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Can We Help Save Democracy by Requiring Voters to Pass a Test of Political Knowledge?

Economist Dambisa Moyo is right to worry about the dangers of political ignorance. But her proposed solution for the problem falls short.

In her new book, Edge of Chaos and in a recent op ed in the Guardian, prominent economist and political commentator Dambisa Moyo proposes a solution for the problem of political ignorance, which bedevils democracies around the world. She hopes it can help "save" democracy:

The election of Donald Trump and the Brexit referendum have together tested the limits of people's faith in democracy....

Elsewhere too the weaknesses of liberal democracies are becoming increasingly apparent: from falling voter participation rates and the unhealthy power of those funding political parties to the decline of political freedoms. This questioning of democracy is polarising politics and taking debate beyond healthy bounds. Efforts to delegitimise the electoral results are based on the premise that politicians lied and misled, leaving voters to choose on the basis of poor information or wrong information....

Ultimately, the ideal democracy is one in which as many citizens as possible vote, and the voters are armed with the most objective information....

In many democracies, including the US and UK, migrants are required to pass government-sanctioned civic tests in order to gain citizenship. So, in this vein, why not give all voters a test of their knowledge? This would ensure minimum standards that should lead to higher-quality decision-making by the electorate. The message this would send is that voting is not just a right, but one that has to be earned. Such testing would not only lead to a better-informed electorate, but also to voters who are more actively engaged.

Of course, such a system would be truly democratic only if everybody had a fair chance of casting their vote. It is vital that those with fewer life opportunities have their say, and we cannot have a system that is skewed against the worst educated, which would leave poorer people even more marginalised and unrepresented than they already are. To that end, the knowledge needed should be part of the core curriculum, with young people tested in their final year of secondary education. Governments could also organise tests for those over school age.

Moyo is absolutely right to worry about the dangers of political ignorance, which is a serious problem in democracies around the world, including both the US and the UK. She is also right to suggest that voter ignorance played a key role in both Brexit and Trump's victory in the 2016 election. It is good that she has joined the growing list of thinkers who are starting to take the problem of political ignorance seriously. Unfortunately, her proposed solution is not as compelling as her statement of the problem.

The idea of a test of voter knowledge is not a new one. Economist Bryan Caplan, a leading expert on political knowledge, proposed a "Voter Achievement Test" back in 2013 (though he would not deny the franchise to those who scored poorly, but instead reward those who score well with monetary prizes). Libertarian-leaning columnist David Harsanyi advocated a voter test in 2016. In his much-discussed book Against Democracy, Georgetown political philosopher Jason Brennan proposes a system of "epistocracy," which might, among other things, restrict the franchise to those who have adequate knowledge. I myself analyzed similary ideas in my book Democracy and Political Ignorance.

I am not opposed to voter knowledge tests on principle. Indeed, the case for excluding incompetent voters builds on our current practice of excluding children, people with severe mental illnesses, and (as Moyo notes) immigrants who cannot pass a test of civic knowledge that many native-born Americans and Britons would fail. All of these groups are barred from voting in large part because we think they lack the knowledge and reasoning skills to make good decisions at the ballot box.

But Moyo and other advocates of voter testing underestimate potential pitfalls. As I explained in my critiques of Brennan, Caplan, and Harsanyi, and in Chapter 7 of my book, the biggest problem is that we cannot trust the government to come up with an objective, politically neutral test. The more likely scenario is that the party in power would try to skew the test to favor its supporters and weed out opponents. Even if we could somehow avoid racial or ethnic bias (which is by no means guaranteed), it is difficult to forestall partisan favoritism.

Can we trust Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress to come up with an unbiased test? I am sure he would welcome the opportunity to purge the voter rolls of "low-energy losers" who believe the claims of the "fake news" media. By the same token, many Democrats might be happy weed out "deplorable" right-wing voters, if given the chance to control the content of the test. Would Moyo's readers at the Guardian trust the Conservative government of Theresa May? Would Conservatives have any reason to trust Jeremy Corbyn and the Labor Party to design the test, if the latter came to power?

The idea of voter testing should not be dismissed out of hand. I believe it deserves further consideration - particularly the Bryan Caplan variant, under which it would function only as a positive incentive for increasing knowledge rather than a tool for limiting the franchise. But advocates must address the problem of bias much more effectively than they have so far.

Moyo also suggests using public education to increase political knowledge, so that everyone would have a better chance to pass the test. The idea of using public education to increase voter competence has venerable roots in the liberal political tradition. Thomas Jefferson was among its early advocates. Unfortunately, it is much harder to do than it may seem. I summarized the challenge here (and more fully in my book):

Unfortunately, political knowledge levels have increased very little over the last fifty to sixty years, even as educational attainment (and spending on public schools) have risen enormously....

Perhaps the problem is that the schools are teaching the wrong things. A better curriculum might ensure that high school students don't graduate without learning basic political and historical knowledge, as many currently do. The difficulty here is that governments have very little incentive to ensure that public schools really do adopt curricula that increase knowledge. If the voters effectively monitored education policy and rewarded elected officials for using public schools to increase political knowledge, things might be different. But if the voters were that knowledgeable, we probably wouldn't have a problem of political ignorance to begin with.

Moreover, political leaders and influential interest groups often use public education to indoctrinate students in their own preferred ideology rather than increase knowledge. In both Europe (where it was established in large part to inculcate nationalism) and the United States (where a major objective was indoctrinating Catholic immigrants in true "American" values, including Protestant morality), indoctrination was one of the major motives for the establishment of public education in the first place. As John Stuart Mill feared, public education is often used to indoctrinate students in whatever ideology "pleases the dominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, an aristocracy, or a majority of the existing generation."

Even if education policy and voter competence tests were more effective at increasing political knowledge than I am inclined to believe, It would still be extremely difficult to increase voters' understanding to the point where they could be well-informed about more than a small fraction of the many issues controlled by the modern state. In both the US and most European nations, government spending accounts for 35% or more of GDP, and the state also regulates nearly every type of human activity. If, like Moyo, we want a political system "in which as many citizens as possible vote, and the voters are armed with the most objective information" about the issues at stake in elections, we need to have a government that deals with fewer issues. The problem of political ignorance does not, by itself, justify across-the-board libertarianism. But it does suggest we should have a government substantially smaller and less complicated than what we have now.

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  • Bob from Ohio||

    "election of Donald Trump and the Brexit referendum have together tested the limits of people's faith in democracy"

    Democratic election results are proof of lack of faith in democracy?

    Oh, I see, the wrong results happened.

    No need to read farther.

  • apedad||

    Got to agree with BfO on this one.

    When you step back and look at the big picture, our nation is Progressing quite nicely.

    It's not a perfect, linear progression and there will be bumps and temporary set backs (e.g. President Trump).

    However, I don't see any need to change the process with the suggestions noted above.

    Yes, we should increase our education programs-especially the poorer areas (both rural and urban).

    But no need to tie it to voting.

    Onward and upwards (with a slight tilt to the left!)!

