Another example of our commitment to highly democratic elections is that literacy tests have, for almost a century now, been virtually eliminated so citizens now need no more qualifications to vote than to have passed their 18th birthday.
I want to argue here that a voting-readiness test should be reinstated. Why? First, because it's much more difficult today to cast a wise vote. Candidates' positions on issues are more much difficult to understand because much more complex issues are at play in our global, information- and technology-centric society. At the same time, candidates are spending enormous sums on highly sophisticated Madison-Avenue messaging consultants from Frank Luntz on the right to President Obama's dream team of influencing experts on the Left. Every campaign commercial or speech is based on computer analysis of focus groups' dial ratings of every word. Such efforts not only dwarf the election propaganda techniques used when voter literacy tests were banned, those efforts dwarf even the efforts of Josef Goebbels, Hitler's infamous Minister of Propaganda. It is extremely difficult to vote wisely.
So it's no surprise that we mainly elect lawyers and even occasionally actors (e.g., Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger,) and comedians (e.g., Al Franken and Tom Ammiano.) All that, at a time when truly wise, brilliant, ethical leaders are ever more important.
I believe those factors tip the scales in favor of requiring a voting-readiness test. More valid than a literacy test would be a test of the ability to critique a political campaign ad, commercial, and debate.
A high level of sophistication would not be required to pass the test--merely enough that a voter demonstrates the ability to acquire basic knowledge of the candidates and issues. That way, the benefits of a broadly participating democratic electorate could be retained while significantly improving the quality of the electorate's decision-making, and in turn, the quality of our elected leaders.
A nice side effect is that some people would prepare for the test, thereby making them better voters and, overall, better thinkers.
Of course, a voting-readiness test would bring liabilities. Obviously, there is the significant cost of even once-in-a-lifetime testing of each voter. More serious may be the alienation and disenfranchisement of people who fail the test. Exacerbating that alienation, even if scrupulous care were taken to ensure the test was fair to all racial and ethnic groups, if disproportionate members of such a group failed, it would yield accusations of racism and thus increase tensions.
Yet I believe the benefits of a voter-readiness test would far outweigh the liabilities. We would see better quality leaders, and in turn, better, fairer laws, a better quality of life for the citizenry, and even perhaps fewer wars.
To further improve the quality of our elected officials, as I've written previously, I advocate replacing our current election financing system with a 100% publicly funded system, which would allow only two- or three-week-long campaigns consisting only of televised debates and job simulations (e.g., running a meeting) plus an online/printed statement of voting records and positions on key issues.
Do you think America would, net, be better if a voter-qualification test were required and campaigns were the few-week-long publicly funded system I propose here?