Should the right to vote be earned?

After someone in another thread mentioned Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, it got me thinking about Democracy and why we vote the way we do. In Heinelin’s story, only those who have completed a term in the Armed forces (and who have therefore served and protected their society) are allowed to vote. I’m certainly not suggesting anything quite that radical, but would it be wrong to suggest that the right to vote should be earned?

As it stands, anyone who is old enough to vote is automatically allowed to do so provided they aren’t insane or a criminal, but many people don’t bother to exercise this right. If one had to actively serve or benefit society in some way in order to earn the right to vote, would that eradicate the apathy? Would people really fight for the issues they care about instead of sitting at home and complaining?

How would a government even decide whether a citizen had earned the right to vote? Should they pass an exam? Do some community service?

Apologize for the slight and hopefully brief hi-jack, but while I was aware that felons aren’t allowed to vote in the US (or at least not in some states), I wasn’t aware that insanity is also grounds for disenfranchisement. How badly ill do you have to be? Does a psychiatrist recommend you for disenfranchisement? Do you get your vote back when you’re well again?

You’re absolutely right. We should start administering literacy tests to all potential voters. And we should probably institute a poll tax too.

Sorry. I couldn’t help myself. The immediate response to proposals like Heinlein’s is usually to recall such measures from the age of Jim Crow etc.

I’ll admit that there is some theoretical merit to the idea that all voters must first prove their dedication to the country. But I can’t conceive of any system that would preclude abuse. Once you start dividing the populace into “worthy to vote” and “unworthy to vote,” you get problems, no matter how benevolent the “worthy” ones are.

Nope. Too much potential for abuse. Whoever would certify that someone earned his/her right to vote could be bought off by one side or the other. Anytime you put barriers between people and their right to vote, someone is going to exploit those barriers to advance their own candidates.

I am more in favour of having multiple votes as described in Neville Shute’s On The Beach

In some ways it boils down to the same thing.

It astonishes me that the views of an 18 year old sub-literate youth, incapable of calculating 10% of 100, and whose historical knowledge is restricted to footballers, should have the same say in electing people who get us into wars, as someone who is capable of understanding at least some of the issues.

I’ve grappled with this issue often. On one hand, I realize that any measure taken to make voting an earned privilege would end up disenfranchising minorities and the poor. On the other hand, I would like to see ignorant, single-issue voters weeded out of the process, since they aren’t thoughtfully contributing by assessing the big picture before voting. On the third hand, we here in the US have too low of a participation rate in the voting process, making it a non-quorum excercise of extremism.

I believe there’s a presumption that every citizen excepting convicted crimminals are beneficial to society.

Frankly, I think those who are entirely ignorant of the candidates and the political process, (and who happen to be disproportionately minorities and poor) contribute far less than your “single-issue voters.” Even given their dubious historical background, I would support a simple knowledge test as a requirement for voting. It might simply require potential voters to know the name of the President and Governor of the state, as well (in a presidential or gubernatorial election) as the name of the two major candidates.

I like the ‘voting-quiz’. It is one of my favorite propositions, the other is letting people choose between voting and getting a car or some cash instead of the right to vote.

The latter would almost certainly mean that the poor would stop voting completely.

Why would minorities and the poor necessarily be disenfranchised? One’s colour or wealth certainly shouldn’t be allowed to be any measure of one’s fitness to vote. In fact I would go so far as to say that the blue-collar Joe who helps out at the community centre or who volunters at the local soup kitchen on his off-hours from the factory is of far greater worth to society than the selfish rich brat who squanders his inherited millions on booze and parties.

I think my premise is that some people are a benefit to society while other are not. There are those who actively try to improve things around them and those who feel that everyone else owes them a living. In short, if you aren’t going to participate in the betterment of society, if you are an actual detriment to society, why should you have any say in how that society is run?

What if we eliminated the traditional ballot, and had all voting done by write-ins? It would be a de facto political quiz!

