Should Ignorance Preclude Voting Rights?

Today CNN published an op-ed by columnist LZ Granderson in which he asks the provocative question, “Should ignorant people be allowed to vote?” It is a very interesting column and I recommend everyone to read it and watch the accompanying video (though the video is unrelated to the editorial).

There is an interesting point here, to be sure. On its surface I agree with Mr. Granderson’s sentiment and his direct push for personal responsibility and informed decision making. I think it is despicable that many Americans spend way more time doing research to support their fantasy football team or in preparation for a looming choice in their ESPN draft then they do in seeking knowledge of the inner workings of our government and how exactly it effects them/us. I also find it personally embarrassing that immigrants seeking citizenship are expected to pass a basic United States civics quiz that many Americans cannot even achieve a 50% grade on themselves.

Of course, requiring intellectual tests (and other requirements) in order to vote has been tried in this country before, much to the detriment of civil liberties. Mr. Granderson knows and understands this, but I do think, presumably as he does, that 2011 America is a vastly different environment with regard to information availability and access than pre-Civil Rights Movement era America was (which helped enable such persecution to a certain degree). The design and intent of what he is referring to is admittedly intriguing, but does not guarantee that government cannot or will not abuse or misuse such an awesome power of influence. By now most of you can probably guess what my natural leanings are in this arena.

I agree with his embrace of the “elite” in this specific context, though I would refer to this as a meritocratic approach to electing our leaders in order to delineate between what he is discussing and elitism based on class, economic, or social status. I also agree with his assertion that campaigns often seek to capitalize on the easily misled in society and the general implication that we are far too ignorant of such an important topic for our own good, but I submit that his is a dangerously slippery approach nonetheless. Mr. Granderson points out that the Constitution “does not explicitly say [suffrage] is a federal right,” which is one key point with which I disagree because he is clearly lawyer-balling the ratified agreement to squeeze in an unintended restriction. On principle, I cannot support such an approach because if this is true for voting rights then what else is it applicable to as well? What component of the Constitution can survive such twisted scrutiny?

A free person’s right to choose his/her government leadership is a natural one – one which was a significant catalyst for the Founders’ push for independence and a vital contributor in the subsequent formation of a new, experimental form of government. To say this is not a federal right simply because some (possibly many or most) are in the dark is not in keeping with the Natural Law, even despite the unfortunate and obvious risks. We possess a natural right to procreate (with a willing partner of course) yet many of us are not emotionally ready or mature and knowledgeable enough to do an excellent job (or even decent job in some cases) right off the bat (or ever)… yet there is no test to decide to become a parent.

I would recommend that if voting by the ignorant is a scary prospect for you, as it is for Mr. Granderson and I, then let’s try to alleviate this ignorance where and when we can, as best we can, rather than targeting individual rights for limitation. But then again, in many places the fundamental right to keep and bear arms comes with a registration process much like voting, and also comes with a pre-screening for individual eligibility. Come to think of it, if it is good for gun owners then why can it not be good for voters as well?…

I have to admit, the more I ponder this particular topic the more internally conflicted I become (kudos, Mr. Granderson). Please feel free to leave me your thoughts on the matter.

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  1. The Oligarchs Count on Our Ignorance |

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