  • Alcibiades||

    In other words, "we'll continue doing this till we get the "right" result".

  • Drewski||

    Yes, when a political process produces the wrong results, people can lose faith in that process. Both major parties nominated evil candidates backed by morons. Somehow, we elected the more destructive of the two. This is not an appropriate scenario; therefore, the process is flawed in some way.

  • Jmaie||

    "we elected the more destructive of the two"

    Arguing facts not in evidence, councilor.

  • jph12||

    "Yes, when a political process produces the wrong results, people can lose faith in that process."

    There was no right or wrong result for the Brexit vote.

    There was no right or wrong result to the 2016 election.

    "This is not an appropriate scenario; therefore, the process is flawed in some way."

    That's just like, your opinion, man.

  • Naaman Brown||

    1960s we had civics as a mandatory class in junior high school.

    But as for a mandatory government test, ... outside of class I found out about the way machine politics worked on voting rights in nearby Athens back in 1946.

  • Junkie||

    She has a good point, we should have at least a literacy test for voting. I imagine we could safely exempt some people - if your ancestors could vote 75 years ago, I don't see much need to test you.

  • Smooth Like a Rhapsody||

    This is irony (if irony it be) that is probably too subtle for the interwebs,

  • Brett Bellmore||

    No, I picked up on it immediately.

    The basic problem is that, while you can make a case for various competency tests for voting, that case relies on their being impartially designed and administered.

    And it's simply insane to expect that would happen.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    I am sure they can be handled as competently and impartially as gun safety classes.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    Right. It's a pretty straightforward application of Campbell's Law:

    "The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campbell's_law

    [It's part of the reason why increases in educational achievement, notably measured via grades and by degrees earned, have not been accompanied by equivalent increases in knowledge]

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    Try this link for Campbell's Law.

    If it doesn't work, just use your search engine and look up the Wikipedia article.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    The simplest approach to testing voter knowledge would be simply abolishing pre-printed ballots provided by the government, and requiring the voter to actually know who they were going to vote for. Make ALL the candidates "write-in", you can't vote for somebody without knowing who they are, and which office they're running for.

    This would also eliminate the "ballot access" excuse for preventing people from voting for qualified candidates who run independently or under a third party. Much of the decline in the freedom of our elections has been accomplished by restricting ballot access.

    However, I'm quite confident any efforts in this direction would be enjoined on as voting rights violations.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Interesting idea, allowing ONLY write-ins. But it's easy to imagine the work-around: people would bring in lists they got in the mail, from cousin Ernie, from the corporate boss or union foreman or KGB handler. All you'd really accomplish is make voting taken ten times as long.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    That IS what people did, originally, before pre-printed ballots were provided by the government.

    But it did prevent the abuses we see today, where ballot access and prohibitions on write-in votes are used to control the outcome of elections by restricting who people are allowed the opportunity to vote for.

  • AcademicRealist||

    That *is* what people did (and may continue to do, though I haven't seen it in my current precinct) when the voter, faced with a pre-printed form or voting machine, uses the knotted string given to them outside the voting location select the "correct" candidate (the voter either cannot read or cannot remember the preferred choice).

  • bernard11||

    Maybe, but SR&C has a point. When we did that there were a lot fewer voters.

    Are you ready to have ten times as many voting booths, ten times as many workers, etc. as we do now, especially since there are already not enough in some places?

  • phattyboombatty||

    Can you imagine how long it would take to tabulate all of the handwritten votes? It would be months before the results of the election were known.

  • OldCurmudgeon||

    Is that so bad? At least they needed to plan ahead enough to bring the cheat sheet.

    Same thing with time...doesn't the commitment 'nudge' the lowest of the low information voters away?

  • bernard11||

    doesn't the commitment 'nudge' the lowest of the low information voters away?

    I don't think so.

    Some people have more time than others. Do you want voting dominated by retirees, the unemployed, the childless?

  • OldCurmudgeon||

    Frankly, it sounds like excuse making.

    But, taking the complaint seriously, if someone really can't afford 1-2 hours to vote every two years, it seems unlikely they'd have the time become informed about the candidates and the issues.

  • bernard11||

    All you'll get is cheat sheets, problems for people with sprained wrists or broken arms or the like, arguments about spelling and handwriting, and confusion when Smith runs against Schmidt, not to mention that, yes, it will be difficult for those whose English is not good.

    Im not real familiar with the ballot access issues, but I don't doubt there is room for improvement.

  • OldCurmudgeon||

    If you thought hanging chads were bad, wait until you see our poor modern penmanship ;-)

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    What "penmanship"?

  • bernard11||

    Do they even give grades in penmanship any more? Mine were always lousy, but at least there was some pressure to improve.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    Cursive writing isn't in the Common Core requirements and apparently 41 (!) states to not require cursive reading or writing.

    here

    And I thought it was bad that my kids were slow to learn to tie their shoes and tell (analog) time. At least they learned to drive car with stick shifts (I taught them so they could feel superior to their friends).

  • David Bremer||

    **Gasp**

    I also hear Common Core doesn't require kids to use quills, learn to shoe horses, or properly churn butter.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    The problem is not voter ignorance, rational or otherwise. The problem is that government has so many fingers in every aspect of our lives that votes have no meaning. Even if campaign promises were contractual and politicians could be held accountable for breaking them, it would make no difference in our lives.

    It's as if all our shopping had to be done at government stores -- groceries, clothes, cars, games, even what houses we live in until the next election -- and we had one vote every four years to choose among two lousy stores, and even then, all the campaign promises for Kellogg's Raisin Bran vs Levy's 501 jeans were untrustworthy because the stores could change their mind on a whim with no accountability. And oh by the way, you don't know the prices until you get the bill in the mail, and there are no returns or refunds for defective products.

    That's why so many people either don't vote or don't make "rational" decisions.

  • Smooth Like a Rhapsody||

    If this is ironic, pardon.
    But neither Truman nor Eisenhower e.g., owned a home until their 50's.
    Lots of people live in NYC and never own property.

  • Diane Merriam||

    Living in a house doesn't mean you own it.

  • Sam Gompers||

    Maybe instead of a test, we can keep it to landowners?

    Those are the people with enough stake in the country to care.

  • Larvell Blanks||

    Because if the history of America has shown us anything, it is that land ownership is the source of the country's strength.

  • OldCurmudgeon||

    There's always the Starship Troopers version.

  • LiborCon||

    Sounds good to me.

    If only veterans could hold public office, our Second Amendment rights wouldn't be under constant attack.

  • David Bremer||

    The idea that you must be a landowner to care, or that being a landowner automatically makes you care is absurd.

    I know plenty of morons in my hometown that own land, and intelligent, sophisticated peers renting places in the city. The presumption that we should allow votes by the former, but not the latter is laughable.

  • Variant||

    Low information voters have contributed significantly to every election result. And who decided that the outcomes of the last US Presidential election and Brexit were some how a bad thing? Will these same people help decide who is a non "low information" voter?

