or the spectacularly uninformed. I’ve made no secret of the fact I’m supporting Obama this election, but my opinions on voting rights really isn’t partisan: as idiotic as I think people who believe Obama’s a Muslim are or people who think there truly was a link twixt Saddam Hussein and al-Quaeda, I get just as irritated by people who are voting for Obama because he’s black/young/charismatic but couldn’t begin to tell you where he stands on a particular MAJOR issue (I know some college students who honestly can’t tell you which party he’s with… but they’re gonna vote for him!)
Anecdotal but true: a friend of mine manages a home for mentally retarded adults in metro Atlanta. Last week he was instructed to take three of the residents to register to vote. He honestly thought his boss was making a joke: one of the residents has the mental age of 5 (though woe be unto anyone who mentions “mental age” to the management- they literally don’t allow that term to be spoken) and another is so severely autistic that he calls most people Danny and rarely speaks other than to ask for something to eat or drink [and has also been known to drink cleaning supplies], but they are now registered to vote. Per my friend, neither one has the faintest idea who is running, when the election is, what the parties are, or even the slightest interest in going to the polls.
The reason I mention the tale about my parents going to register in the 40s/50s (the Golden Era per some) is that I’m well aware there’s a history of using literacy testing and other supposedly equitably distributed requirements to deliberately disenfranchise groups of voters. This is why for the most part they were done away with along with poll tax and (going back further) property ownership as requirements.
However, I feel the baby may have been thrown out with the bathwater and some political literacy litmus should be required for the right to vote. I don’t believe it should be partisan, I don’t believe it should even necessarily pertain to the issues of a specific election, but I do think that a form test (or series of, each asking about the same questions) should be required for everybody registering to vote. It should ask such things as “which of these powers does the legislative/executive/judicial branch have/not have?” or T/F questions about checks and balances (nothing super obscure even) and very basic history questions, even super basic “for how long does a Senator serve?” type stuff. I honestly think there are millions and millions of voters in most elections who’d be unable to pass basic political literacy.
Your opinion- should testing be mandatory for voter registration?