I agree that this is a bad idea, but there has to be a feasible way of determining who should have the right to vote. A basic knowledge of the government and of the issues isn’t a bad start.

Nitpick: Not all citizens with voting rights in Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers served in the Armed forces, but they all had to serve in some form of Government service. This could leave open a civilian construction corps, a Peace Corps like service, Postal service, etc. There is even a line about how they would find a place for anyone willing to serve. The idea was not as terrible as the must serve in the Armed forces sound.

There is some merit to have to serve your county in some capacity for 2 years. This would in no way end up disenfranchising minorities and the poor. In fact, the armed services are disproportionally represented by those from poor and lower middle class families and minorities.

Pacifists could join Peace Corp.

Is it really a terrible idea for citizens to spend a few short years serving their country?

Jim {I saw the title and suspected that Starship Troopers would be mentioned :wink: }

My thinking on that is along the lines of BobLibDem’s; that there is a potential for abuse that would likely result in the disenfranchisement of the poor and minorities, simply because that’s the way it always seems to end up.

What makes you think that single-issue voters would be “weeded out” by a test? Some single-issue voters are quite literate.

The OP was pondering the question of whether the right to vote should be earned. Elected officals’ duties include a wide range of areas of endeavor that have profound and long-ranging effects on society. For someone to vote for a candidate based on a single issue (usually abortion) and neglect consideration of other, far more significant-to-the-well-being-of-the-nation issues is potentially harmful. While some single-issue voters can be considered literate in basic terms, their range of intake and interpretation appears to leave something to be desired, in my experience.

Generally, to become ineligible to vote because of mental health issues, it is because you are deemed legally unable to make decisions for yourself, and have been appointed a guardian. From my understanding, most of the people who fall under this category are those who are mentally retarded (or have other development issues) to the extent that they require assistance in order to take care of themselves.

As for restrictions on voting, there are generally too many ways to disenfranchise certain groups via restrictions like literacy or fluency in a specific language that’s commonly used. Although interesting, I have my doubts about Randy Seltzer’s proposed “write in” ballot format. I have a strange feeling that there would be a large chance for celebrities and Mickey Mouse to somehow become elected to various offices of government. Would there be restrictions where someone’s vote would be eliminated if they did not write in a candidate that was actually running for office? Would that mean that the overwhelming majority of voters who cast a write-in vote would have their votes nullified via inability to remember a candidate’s name? (After having worked with the public on a regular basis, I do doubt the ability of a good portion of my fellow citizens to know what’s going on in politics.)

Oops, sorry, Bridget, I mistook “would” for “should”. That’s a good point. There’s no guarantee that any measure to “weed out” single issue voters would be effective.

Not at all, IMHO. I’m just not sure tying it to the vote is useful. I’d rather see it mandatory, enforced by driving privileges or something. Y’know, something that people WANT. I think that part of that service time should include training on the governmental process. 8th grade constitution classes are nice and all, but how many people remember more than the three branches of government from it?

Before voting at all, I think we should have to pass the same tests that legal immigrants have to pass to become citizens. I was helping a friend study for it, and there was a whole lot more he needed to learn than I ever did.

As for voting in each election, I’m in favor of the short quiz on the main issues and the candidate’s stance on them. If you don’t know what the person you’re voting for stands for, then why are you voting for him in the first place? It would help eliminate those votes for the “white sounding” name or the guy with the nice hair or those one-issue votes whose casters would be appalled at the rest of the guy’s stances on other issues, if they only knew them.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I have self-screened myself out of the process for the last few elections on this very ideal, as I’ve never felt informed enough to give a thoughtful vote. I remain registered so as to be eligible for jury duty, but I haven’t voted since Clinton. (Of course, I live in Illinois, so my presidential vote isn’t terribly swaying either way, and I’m not a homeowner, so I don’t feel morally justified voting on local school referendums.)

I will be voting next time, though. I promise to learn enough to make it meaningful.