  • BILKER||

    you hit the nail on the head. the political machines count on "low information" voters so they can be indoctrinated by repetition of the particular candidate or proposal.
    Just for instance why and who is synchony bank buying up so many credit card businesses? Check your CC statements. There were laws against monoplies. The government took on bell telephone and forced them into the baby bells which forced the rates into the higher bills we have today. Ma Bell was a very benign monoply.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    "I am not opposed to voter knowledge tests on principle."

    I am extremely skeptical that any such test could be constructed that wouldn't be highly biased towards one political ideology or another.

  • Smooth Like a Rhapsody||

    What if there were a list of questions, say 50 of them, published in advance, and the test could only include questions from the list?

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    I don't at all see how that would do anything to address the issue of the questions being politically biased.

  • Smooth Like a Rhapsody||

    Mandate that the questions be composed by a 3 member commission, one member chosen by the RNC, one by the DNC, and a retired college president to be chosen by the other two.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Well, that would certainly set the nature of the bias. As opposed to preventing it.

  • BillEverman||

    I'm sorry, were you answering the question "How can we further entrench the left and right tentacles of the Incumbent Party into the orifices of our nation?" Because if that's not the question, then you have the wrong answer.

    The Republicans and Democrats are not branches of the government. They are unaccountable private organizations. They need to have less, not more, control of our electoral process.

  • Dunehunter||

    We could have Bob Mueller ask the questions!

  • BILKER||

    We need someone who has some inkling of the political process. Unfortunately Reagan is dead.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    So it's teach to the test, and no voter left behind. Helpful? I think not.

    Churchill didn't say "The best argument against Democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter," but perhaps he should have. On the other hand, he did say -- but didn't originate -- ""Democracy is the worst system, except for all the other systems."

    And this discussion reeks of hostility to democracy.

  • Diane Merriam||

    What are the three branches of the federal government? How many Senators does a state get? What is the highest court in the country? How long can a president serve?

    Those are the kinds of questions on the citizenship test. Simply facts, not people, not judgments, just do you know the basic facts about how the government works?

    You could even throw in a fun one like how long does it take the Earth to go around the Sun or solving a simple math equation.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    Once when making up a test for SOC 101, I humored my 8-year-old daughter by adding an extra-credit question: "When was the [American] Civil War?" *

    I'd give credit for anything within a decade or so. Few got it right. Many couldn't hit the right century. College students.

    * Yes it wasn't a history class, but I didn't care, because she's my /daughter/!

  • apedad||

    My favorite US history question is: Which came first; the Declaration of Independence or the Constitition?

    Easily 75 - 80% of the people I ask don't know.

  • Lee Moore||

    What are the three branches of the federal government?

    Formally there are three branches, but in realty there are four; and the fourth branch – the federal bureaucracy – is the most powerful of them all. Witness the GOP's current "unified control" ☺

    All they really control is a few small islands in the great ocean, which is controlled by the bureaucrats.

    What value is there in knowing about the shell, without knowing about the creature that lives inside it ?

  • Alcibiades||

    "I am not opposed to voter knowledge tests on principle."

    I am.

  • bernard11||

    I am too. All the other exclusions Somin lists are objective. You are under 18, you are not a citizen, you have been diagnosed as severely mentally ill. A test is not like that. Somebody has to make up the questions, and decide what the correct answer is. I certainly don't want politicians doing that, and I don't want Bryan Caplan doing it either.

    And more important, political knowledge is not the only thing in play here. Values have a lot to do with how people vote, and that is a valid way to decide. If a voter finds abortion abhorrent, and simply votes for a candidate who promises to do all he can to outlaw it, then why is that illegitimate, even if the voter doesn't know why we celebrate the 4th of July?

  • Alcibiades||

    Agreed.

    It's a monumentally foolish and sinister idea.

    What if I decided to protest such idiocy by deliberately failing this "test"?
    My protest would result in my disenfranchisement.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    I'd be a bit reluctant to characterize, "you have been diagnosed as severely mentally ill" as objective. In some countries you get that diagnosis for having the wrong opinions.

  • bernard11||

    In some countries you get that diagnosis for having the wrong opinions.

    And in those countries voting doesn't really matter.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Yeah, well the prospect of being declared crazy for expressing the wrong opinions is part of why voting doesn't really matter, isn't it?

    The last administration attempted to take gun ownership rights away from people it thought mentally ill. And, predictably, it defined mental illness VERY broadly.

  • bernard11||

    Ah. We've found the basis for your objection. Somebody somewhere couldn't buy a gun.

    Might have known.

  • jph12||

    Your concern for the rights of marginalized minority group is touching.

  • BILKER||

    oh please great general, lead us to the DEFEAT of sparta this time.

  • Longtobefree||

    This is only a good idea if I get to pick who can or can't vote.

  • Krayt||

    You can't exclude dumb people for various definitions of dumb, not because it's a dumb idea, but because giving government that power will inevitably lead to those wielding it to twist it to their advantage.

    One doesn't allow exceptions for "really good ideas" for the same reason one doesn't for freedom of speech, or the press, or religion.

  • Diane Merriam||

    Voting is a procedural right, not a natural one. Big difference.

  • ToddR||

    The party (gang?) who makes better study guides and gives away more text books will have a clear advantage.

  • ||

    What would happen if the President couldn't vote?

  • CJColucci||

    I've just learned that there is a 1500-character limit for comments. Short version of what I previously wrote:

    1. The main purpose of a system for choosing who runs the government is to be broadly acceptable to the governed so the governed don't grab pitchforks and torches. Whether it leads to good policy is a secondary consideration.
    2. In our time, only elections with a broad franchise are broadly enough acceptable.
    3. Since the ignorant will be subjected to the government along with the well-informed, no system that excludes them from the franchise meets the pitchforks and torches test.
    4. As far as policy goes, ignorance seems to me to be a random variable. The ignorant are about as likely to stumble onto good policy ideas as bad ones, and ignorance seems to be ideologically neutral. Most ignormauses hold an incoherent mash-up of left, right, and centrist ideas.
    5. Almost nobody really knows enough, so any test with a pass rate high enough to meet the pitchforks and torches test will be almost useless.
    6. Basic civics class knowledge, like how many Congresscritters infest the House of representatives, probably has little correlation with issue-informed voting.
    7. Criticising democracy for not producing good policy because of voter ignorance is like criticizing my car for not being able to get me from NYC to Paris. That's not what it's for.

  • bernard11||

    +7.

  • Lee Moore||

    One of those rare occasions when I agree 100% with bernard.

    Since someone mentioned Brexit, I might chip in with a comment or two about "ignorance" pertaining thereto.
    Ignorance about Brexit facts - ie how do EU rules actually apply to goods being imported from other EU members v goods imported from elsewhere - is ubiquitous. Fewer than one in twenty Members of Parliament, never mind mere voters, could hold up one end of a conversation about that without making a crashing factual error within fifteen seconds.

