Why Voting Should Not Be an Unmitigated Right

Passion is a necessary ingredient in the political process; it’s what drives us to advocate for what we believe in, and to vote. But there’s a critical balance that must be struck between passion and knowledge. If one possesses ample passion, but little knowledge, they will make poor decisions. A level of dispassion is required to properly asses ideas, while an overabundance of passion fogs the mind.

With the recent events at Yale and University of Missouri, there’s been a lot of talk of immaturity as it pertains to voting. An article from USA Today advocated raising the voting age to 25, which is something I’ve said many times. However, the more I’ve pondered voting requirements, the more I’ve come to believe that simply raising the voting age isn’t enough. It’s merely addressing a symptom of a much larger disease.

We are facing a modern epidemic of voter ignorance, and this ignorance isn’t relegated to the 18-24 year-old crowd. Rather, this disease has permeated all age groups. If you want to see how profoundly bereft of logic our society is, talk to anyone ages 18 to 75. Engage your friends or family members in a substantive discussion of policy, and you will likely find yourself standing in a very shallow pool.

This problem has many pieces: Pop-culture obsession, public school and university indoctrination, media bias, sound bite addiction, etc. A problem with many components can’t be fixed with a single solution. By raising the voting age to 25, we could eliminate one problem–the easily manipulated and coddled youth vote. But that’s just one gear in a giant mechanism.

I think the idea that voting is a “right,” as we currently understand rights, is misunderstood. Voting should be something in which everyone of a certain age can participate so long as they fulfill certain requirements. These requirements would not be biased in terms of race, gender, religion, or creed, but they would keep the woefully ignorant from voting.

I’ll say it flatly: If you can’t name the three branches of government, you shouldn’t get to vote. If you can’t reasonably define your preferred candidate’s platform, you shouldn’t get to vote. If you can’t tell me what’s in the First Amendment, and why it’s important, you shouldn’t get to vote.

This isn’t crazy talk either. A recent survey by the Newseum Institute found that 33% of American adults couldn’t name a single right guaranteed by the First Amendment. A 2014 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 35% of Americans could not identify a single branch of government. We live in a republic of dunces, of willfully ignorant people.

The goal of a representative republic is to have an informed people deciding who will represent them, and lead their nation. If the republic is uninformed, the system no longer represents its original design. So I don’t think it’s a stretch to argue that voting shouldn’t be an unmitigated right.

What’s the solution then? Here’s a thought experiment: Should a civics and current policy test be designed to asses voters’ breadth of understanding? The questions that naturally arise are numerous. Who would design the test? What if the test is biased? What about those who never received a proper education? Set those questions aside for a moment. Regardless of implementation issues, think about what such a test would achieve. It would allow access for those who care enough to do their research, and deny access to those who don’t have a clue.

As it stands, we’re on the brink. We’re living on a knife’s edge because a large number of voters don’t know for whom or for what they’re voting. They mindlessly go to the polls because Hillary seemed nice in a sound bite, or because she’s a woman, or because the headline to a Politico article said Ben Carson lied. It’s shallow-end stuff.

I’m certainly an advocate for raising the voting age, with an exception for those in the military. But something more needs to be done. We either need a more educated electorate, or we need to keep those who are willfully ignorant away from the polls.

If there’s a better idea, I’d like to hear someone articulate it.