Commentary: Not just anyone should get to vote
We know from civics class that the president of the United States is elected by the Electoral College in a “winner take all” system in all states except Maine and Nebraska, which allocate the majority of their electoral votes by congressional districts.
But there’s a new movement to change the method we elect the president in the form of the National Popular Vote Bill, which if passed by enough state legislatures, will guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Lost in this notion of changing the current Electoral College system however, is the fact that our founding fathers had no intention of establishing anything close to a “one man, one vote” system. We often lose sight that we are not a democracy; we are a republic ” a government founded upon human rights and laws, not on the principle of simple majority rule.
The founders wanted voting restricted on several grounds and never intended that the mere fact of citizenship would guarantee the right to vote. If you go to the Internet and read the U.S. Constitution you’ll see that nowhere does it guarantee citizens the right to vote in national elections, the 14th and 15th Amendments notwithstanding. Individual states guarantee the right to vote but only in local and state elections; making the act of voting for president a PRIVILEGE ” not a right.
The founders understood that electing a president by popular vote created incentives for a multitude of extreme or peripheral interests to form, resulting in a frayed system with numerous political parties. In Europe for example, it’s not unusual for a winning candidate to be elected with 30 to 35 percent of the vote, resulting in national disunity and radical shifts in national policies from one government to the next.
While reasoned arguments can be made for and against the National Popular Vote Bill, perhaps there’s a better way to improve the way we elect a president. Instead of changing the electoral system, might we be better served by focusing on who should be given the privilege of voting?
We can pursue this idea without violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965, because this isn’t about precluding anyone from voting due to race, color, creed or gender (the 14th Amendment secured this), rather this is about competency.
Every state demands vision assessments, written exams and road tests before allowing someone the privilege of obtaining a driver’s license. But the only requirement to elect officials who daily make far-reaching decisions about war and peace, taxation, social security and spend billions in the process, is to prove citizenship and residency.
As it stands now, the gun-toting, high school drop-out gang-banger who has failed to develop a work ethic, gives nothing back to society and couldn’t answer the most basic questions about our system of government, has as much to say about every aspect of that government as does the political science professor who understands government and free markets and who applied him or her self in school, works hard, delays gratification, saves, plans, invests and raises a family.
While this is an extreme example, it still begs the question of which of the two is more qualified to elect the people who decide how much you will pay in taxes or when you’ll be eligible for Social Security?
It’s a sad fact that the majority of Americans cannot explain difference between the national debt and the budget deficit; yet they are allowed to vote for the man or woman who will submit a $3 trillion budget to Congress.
It seems only logical that a modicum of knowledge regarding our federal system of government and its interaction with a free-market society should be required before entering a voting booth. But the reality is that taken as a whole, the American electorate doesn’t meet the minimum criteria for adequate voter knowledge.
To redress this situation, perhaps prospective voters should be required to pass a basic test on the principles of government before they’re issued a voter registration card. In his latest book, “Someone’s Gotta Say It!” Neil Boortz put together a list of question for just such a purpose-what follows are a few of them:
1. What document forms the legal framework of the United States?
2. What was the reason for the 10th Amendment?
3. How did our original Constitution provide for the appointment of senators?
4. Was our county founded on the premise of majority rule? (I’ll give you a hint ” NO!)
5. What’s the difference between a democracy and a constitutional republic?
6. How many times is the word democracy found in Declaration of Independence and the Constitution?
7. Was the Revolutionary War supported by the majority of the colonists?
8. Who is the third in line of succession to the presidency?
9. List any amendments in the Bill of Rights that were ratified for the purpose of limiting the powers of the government.
10. List any amendments in the Bill of Rights that were ratified for the purpose of limiting the rights of individuals.
The debate about the National Popular Vote Bill versus the current electoral system is one we should have.
But perhaps creating a set of standards before allowing someone to vote for the president of the United States would go further toward assuring effective government than changing a system that has worked well for 230 years.
Quote of the day: “We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.”
Butch Mazzuca is a business consultant and writes a biweekly column for the Vail
Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.