    But the sort of "ignorance" that Somin is referring to is failure to agree with the prognostications of people Somin agrees with about the most likely consequences. Which is not fact but soothsaying. Don't get me wrong - accurate soothsaying is a valuable skill. But voters are confronted with many soothsayers, few of whom have a 100% record of past success. In relation to Brexit, most voters have no detailed knowledge, merely a general impression. The general impression is that the current British government is composed largely of clueless idiots who don't actually want to leave the EU, but are unwilling to say so. And the other side are more clueless yet, and don't care whether Britain is in the EU or not, so long as they get to be the government. And the things is - these general impressions are correct, and perfectly sufficient knowledge to vote.

    So to summarise, ye puffers of let's take away the votes of the "ignorant" - go forth and multiply.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    +1000 just for the wording on #6.

  • VinniUSMC||

    Thanks CJ. I think this is the best comment I've read yet here on Reason. Better than most of the articles too.

  • swood1000||

    Agreed. Requiring the voters to have amount of knowledge that would be required to make an informed decision would exclude 95% of the voters. Furthermore, which approaches will best resolve many economic and national security issues are just guesses anyway, akin to trying to predict the weather a year out. And anyway, we don't live under a system of direct democracy. We elect representatives to become experts and make the decisions on our behalf. All that should be necessary there is for me to know enough about the representative to give me a good reason to believe that he is a competent person and is after the same goals that I am after.

  • jph12||

    "5. Almost nobody really knows enough, so any test with a pass rate high enough to meet the pitchforks and torches test will be almost useless.
    6. Basic civics class knowledge, like how many Congresscritters infest the House of representatives, probably has little correlation with issue-informed voting."

    I probably disagree with Points 1 & 2, but Points 5 & 6 are serious enough critiques to overcome any argument in favor of testing. But I would go even further. Nobody knows enough to write a meaningful test in the first place. Because you are right. What matters is the effect of various policies, not civics trivia, and there's not nearly enough consensus about the answers to those questions to make a meaningful test possible.

  • BILKER||

    most of the voting public could not tell you hom many SENATORS we have. and that's just counting college students.

  • dwb68||

    "public education" is currently controlled by the uber progressive teachers union, so you can guess how education skews. Unfortunately, academia is not much better and skews heavily to one side.

  • Sarcastr0||

    Public education isn't controlled by anyone.

  • Smooth Like a Rhapsody||

    Really? No one?
    So it's all just pure chaos?

  • apedad||

    No, what Sarcastr0 meant is education is not controlled by any one entity.

    There are school boards, teachers, PTAs, tax payers, county/state/federal govts, student groups, school book publishers, NCAA, and other specific groups (music, arts, foreign languages, student UNs, etc.).

  • Eidde||

    I seem to recall that voting restrictions on the mentally ill have been challenged by "voting rights" activists.

    Behold the wave of the future.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Not giving people a whole month to vote in, or requiring that you actually vote where you're registered to vote, has been challenged by "voting rights" activists. Basically, "voting rights activists" are all Democrats, and anything that might even mildly inconvenience somebody who might vote Democratic is viewed by them as a threat to voting rights.

    The exact same restrictions are viewed by them as no big deal in places where there's no prospect of them hurting Democrats. Thus N.C. "violates" voting rights by only having several weeks of early voting, but N.Y. doesn't by having none at all.

  • bernard11||

    You do understand the difference between change and steady state, don't you? Not to mention changes designed with "surgical precision" to disenfranchise blacks?

    Yeah. It is a voting rights issue, however tightly you close your eyes and refuse to admit it. The evidence is plentiful, both in the changes themselves and for their clear motivation.

    You're not a racist and don't want to be thought one, then stop defending racism. To paraphrase, "The way to stop racism is to quit supporting racism."

  • Larvell Blanks||

    You do understand the difference between change and steady state, don't you?

    I believe that is covered by the One-Way Ratchet Clause of the Constitution.

  • Eidde||

    "The word "racism" is like ketchup. It can be put on practically anything — and demanding evidence makes you a "racist.""

    /Thomas Sowell

  • Diane Merriam||

    +10

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    bernard11: "...changes designed with 'surgical precision' to disenfranchise blacks?"

    You do understand that descriptors such as "surgical precision" are mere hyperbole.

  • Careless||

    "mere"? No, more than that. Malicious.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    "Malicious."

    I'll accept the friendly amendment.

  • Larvell Blanks||

    we cannot trust the government to come up with an objective, politically neutral test.

    The idea of voter testing should not be dismissed out of hand.

    I really don't see how the first statement, which is undoubtedly true, leaves room for anything but rejecting voter testing out of hand.

  • bernard11||

    What's this?

    Logic, in a comment thread?

    How dare you?

  • JonFrum||

    "She is also right to suggest that voter ignorance played a key role in both Brexit ..."

    No. A desire to live in a sovereign state - one with a history going back a thousand years - is not a matter of ignorance. Christ, why is this difficult to understand? This sort of thinking is a greater threat to democracy than campus kookiness. Classic example of self-styled elites wanting to gate-keep democracy, and keep the proles in line.

  • Larvell Blanks||

    This kind of thinking is exactly why voter testing would be a horrible idea.

  • MightyMouse||

    There is a severe dignity concern about attribute-based disenfranchisement, I believe.

    Aside from that, I wouldn't be opposed to a civics test to qualify for government assistance, and the earned income tax credit. A curriculum wouldn't need to be anything more than standard high school government class, currently required to graduate in many states.

  • MightyMouse||

    And, passing the same test should be required each year.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Essential questions:

    1. Where was former Pres. Obama born?

    2. Is the Bible a nonfiction work?

    3. Can you identify a recipient of a country music award, a NASCAR driver, or a faith healer?

    4. Is evolution a satanic plot launched from the pits of hell?

    5. Did emails linked to Hillary Clinton's campaign contain code words for pedophilia, human trafficking, and satanic ritual abuse?

    6. Was the crowd attending Pres. Trump's inauguration the biggest ever?

  • TwelveInchPianist||

    Did Sarah Palin incite the Gabby Giffords shooting?

  • Sarcastr0||

    Not a great example...that bit of silliness was gone almost immediately after it's associated news cycle.

    The political delusion stuff AK posted continue to linger on the right.

  • Paulpemb||

    You know that the New York Times and other commentators on the Left were repeating the claim that Sarah Palin incited the Gabby Giffords shooting as recently as last year, right?

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    Paulpemb: "You know that the New York Times and other commentators on the Left were repeating the claim that Sarah Palin incited the Gabby Giffords shooting as recently as last year, right?"

    Please provide a link.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    How about: "Please explain what 'is' is."

    Or -- a little more seriously, to have something on the other side -- "Did emails from the Democratic National Committee show party bias in favor of Hillary Clinton?"

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    A political party favoring a candidate who is a member of that political party? Please continue . . .

  • jph12||

    "Not a great example...that bit of silliness was gone almost immediately after it's associated news cycle."

    Bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit. As with so many of your attempts to excuse the left.

    Not only did ta New York Times editorial blame Palin for Gifford's shooting just last year (and one in the New York Daily News in 2016), but the comments sections of many of the articles pointing out just how asinine the New York Times editorial was included many liberals still insisting there was a connection.

