The Naiveté of Universal Suffrage

Candidates running on openly socialist platforms are actually getting votes these days. It seems communism has again reared its ugly head. I’m beginning to think it’s one of those things that crops up semi-centurially. We’ve all been warned that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, and yet we can’t help ourselves. It’s a big in the human code. For those of us who can recall (or read) history, we understand the implications of such ideas. Fortunately, ‘red fever’ isn’t much more than a perennial nuisance and merely needs extirpated as a matter of course.

That being said, I often get to thinking about the pitfalls of (near) universal suffrage. This consummately Democratic principle is a beautiful thought, but like socialism, is not sustainable in practice. Every civilization in recorded human history that has utilized an electorate has discriminated in one manner or another between those who should be allowed to vote and those who should not. Not even in ancient Greece, the nation upon which our very Democracy is founded, did not have universal suffrage. We are no different. For instance, we discriminate based on age. Those under the age of eighteen may not vote. It’s in the constitution. We also don’t allow prisoners to vote, and most people don’t argue the efficacy of such criminality-based discrimination. Thus, the debate is not over whether discrimination is acceptable (clearly it is), the debate is over what kind of discrimination is acceptable.

It’s  certainly a tough question, and for the longest time I’ve struggled to isolate what would be the most efficient way to separate those with an eye for the future and those who see only two feet in front of their noses. There needs to be some determinant of responsible voting.

What is responsible voting? It’s the opposite of self-interested voting. It’s all too easy to vote for the candidate who vows to give you whatever it is you want whenever it is you want it. Unfortunately, what is immediately beneficial to you is almost never what is beneficial to the nation (and thus, to you) in the long term. If you’re in prison serving a life sentence, and one candidate is tough on crime (which is undeniably good for the nation in the long term), and the other candidate says “I’ll let ya out!”, why would you vote for anyone else?

I watched a video recently from what appeared to be the late 70s or early 80s. A reporter was asking young Americans (high school age, early college?) what they thought about the politics of the time, and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of maturity in their demeanor. Their responses may not have been the most profound, but the questions were at least taken seriously, and the young students actually put in some thought to their responses. They even managed to string together a number of sentences without the ‘like’s and ‘um’s characteristic of a newer generation. And they certainly weren’t distracted by their dadgum phone. These young adults seemed responsible.

A suffrage exam ought to be implemented to separate those who are capable and willing to vote responsibly from those who cannot or will not. This should include history questions about socialist nations and their unsavory ends. If a prospective voter cannot say, for example, what was the result of the Soviet Union in terms of human capital, then perhaps they should not have the right to vote. The suffrage exam should also evaluate candidates voter fitness based on ethics and instincts, not unlike the way most law enforcement cadets are evaluated.

There may have been a time in the past where an eighteen year old could reasonably be expected to possess the maturity necessary to help steer the ship of government away from the craggy shoals of communism and deficit spending, but it doesn’t seem that way today. In any case, it won’t matter because one inherent advantage to the suffrage test is that it does not discriminate based on age. In fact, it doesn’t discriminate on any basis save for the individual voter’s concern for the long-term health of their nation.

And there really is no excuse not to be a responsible voter; never before has access to education been so universal. Free online college courses, Ubiquitous Wi-Fi, “smart” phones in every pocket (notice those sassy quotes). All it really takes is either the God-given instinct for sussing out bullshit, or the self-made determination to separate the pearls of wisdom from the dross. So ask yourself, if a person has neither of these qualities, should they have the responsibility of voting? It’s a perfect system; a naturally filtering mechanism.

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