Should voters be tested for competency?Imagine two American voters. Voter A is extremely up-to-date on the issues of the day. She has taken the time to learn about The World and Washington...

Should voters be tested for competency?

Imagine two American voters.

Voter A is extremely up-to-date on the issues of the day. She has taken the time to learn about The World and Washington and has read widely about political theory. She is well informed.

However, Voter isn't. He does not possess any facts and has no idea of 'The World'. He can't explain the most basic political concepts, nor recognise central players like Tony Blair, Hugo Chavez, Jimmy Carter, etc. He is a political vacuum.

On polling day, B's vote and A's vote carry the same weight. Why? Does this seem fair? Or even safe?

Let's suppose, before you vote, you must answer 10 simple questions about politics and current affairs. These questions would be randomly selected by a computer from a PRE-PUBLISHED list of 250 potential questions. In other words, these questions would be freely available, weeks before the election, with the answers.

Your vote is 'worth' the number of questions you get right. If you get ten questions right, your vote is worth ten points for your chosen candidate. Get six questions right and your vote is worth six points. Get no questions right and your vote is worth nothing.

Is this ethical? Is it workable?

Asked on by memes

8 Answers

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

No way.  There's no way to objectively decide which things people ought to know.  There's no way to decide objectively how well they should know the various things.

When I teach, I often think that I wish I could decide who gets to vote, but I realize that there is no good way to do that.  The only ways to do it would end up just disenfranchising the people that someone (whoever makes the rules) doesn't like.

So I think your idea of the computer bank of questions and such is about as good an idea as you could have, but I don't think there's any way to come up with 250 questions, all of which are truly relevant.  For example, let's say I don't know Hugo Chavez is the dicator of Cuba (joke).  Are we sure that that is relevant?  Why are we sure?  The same goes for so many other questions...

ask996's profile pic

ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

WOW-this is crazy. As mentioned, this was done away with this with the passage of the voting rights act, and I don't think we want to get this started again. Consider the problems:Who gets to determine the "basic" questions? Who grades the tests? How do we ensure that all voting eligble people have the same access to learning the "important" stuff? People are different, and they are interested in different things. Is it frustrating that people don't vote the way I think they should or seem to vote irresponsibly? Yes, but that's part of the checks and balances of our democracy.

besure77's profile pic

besure77 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

Like some of the other responders said, it may be a good idea in theory but it would not work and it is unethical. To begin with, even though the questions would be available in advance, there is no guarantee that everyone would have access to these questions.

In this country everyone is supposed to be equal, this even means their votes. For sure some voters are more informed than others but here in the U.S. everyone has the same rights, whether they are informed or not.

brettd's profile pic

brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

While it may seem like a good idea in theory, and I admit there are times when I wonder what the majority of voters are thinking, there is no way to do this without ultimately placing the power to deny someone's right to vote in a few hands, and this means there is no real way to guarantee that the power won't be abused.  It certainly has been in the past, against African-Americans, immigrants and Jews in particular.

lrwilliams's profile pic

lrwilliams | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

Wouldn't this be similar to the literacy tests blacks were given and had to pass after the Voting Rights Act was signed into law? While I agree that it is frustrating that people who do not try to be informed vote and have an effect on the outcome of elections I do not think this plan would be constitutional or ethical.

User Comments

frizzyperm's profile pic

frizzyperm | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

I have always wanted to represent my country at football. But, were I to apply to the team, I would be told, in no uncertain terms, that I totally fail to meet the required level of ability and that I am too old. And I would be perfectly legally excluded.

I have always wanted to sleep with girls as beautiful as Jennifer Aniston or Scarlett Johansson, but have always been told, in no uncertain terms, that I totally fail to meet the required level of desireablity (and that I am too old!). And I am perfectly legally excluded. (aw shucks, *sniff*, poor old me)

I have always wanted to eat every night in 5-stars restaurants, but have been told, in no uncertain terms, that I totally fail to meet the required level of financial liquidity. And I am perfectly legally excluded.

I have always wanted to ... etc etc etc etc

Our society is not equal. We discriminate at every turn. Everyone is not born equal. And nobody believes they are. This huge taboo that the voting system must never be weighted is so deeply ingrained in our liberal beliefs that we will not dare to consider it for a second... why?

Yes, I think a well-organised system of weighted voting is a good idea. Just like I think Sarah Palin as president is a horrifying, but possible future event for the USA, brought about by the cynical manipulation of The Stupid Vote. Why shouldn't an ignorant vote be diminished in favour of a more informed one? Our entire society is struggling to be a decent, fair, open meritocracy, shouldn't our electoral system reflect this?

beefheart's profile pic

beefheart | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 3) Honors

Posted on


Come on, let's be honest, at least half of the American electorate would more-likely elect a well-known, fluff-headed celeb than a sober, grave and professional administrator. Jesse Ventura? Sarah Palin? R. Reagan? This is a situation which could be improved.

You say this suggested system descriminates against certain groups... hell yeah! The stupid, lazy and ignorant! There is no other sphere of life where the S., L. or I. are promoted and welcomed. Why should it be so with selecting our supreme leaders?

You could 'flip the coin' and present this system not as a barrier to the uneductaed, but as a reward to the informed. It is a positive thing which attempts to encourage people to take an interest in politics.

memes's profile pic

memes | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted on


The questions could be drawn up by a cross-party committee of politicians and academics and would include only those questions which are unanimously agreeable to all concerned.

And the voter doesn't need to know the answers independently. The Qs and As will be placed in the public domain well in advance of the election. So those voters who care about their vote can make a little effort and study the questions. I think this system has promise. It does not exclude any particular group (unlike the literacy tests for black voters mentioned in Post2) and is a universal hurdle placed in front of every voter. It simply reduces the influence of those voters who are not interested in making an informed choice.