  • Smooth Like a Rhapsody||

    "Is Guam in danger of tipping over due to overpopulation?"

  • floridalegal||

    Are you a religious bigot masquerading and disrespectful of others. For Arthur Kirkland, YES

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Are you a religious bigot masquerading and disrespectful of others.

    Get an education, you bigoted rube. Start with standard English, focusing on sentence construction.

  • juris imprudent||

    Oh Artie, the irony. If only it had been intentional.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Libertarianism does not necessarily entail illiteracy.

    Faux libertarianism, it appears, does.

    (Artie was banned by the Volokh Conspiracy's Censorship Committee. Please be respectful of the Volokh Conspiracy's viewpoint-discriminatory restrictions of expression.)

  • Paul Sand||

    My crackpot idea, hatched after reading the Brennan book cited above: Instead of restricting the political power of voters, approach things at the candidate side. A requirement for running would be to subject yourself to a battery of tests to measure your intelligence (maybe an IQ test); general knowledge and academic achievement (something like the SAT); maybe a quiz on current affairs (where's Aleppo?) or general civic knowledge; maybe specialized queries on economics or science.

    You wouldn't disqualify anyone based on test scores, but you would publicize everyone's scores. Would voters pay attention? Maybe enough on the margin to improve results.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    It would be more to the point to test for sociopathy.

  • Joe_JP||

    I'm not interested in "requirements" before you can vote.

    But, civics education etc. is important. There are ways to improve that. It won't be a panacea but nothing really is. SO, e.g., me not (this is true) receiving basic civics education in high school was a problem. There should be civics classes & I think it would logically be connected to voter registration. Constitutionally, eighteen year olds would still get to vote but maybe like some driver education programs it would be provided a bit early if connected to a civics education class. Or, registration would be part of the class.

    I get a voter guide in the mail that is helpful too but it is incomplete; e.g., it doesn't include judicial races. Pull-outs in local papers might be helpful too. There are a lot of elections this year, e.g., state/federal, in my area & I'm sure it will confuse people. Non-governmental groups can help a lot here too -- neighborhood kiosks can be set up with voter information (different parties can work together on the basic info) etc.

  • jdgalt1||

    Wasn't there a case back in the '50s in which the Supreme Court struck down the use of literacy tests for voting, precisely because Southern jurisdictions were using them to exclude black people?

    If a knowledge requirement were enacted today I expect it would be used similarly, but against a different set of targets (the ones the "social justice" crowd hates).

  • Joe_JP||

    Lassiter v. Northampton County Bd. of Elections [1959], written by Justice William Douglas, upheld a literacy test. It does cite a lower court opinion where such a requirement was struck down as racially discriminatory.

  • Sarcastr0||

    I expect it would

    Conservative fascist liberal fan fiction is always the best.

    Us libs are always a moment from going full Stalin, but for current circumstances!!

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    Sarcastr0: "Us libs are always a moment from going full Stalin, but for current circumstances!!"

    But everyone already knew that.

  • ragebot||

    Fairly easy to come up with an unbiased test. As someone with an undergrad degree specializing in differential geometry I suggest the test should consist of solving three partial differential equations. I would bet all the libtards and all the deplorables would fail and only the cool kids would get to vote.

  • phattyboombatty||

    I have an engineering degree, so I'm all for this.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Heinlein suggested that the voting booth simply require you to solve a quadratic equation before voting. He figured that was something anybody who wasn't mentally impaired could learn to do. So it would test for both whether you were mentally impaired, and whether you cared enough about voting to learn the quadratic equation.

  • bernard11||

    I don't like the idea, but at least it would keep Trump from voting, as well as most or all of his cabinet.

  • ragebot||

    Trump went to a good Bschool which normally requires a lot more math than any law school I know of. I would bet Trump is better at math than Bill or Hillary.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Then why is he so bad at basic concepts such as crowd size, porn star payoff schedules, and how to avoid losing money as a casino operator?

  • Brett Bellmore||

    He lied about the crowd size, the porn star got paid on schedule and violated her contract, and everybody's casinos were losing money at that time.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    I'm not sure he lied. He seems delusional.

    The porn star payoff schedule he botched involved the Cohen reimbursement.

    Your argument about the general casino industry is unpersuasive. Plenty of casinos were built and profitable during the relevant period.

    Other than that, nice comment.

  • bernard11||

    You don't understand. Brett thinks everything Trump has ever done is either normal or outstandingly wonderful.

    Bankruptcies? No big deal. Everyone's businesses go broke.

    Lawsuits? Hey, lots of that.

    Unpaid suppliers and contractors? They probably messed up the job.

    Etc.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    My daughter went to William and Mary, an excellent school that has no undergraduate math requirement. So she's out.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    "excellent school that has no undergraduate math requirement" is an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp. At best, they're an excellent school aside from sucking on math.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    I doubt anyone in the liberal-libertarian is in the market for tips on educational institutions from anyone who likes schools that teach nonsense.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    "At best, they're an excellent school aside from sucking on math."

    I accept the correction.

  • bernard11||

    OK. Here's a hypothetical situation.

    We give Trump a quadratic equation, and allow him fifteen minutes to solve it, with no help.

    How do you bet?

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    I'd bet that he'd devote 15 minutes to trying to cheat.

  • jph12||

    I bet Donald Trump can't do it.

    I also bet that Barack Obama can't do it.

    I also bet that George W. Bush can't do it.

    I also bet that Bill Clinton can't do it.

    If you disagree with my bets, what makes you so confident in the algebraic abilities of the others? I don't remember that ever being a major emphasis of any coverage I remember.

  • bernard11||

    I agree with your bets.

    I was just trying to point out the stupidity of the Heinlein idea advanced by Brett, who probably thinks Trump is a mathematical genius, among other things.

  • jph12||

    But Trump doesn't have a reason to be able to solve the quadratic equation right now. If Heinlein's test was implemented, he would. I bet if Trump wanted to learn to solve the quadratic equation, he could in short order (and that goes for the other three as well). So if you were trying to point out the stupidity of the test, you did a pretty poor job.

  • Brightly||

    Yes, it would be easy to come up with an unbiased test, but it would be far more advantageous to come up with a biased one, and just as easy.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    Even if you did produce an unbiased test, it would inevitably demonstrate disparate impact, and be declared to be biased anyway.

  • phattyboombatty||

    And even if you did produce an unbiased test, you'd still be faced with the biggest problem: biased test givers.

  • phattyboombatty||

    "She is also right to suggest that voter ignorance played a key role in both Brexit and Trump's victory in the 2016 election."

    Undoubtedly, voter ignorance plays a role in every large-scale public vote. But, pointing to Brexit and Trump's victory gives the impression that if a vote does not produce the result that the author desired, then the voters must have been politically ignorant because they did not vote the right way. That's an extremely elitist view. If every voter was fully informed on the issues, who's to say that the Brexit vote and Trump's election would not have resulted in larger majorities for Brexit and Trump?

