The universal suffrage movement was a long struggle in the United States. It was heroically fought for by men and woman of all different backgrounds. Thankfully, the discriminatory policies that sought to limit voting rights for citizens have largely been eliminated in the 21st century. However, is it really wise to grant everyone that turns 18 the right to vote in America?
When our burgeoning nation first started out in our grand democratic experiment, only about 10 to 15 percent of citizens could actually vote. Owning property was considered a necessary perquisite to participating in elections. While this certainly unfairly discriminated against the majority of the entire populace, it did ensure that the people that voted were educated with a vested interest in all affairs.
Obviously it is completely unfair in our modern views on morality to limit voting to only the rich. However, just throwing around voting rights to everyone that is born here can potentially be reckless, especially if and when voting is controlled by an uneducated majority. It is often said that people will not necessarily vote for their own personal best interests. This comes down to being uneducated about who and what the people they are electing are actually capable of doing. A good example is blaming the President over high fuel prices when the executive office actually has little control over such a thing.
It is perhaps unfair to say people don’t vote in their best interests. When farmers or many working class people vote Republican when their economic interests would seem to be Democratic, it can be said that they are voting for their values: how they were raised. The same is true for a rich person voting Democratic, despite likely incurring higher taxes. Thus, can it be said that personal values perhaps trump rational, logical interests?
A few years back, a report came out that one in three Americans would fail the citizenship test. So 33 percent of Americans would not even qualify to immigrate to this country, but they are allowed to vote? Something seems wrong about that. Perhaps instead of granting voting rights to everyone at 18, the age should be pushed back at least a decade so that the rashness of youth and influences of parents are not still fresh on voters’ minds. However, military or civil service or a college education could allow for voting when those careers are commenced, so that educated people or defenders of the nation are not left out.
For those thinking this too extreme, consider the restrictions already placed on Americans. Many people that are incarcerated are denied the vote. And, America has the highest proportion of its population in prison in the industrialized world, even more than China or Russia. Furthermore, many states require proof of address to register to vote. This largely negates any of the homeless that do in fact live there and have a vested interest in who gets elected. So, clearly, universal suffrage is not a reality in America; it is an illusion.
There used to be things known as poll taxes and literacy tests in many Eastern states, which had clear racist intentions behind them to deny minorities the chance to vote. But requiring every person registering to vote in America to pass a citizenship test would ensure that the people who voted were at least somewhat educated and aware of the real workings of government. Seventy-five percent of respondents in the survey where 33 percent of Americans failed the test did not know what the Judicial Branch does. While it would be irresponsible to extrapolate this and generalize all Americans as this ignorant, a number even approaching three fourths of the populace would be a sad and frightening figure indeed.
Perhaps making or changing laws is really not the problem here. Instead, the sad fact is that many people are just ignorant of the actual political processes and workings of the government to make educated voting decisions. It is dangerous to leave the course of the nation to an uninitiated majority. But, nor should these people be closed out or restricted from civil participation. Instead, it should be a national priority to teach people how the government works in impactful civics courses that are free to the public. Instead it is shameful that American citizens, potentially voters, cannot even pass a citizenship test.
Res Stecker does not fear things such as citizenship tests. Feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A suffrage overhaul wouldn’t be an awful idea — maybe we should earn the right to vote.
Many Americans can’t pass a citizenship test, and yet we still allow them to vote in a system they don’t understand
Voting is not necessarily a right, but something for which you should have to work