A Call for Voting Reform
Every society with a government has had to ask this question: who should govern? This question has long daunted civilization and we have come up with many ingenious ways to answer it. Civilizations throughout history have tried to answer this question by setting up monarchies, aristocracies, oligarchies, and even dictatorships. The problem with these kinds of government is that power is held power by only a minority, and they often used their power to satisfy their selfish desires, even at the expense of the good of the nation. Some have tried to solve this problem by raising up democracies which put power in the hands of the people. However, people are often ignorant, and the squabbling in democracy hampers the state's ability to make strong and intelligent decisions. Democratic republics, which are the governing types we have now, attempts to solve this problem by giving the people the power of electing representatives to govern, and these representatives are able to make the decisions necessary to promote the common good. One great flaw of democracy is that the people who vote for their representatives in government are not always informed and may not choose the representatives who are intelligent or honest. This problem can be solved by requiring all voters to take a test which rates their critical thinking skills, their knowledge of our founding documents, history, and the issues, and another test which rates their knowledge of the candidates, and recent events, because we need an intelligent electorate to elect responsible and intelligent representatives to deal with the issues facing us today and in the future.
We need responsible and intelligent representatives at the helm of our nation because we need the best people possible to protect us from enemies inside and outside our nation, and to make laws which ensure our prosperity and tranquility. The decisions the government makes affect everyone, and affects the future of our nation, whether glorious or disastrous. These decisions are often not easy to make and are controversial. If there was a simple right and wrong in making them, we would not have so much disagreement over what our government should do. For example, an issue that is very complex is global warming. Many scientists say that our climate is getting warmer and that the buildup in greenhouse gasses we have been causing is the culprit. Politicians must decide whether a connection exists between CO2 emissions and our warming climate. After this, they must discover about how much warming our emissions are causing, how much damage this warming can cause, and agree on a course of action which should be taken to stop this warming if it is found that we are causing global warming and we should do something. In order to make this decision, politicians will need extensive knowledge of climate science, and know how climate change affects human civilization. If we are causing global warming and do nothing to stop it, then many people will suffer from rising sea levels, stronger hurricanes, and drought. If we are not causing global warming, and we assume that we are, and cut CO2 emissions, we can create plenty of financial hardship for ourselves.
Politicians also have to deal with other issues, and one of them is economics. Economics is a controversial and complex field, and an understanding of how our economy works is vital to make decisions about it. Many mistakes can be made when politicians try to help the economy and do not anticipate the unintended consequences of their actions. One example of this is given by the U.S. Department of State in an article titled; Smoot-Hawley Tariff. The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act passed in 1930 raised tariffs on foreign imports to record levels. This act was passed to help American farmers compete with foreign farmers during the Great Depression. However, this act produced some unintended consequences. After the U.S. raised tariffs on many foreign imports, foreigners raised tariffs on U.S. exports; reducing international trade and making the great depression even worse (1). Politicians also need to have some knowledge of the issues of ethics and philosophy. One issue which depends on this knowledge is the abortion debate. This knowledge is vital to advancing justice and equity. It takes critical, objective, and rational thought on economics, science, and philosophy, in order to be a good representative of the people. A good politician needs experience and knowledge, thinking skills and critical thought, and morals and ethics.
My first voting test will rate people’s knowledge on the different perspectives of the issues, our founding documents, our history, and critical thinking. In order to be able to know which politicians should be elected, voters need to possess at least some basic knowledge of political topics. For example, in order to judge who should be in office to deal with global warming, voters need to have knowledge about global warming and climate science. Voters who are uninformed may vote for politicians who are inexperienced, unintelligent, and corrupt. In order to be able to judge who we need at the head of our nation, we need voters who are familiar with our constitution and founding documents because these documents are the basis of our national government and they give voters an idea on what our government is like. With this knowledge, voters will know the responsibilities and limitations that our constitution imposes on our government and voters can also use their knowledge to see if their representatives have been following our constitution. If our constitution is flawed, voters will have the knowledge to support politicians who will change it. Voters also need to be aware of our national history. Having some knowledge of our past trials and how our leaders reacted to them will give voters some knowledge of the kind of things we need to do in the present and future because history repeats. Voters also need to be informed on the issues facing our nation because this will give them the ability to judge if the actions of their representatives will be beneficial. Politicians will act on their opinions of the issues so it is important that voters have investigated the issues and know both sides to them. It is also important that voters possess basic critical thinking skills in order to judge politicians and decide on what should be done. Many issues, such as the Iraq War and economic issues, require critical thought.
The purpose of this test is to be an entrance exam for voting, and only has to be taken once. However this entrance exam will be moderately difficult and will require a thorough reading of the textbooks the government will provide. In order to vote, both tests must be passed. The information on the issues will be provided by people from all points of view and collected by the government. This exam will be free and it can be taken online, or at a government facility.
Having some knowledge of all this is not enough. Voter must be aware of recent events and news. Knowledge of the battle over healthcare in congress, and swine flu will make voters better able to decide what should be done and who would do it best. Voters must also know about the candidates and what they stand for. In order to judge who should be in government, voters must know who they are judging. Voters should have a general knowledge of the voting records of their representatives. This insures that voters what exactly their representatives are doing. Voters should have to take a test on all this information before every election because recent events and politicians are always changing. Because voters will have to take this test every time they vote, this test will not be difficult and will only take a good reading of material given to them. These tests I have described will insure that voters will be knowledgeable enough to make informed judgments on those who wish to be their government. Isn't it reasonable that judges should have the knowledge and ability to judge?
As it now stands, many Americans voters are woefully lacking in the knowledge I have outlined. This is dangerous to democracy as President John Kennedy said, “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all" (1). In order for voters to be informed, they must follow recent events and political news. According to Gallup, a leading polling organization, in 2009 36% of Americans followed political news closely, while the other 64% of Americans either follow political news only somewhat closely, not too closely, or not at all closely (2). In 2008, which was the election year in which Barack Obama and John McCain ran for president, 42% of Americans, less than half, payed close attention to political news (1). In the 2008 national elections, 56.8% of Americans voted. Doing the math, this means that at least 14.8% of Americans are uninformed and voted. However, this is assuming that all people who could vote and followed political news closely did vote. Since fewer than 100% of people who followed political news closely voted, more than 14.8% of voters did not care to do a good job of following political news. Even when many Americans followed political news closely, they might not have been informed on the voting record of the candidates. So a large proportion of voters in 2008 were uniformed.