  • phattyboombatty||

    I understand how it could be very frustrating to a voter that spends hours and hours researching the issues and deciding on the best way to vote, and then another voter comes into the voting booth and makes a choice with "eeny meeny miny moe", and completely cancels out the first vote.

  • TwelveInchPianist||

    Why bother with a test? Just throw out the votes of anybody dumb enough to vote for the wrong candidate.

    Of course, you could have a math test. Say, have somebody calculate the number of jelly beans in a jar on the registrar's desk.

  • CE||

    Low-information voters aren't the main problem, voting is.
    No one should be subjected to the whims of the majority in determining how a good chunk of his money is spent or in how he may peacefully spend his free time.
    Everyone should get to be governed by the government he chooses, and not be subjected to the government selected by those with whom he vehemently disagrees.
    If we can have multiple banks, insurance companies, and credit card agencies, we can have multiple governments in the same geography.

  • Jerry B.||

    "Can we trust Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress to come up with an unbiased test?"

    Could we trust anybody to come up with an unbiased test?

  • gormadoc||

    From now on every voting booth shall have a CAPTCHA.

  • Diane Merriam||

    So why not the citizenship test? Random five questions out of 100. Or maybe using things like math or 3D visualization as qualifying at least the ability to understand abstractions.

    There is no perfect solution and every choice is a trade-off. If we can't make it perfect (and, of course, we can't), can we at least make it better?

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    Dianne M:"So why not the citizenship test?"

    Nope. Won't work. It's the Campbell's Law problem. The more anything -- such as a citizenship test -- is used "for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."

    (See my 9:35 p.m. post. I provide a link)

  • bernard11||

    Math and 3-D visualization? Really?

    I know some very intelligent people who are poor at spatial visualization, and haven't had a math class since they were in college decades ago.

  • ranrod||

    Republic, Republic, REPUBLIC!
    Much more than just a Democracy.. We The People in our U.S. Constitution; the most basic fact of civics, that these united States of America are a republic, a form of government guaranteed by We The People to each of the States in Article IV, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution.
    I'm talking about most of our presidents, members of Congress, university professors, journalists and others who should know better. Like most adults trained in government schools, they believe that Abe Lincoln was our greatest president, a preposterous 'fact' of propaganda on which Washington D.C. has relied for 150 years. In this previous blog article, we offered six books and one website that put that destructive lie to rest once and for all.

    http://freedomoutpost.com/repu.....-republic/

  • ranrod||

    reason . com liberals are the LEFT

    Walter Williams: The word Democracy is found no where in the US Constitution..
    The Founders saw Democracy as another form of Tyranny.
    They condemded the idea of a Democracy.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfkaod0BcCc

  • rsteinmetz||

    Given the history of "literacy tests" in the US administered almost exclusively by Democrats I think any test in unlikely for generations.

    There is an old joke about the black preacher tried to register to vote in the Jim Crow South. He was given a Chinese News Paper to read.
    I can't repeat the punch line because it's no longer allowed.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    He said something along the lines of: "Yes, I can read this. It says that there is no way this n------ is ever going to be allowed to vote."

    See? I snuck it in.

  • DavidTaylor||

    "...administered almost exclusively by Democrats..."

    Well, now I am confused. Republicans today accuse Democrats of wanting to give voting rights and opportunities to illegal aliens, poor black folks without identification, etc. Are these the same Democrats who did not want poor and black people to vote, and used literacy tests and poll taxes to prevent them from doing so? How could that be?

    Or does history happen, and the virulent racists who blocked people from voting in the South left the Democratic party years ago and are now Republicans?

    Please enlighten me.

  • SundanceInGlentucky||

    Trying to tweak democracy is futile - especially by trying to eliminate ignorant voters. By my calculation, half of all voters are ignorant because they are below average (ignorantly stated - half below median intelligence). Eliminate the bottom half, repeat often and I'm left as the only voter. All problems solved.

    The issue is not voters anymore than it's idiots in congress or the white house. We need more judges with balls big enough to protect individual rights. Rule unconstitutional that which is not specifically authorized otherwise the independent and intelligent thinkers will grab their pitchforks and torches.

  • PoxOnBothYourHouses||

    SinG: " repeat often and I'm left as the only voter."

    Walk softly. There's always someone smarter.

  • Longtobefree||

    Ignoring of course, that ignorance is merely lack of specific knowledge, not lack of intelligence.
    The proverbial rocket scientist may be quite intelligent, but ignorant of musical theory, or ignorant of proper sewing techniques.

  • DaneelOlivaw||

    Maybe all those who pass a political knowledge test should be prevented from voting!

  • ||

    Systematic infringement is the logical result when political power is concentrated by individuals (the majority) into a ruling elite who are granted a moral blank check. Getting elected does not make a person wise or ethical. It tends to addict them to power, which erodes their morals and turns them into monsters. How can a set of rules apply to any group who get to judge themselves, e.g., members of govt.? They form an exclusive club to protect themselves at our expense. The public has created a so-called "limit" that the limited get to apply at their pleasure. The so-called public servants serve themselves, in general, with few exceptions. This is not just or wise for us. To tolerate it takes massive self-deception induced by early indoctrination. And the result is chaos, ruin, and increasing discontent. But that is what the "good citizen" deserves for being willfully blind to the fruit that subservience yields. Is self-governance so bad that any lie will be overlooked, any abuse of power rationalized? Apparently so for most. I resist. I find govt. revolting, so I revolt against it. That is my right. It is your right to submit, but not to force me to suffer with you.

  • Bill Goode||

    A test on the Constitution might be a good thing. But any test on issues would be biased. Even a test on statutory law would be biased, many laws are biased and should be done away with.

    A test on the Constitution would be the only valid test.

    We might even consider a test on the Constitution IN ENGLISH for immigrants to become citizens.

  • Longtobefree||

    Turns out you are not familiar with current laws. We are already there.

    From Volume 12 – Citizenship & Naturalization, Part D – General Naturalization Requirements -
    chapter 7: An applicant for naturalization must show that he or she has been and continues to be a person attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during the statutorily prescribed period

    chapter 8: In general, applicants for naturalization must demonstrate an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage. Applicants must also demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history and principles and form of government of the United States (civics). These are the English and civics requirements for naturalization.

  • Hank Phillips||

    No sooner does Reason get rid of masked fascist Napolitano than boom! Another bunch of organized sockpuppets with voter suppression plans. Australia and Brazil force people to vote, so you can see where that goes. Forcing people to abstain is how the Comstock laws passed banning birth control, establishing book-burning censorship and letting prohibitionist zealots rifle the mail.

  • floridalegal||

    This law/rule, while based in common sense, would never past litigation based upon disparate impact that is properly/fully forum shopped for the desired results.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    I am not opposed to voter knowledge tests on principle . . . . As I explained in my critiques of Brennan, Caplan, and Harsanyi, and in Chapter 7 of my book, the biggest problem is that we cannot trust the government to come up with an objective, politically neutral test.

