Saturday, 25 June 2016

Should citizens be required to pass a test to earn the right to vote?

Let me see if I can make a compelling case for such a test.

Voting is a hard-earned right, but it is also a privilege. For any electoral system claiming fair representation of the will of the people, there is something disturbing about the notion that the vote of a person who strives to stay informed about current political and social issues carries the same weight as the vote of a politically apathetic person who votes for someone because their physical characteristics appeal to them or because their parents or spouse told them so. One person - one vote is truly representative when the voter has personal opinions which they can express (or not, if they choose to) in a secret ballot.

So let us consider for a moment how a Voting Rights Test (VRT) might be employed to ensure a better representation of the will of the electorate. We start with the principle of one person, one vote, with the proviso that voting rights are earned upon successfully passing the VRT, irrespective of age, colour, religion, sex, creed etc. If you are 10 and successfully pass the test, congratulations, you can vote. People convicted of a felony may temporarily forfeit their right to vote, depending on the severity of the crime.

How could such a test be constructed to focus on its empowering character (as with earning a driving license) and not disenfranchise anyone unnecessarily? It could use a combination of multiple choice and simple yes/no questions to evaluate the examinee’s understanding of current socio-political issues. They should rely exclusively on factual information. For example:

• The UKIP supports a five-year embargo on benefits for migrants. Yes/No
• The Labour Party supports joining the Euro. Yes/No
• The Conservative Party supports staying in the EU. Yes/No

The questions could be set and evaluated by a committee of representatives from the entire political spectrum every year (so that they reflect current socio-political reality) and would all be available (including detailed answers) online for anyone to peruse at their leisure. A random subset of these questions would feature on the actual test. The purpose of this would be to ensure that every person that goes to vote, irrespective of where they stand on the political spectrum, has at least a basic understanding of the issues involved.