    Note that with that, Somin has made the People's government sovereign over the People themselves. I won't charge Somin with ignorance, but it's definitely backwards.

  • jph12||

    I'm honestly trying to understand your point here. Are you claiming the People should come up with their own objective, politically neutral test, rather than relying on the government to do so?

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    No. I'm saying the government can't test its boss to see whether the boss gets to stay the boss. If the government could do that, then it would become sovereign, and the People's sovereignty would be at an end.

    And by the way, neither could the sovereign people do that, because of the wrinkle that they are sovereign jointly, but subjects individually. The joint sovereign can't single out any party among itself to exclude from sharing the voting power, which is a sovereign prerogative. The moment you decide to test someone, and even before you do test, that person has been excluded from sovereignty.

    Remember that sovereignty is defined by the power to constitute government, at pleasure, and without restriction. So no tests for voting.

  • jph12||

    So how is it that the government is allowed to tell its boss that its boss has to register to be able to vote?

    And how is it that the government tells its boss how old its boss has to be before its boss can vote?

    Or what about felons? How is it that the government gets to decide whether or not a felon is allowed to vote?

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    As I think you know, your questions are answered in the Constitution. As I suspected, you weren't honestly trying to understand. You wanted to pick a fight with the notion of sovereignty. Good luck. You would be on likelier ground arguing against gravity.

    The government is not sovereign. It can't regulate the sovereign. That's the way it is. It's not like that because someone prescribes it. It's like that because nobody knows how to change it.

    As a notion, sovereignty may be subject to critique, to improvement, to a philosophical fiddle from the notionally minded. Sovereignty as a fact works the way the founders said it does, the way Hobbes said it does, the way history says it does.

    Sovereign power controls governments. Nobody controls sovereigns, except by putting an end to their sovereign power. In the U.S., the People are sovereign. Governments, state or federal, can't tell the People how to limit their power, or even how the People may or may not change government. That the People are free to do at their pleasure, without constraint, using whatever methods their sovereign powers enable.

    I understand that libertarians don't like to hear that. Dreams of using courts to suppress government power over individuals founder amid contradictions if you acknowledge it. You have a choice. Figure out a new theory of sovereignty and show how it works differently, or deny history and live as a crank.

  • jph12||

    "As I think you know, your questions are answered in the Constitution."

    You think there's a voter registration requirement in the Constitution? I don't. I don't think it's necessarily barred by the Constitution, but I don't think a test is either. Felon disenfranchisement is certainly permitted by the Constitution, but not required, so again, I really don't see how the Constitution answers the question. Sure, the voting age is set at 18 in the Constitution, but what gave the Government the right to decide that rather than the People? And what about the localities have set younger ages for local elections? What gives them the right to do that?

    "As I suspected, you weren't honestly trying to understand."

    You suspect incorrectly. When you descend from your soaring rhetoric, your notion of sovereignty seems to devolve into a bunch of self-contradictory argle-bargle. The Government can't constrain the People, except when it can. I'm trying to cut through the argle-bargle and get some details, which you seem unwilling to provide.

  • jph12||

    "You wanted to pick a fight with the notion of sovereignty. Good luck. You would be on likelier ground arguing against gravity."

    No, I'm suggesting your notion of sovereignty is virtually meaningless. All you do is capitalize People as if that's a meaningful argument.

    "Nobody controls sovereigns, except by putting an end to their sovereign power. In the U.S., the People are sovereign. Governments, state or federal, can't tell the People how to limit their power."

    But you've already admitted that the Government can impose registration requirements, disenfranchise felons, and set the voting age. How is a testing requirement different?

    "Governments, state or federal, can't tell the People how to limit their power, or even how the People may or may not change government. That the People are free to do at their pleasure, without constraint, using whatever methods their sovereign powers enable."

    Except, I bet if you had left it to the People to decide, there wouldn't have been a Civil War. Because the People of the Confederacy wanted to form their own nation to perpetuate the institution of slavery, and I'm willing to bet that the People of the United States didn't care enough about the Supremacy Clause to go to war. So it seems like the Government can tell the People how to limit their power.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    The Civil War? Anytime you find yourself resorting to historical counter-factuals to justify political philosophy, you ought take that as indication that your philosophy may be unsupportable.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    I agree that capitalizing "People," can be annoying—I pause every time I have to do it. But I have to do it, for clarity. Because of the dual nature of the American people—jointly as the sovereign, individually as subjects—the capitalization serves to distinguish when the former meaning is intended. It is also useful to do it that way, because it unmistakably alludes to the founders' famous usage in the Constitution—where reference to sovereign power is literal and unambiguous.

  • jph12||

    "I understand that libertarians don't like to hear that. Dreams of using courts to suppress government power over individuals founder amid contradictions if you acknowledge it."

    No it doesn't. Even under your pointless definition, the People put the judicial branch and judicial review in the Constitution, just like the People gave the legislative and executive branches the power to make laws. How is it that it's okay for the Constitution to tell us who can vote, which you now seem to accept, but not that Laws are subject to judicial review? Laws aren't enacted by the People. They are enacted by the Government. Why are you trying to constrain the Power of the People?

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    Sure, the voting age is set at 18 in the Constitution, but what gave the Government the right to decide that rather than the People? And what about the localities have set younger ages for local elections? What gives them the right to do that?

    Let that stand in for all your other misunderstandings—all based on similarly founded conflations, in which you intermix notions of sovereignty and government, to your confusion.

    Government did not decide to set the voting age at 18; that was done by Constitutional amendment. Everything you find in the Constitution is there by sovereign decree, from the People themselves, not from government. And what the sovereign does is not done by right, but at pleasure, and thus not subject to limitation—not by laws, not by courts, not by anything, except by countervailing power.

    All your other quibbles get the same answer. The Constitution decrees that states exercise the power to qualify electors. But that has one inherent limitation—inherent because it is in the nature of sovereignty—states may not encroach on the sovereign when they do it. Tests would do that. The other stuff, not so much.

  • jph12||

    "Government did not decide to set the voting age at 18; that was done by Constitutional amendment."

    Sure, but the government amended the Constitution, not the People. The 26th Amendment was adopted by the both houses of the legislative branch of the federal government and went into effect after it was ratified by the legislative branches of 38 states. That's the government. Calling that the People is just meaningless argle-bargle.

    "Everything you find in the Constitution is there by sovereign decree, from the People themselves, not from government."

    Like judicial review and the protection of individual rights, but somehow that doesn't count in your world. Meaningless argle-bargle.

    "But that has one inherent limitation—inherent because it is in the nature of sovereignty—states may not encroach on the sovereign when they do it. Tests would do that. The other stuff, not so much."

    In other words, you don't have an answer, so you are going to pretend that there's a meaningful difference between voter registrations and testing. Or setting the minimum voting age and testing. Or disenfranchising felons and testing. Meaningless argle-bargle.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    What you call, "meaningless argle-bargle," is a distinction acknowledged decades ago by the Supreme Court, with regard to literacy tests. As with my other points about the notion of sovereignty, it is not something I just made up to prescribe as an ideal I thought would be nice to have. What I have said echoes the founders, it recalls history, it conforms to centuries-old political philosophy which has never been successfully challenged, and it is proved by human experience across every nation which has demonstrated a power to endure.

    Against that libertarians daily expound theories founded in no experience at all. Indeed, libertarian ideology amounts to pure reason, reiterated endlessly, despite contrary experience. You like the sound of, "meaningless argle-bargle," and reiterate that as a substitute for reference to experience—apparently without noticing that only experience is evidence. That makes you a typical libertarian. Which is why the world regards libertarians as cranks.

  • jph12||

    "What you call, "meaningless argle-bargle," is a distinction acknowledged decades ago by the Supreme Court, with regard to literacy tests."

    One of your problems is that you are so sure of so many thing that just aren't true. The Supreme Court did not strike down literacy tests. This is what the Supreme Court said:

    "The present requirement, applicable to members of all races, is that the prospective voter "be able to read and write any section of the Constitution of North Carolina in the English language." That seems to us to be one fair way of determining whether a person is literate, not a calculated scheme to lay springes for the citizen. Certainly we cannot condemn it on its face as a device unrelated to the desire of North Carolina to raise the standards for people of all races who cast the ballot."
    Lassiter v. Northampton County Bd. of Elections, 360 U.S. 45 (1959).

    Note that the Supreme Court specifically said that a state government deciding to raise the standards for its electors was acceptable. In partial response to this holding, because in reality the state governments were not using the literacy tests fairly, the federal government passed the Voting Rights Act limiting the use of literacy tests, then the federal government amended the Voting Rights Act to prohibit their use. The federal government decided that the state governments were placing undue restrictions on the right of minorities to vote. The People had nothing to do with it.

  • JFree||

    The underlying 'concern' here - that the wrong people just have too much influence - is why voting itself (re elections of others) is the problem. So it can't be 'fixed'.

    Sparta voted and the result was ultimately oligarchy

    Athens selected by lot (see Constitution of Athens by Aristotle?). And when you really think about it - the ignorant person SHOULD be involved in drafting laws. Like directly involved - not just as a 'voter'. They are expected to obey those laws - and suffer the consequences of not obeying them - and 'ignorance' will never be deemed an acceptable excuse for that failure. If only 'test-passers' vote, then it is 100% guaranteed that laws will be written with loopholes for the test-passers that only apply in force to the failers. ie - oligarchy.

    If the ignorant should be part of the legislature itself so laws themselves are written to be understood, the only way to ensure that is random selection of critters.

  • Mark22||

    Sortition (representatives drawn by lot) was considered the only acceptable form of democracy in Athens; representative "democracy" was believed to lead to a kind of undemocratic aristocracy. It's something we could easily implement in the US. Modern variants include demarchy.

    Panarchy (or panachracy) is another related form that allows the individual to subject themselves to any government choose regardless of where they live; it is really nearly identical to libertarianism or anarcho-capitalism.

  • Careless||

    No mention of the fact that such a test would disproportionately disenfranchise women, blacks, and Latinos?

  • Mark22||

    Can We Help Save Democracy by Requiring Voters to Pass a Test of Political Knowledge?

    No. In fact, that would be the quickest way of destroying it. It also starts from the incorrect premise that people vote the way they do out of ignorance. Voting patterns speak a different language. Welfare recipients and billionaire Silicon Valley tycoons tend to vote Democratic not out of ignorance but because it's in their interest. And middle class families tend to vote Republican, again not out of ignorance, but because it's in their interest.

    The problem of political ignorance does not, by itself, justify across-the-board libertarianism. But it does suggest we should have a government substantially smaller and less complicated than what we have now.

    Political ignorance by voters is a bad justification for libertarianism or small government. Government should be small because big government violates property rights and freedom of association, and because big government invariably engages in harmful and corrupt behavior. No other justification for small government is needed.

  • retiredfire||

    "Ultimately, the ideal democracy is one in which as many citizens as possible vote, and the voters are armed with the most objective information...."
    Sure seemed to skip over the whole "armed with the most objective information" part.
    So long as we have a media that is overwhelmingly leftist, we won't have anything close to the "ideal democracy".
    Brexit and the election of Donald Trump - both opposed by the dominant media - showed that, on rare occasions, the voters see past the media propaganda, but, by and large, the media steers our democracy to the left.
    Better to hold the media to account for fake news than to try to test people on civics.

  • PublicNameNotInUse||

    Can't help but notice that the people who blame "bad" election results on voter ignorance never seem to be able to grasp the fact that others would say that it was a "good" outcome based on voter preferences.

  • FlameCCT||

    Voter testing is no different than a poll tax!

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Dambisa Moyo was on Morning Joe yesterday (I can't find the interview on Youtube, and I'm not about to set up an account on MSNBC's website to view it there). I don't know anything about her politics, but she comes across as a big-government globalist.

    When you argue that politicians need to be elected for LONGER terms (actually pointing out that presidents have shorter terms in democracies, as if that's a bad thing), you've lost any credibility with me.

  • ||

    Obviously, given the history of literacy tests, any knowledge-based test for voting is a non-starter. What may not be is a knowledge-based test for candidates.

  • JonFrum||

    So wrong in so many ways .... I browsed through the comments, and didn't find this: Any test you can imagine is going to produce results that correlate at least loosely with intelligence. Given that African Americans as a population score a full standard deviation below the total population in IQ, the racial difference produced by the test will be dramatic.

    When said African Americans get voting rights pulled in huge numbers, can we give them Ilya Somin's name and address, and send them to him to complain?

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Which would be greater, JonFrum . . . the number of African-Americans pulled, or the number of white Trump voters pulled?

    Thanks for playing, clinger.

  • Jhericles Katz-Nelson||

    Trump won the white college-educated vote, according to CNN's exit poll.

    www.cnn.com/election/2016/results/exit-polls

  • Alex W.||

    Anyone else see the irony of the author writing about a political competency test to vote while referring to our political system as a 'democracy'?

  • Jhericles Katz-Nelson||

    It's just shorthand, like "Democratic Party". Nothing worth making a stink over, and a poor place to attempt a show of your erudition.

    Etymologically speaking, the terms are equivalent; democracy means "people power" in Greek, whilst republic means "people power" in Latin.

  • Peter Schaeffer||

    Any analysis of the election of 1932 would have shown better educated voters preferring Hoover and less educated voters favoring FDR. Were the better educated voters right? The less educated voters wrong? It is still true that Republicans are (on average) better informed than Democrats (on average). Does that make Republicans "better" than Democrats.

    The very idea that education produces better political choices is absurd. Take a look at Bryan Caplan's "facts". For him, they are "true". Plenty of other people would disagree. Take a look at the gobbledygook taught on American college campuses. Mostly PC intolerance pretending to be "facts".

  • Longtobefree||

    Well, how about we just require a carry permit in order to vote?
    Surely any current restrictions on a basic constitutional right cannot be burdensome to the right to vote, can they? And getting a permit in most states requires a test, so there we are.

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