For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Rob Douglas: Should ‘ignorant’ people vote?

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Last year, CNN contributor LZ Granderson authored a commentary that struck a chord with my view of the American electoral process. The piece was titled “Don’t let ignorant people vote.” As we quickly approach the Nov. 6 election, I find Granderson’s perspective that Americans are politically ignorant resonating more and more with each passing day.

Advisedly, Granderson took pains to point out that he was not using the word “ignorant” to cast aspersions on the intelligence of Americans. Rather, he was concerned that too many of us have a “lack of knowledge” when it comes to our government and the major political issues of the day. Given that definition, can anyone honestly argue that Granderson is wrong?

Every time I read the comments on a political blog or newspaper website, I conclude that the political IQ of our nation is so low that we have a significant number of voters — perhaps even a majority — who are ill-prepared to vote with any meaningful knowledge of the issues that face our nation or even a basic understanding of the way our government operates. Given the range of economic and national security dangers threatening the well-being of the United States — foreign and domestic — I’m shocked at how few citizens are conversant on the issues that will determine the path of our country in these perilous times.

And, lest there be any doubt that the dominant political parties know they are trying to win votes from folks who have little understanding of the major issues, just look at the political discourse and advertisements that assault us daily. As Granderson observed, “In an effort to win over ignorant voters, political campaigns are no longer targeting the movable middle as much as the easily misled. Instead of intelligent debates about important topics such as health care reform and cash-strapped states, we have an exchange of easy to remember catchphrases such as ‘Obamacare’ and ‘War on Unions’ — all in the race to pander to people who can’t explain what Congress does.”

Here’s the paradox. As a nation, we profess value of civic knowledge as a crucial aspect of citizenship. After all, we require immigrants desirous of becoming naturalized citizens to pass a test designed to determine if they have rudimentary knowledge of our political system and government. Yet we don’t require similar proficiency from those who are natural citizens by accident of birth. Granderson’s solution? “Weed out some of the ignorant by making people who want to vote first pass a test modeled on the one given to those who want to become citizens.”

What would that test look like? Here is a sample of the questions immigrants must answer as part of the naturalization test:

■ What do we call the first 10 amendments to the Constitution?

■ If the president and the vice president no longer can serve, who becomes president?

■ The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Name one of the writers.

■ Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?

■ When was the Constitution written?

■ What stops one branch of government from becoming too powerful?

■ Name one of the two longest rivers in the United States.

■ Who did the United States fight in World War II?

■ What did Susan B. Anthony do?

■ We elect a U.S. senator for how many years?

Is Granderson correct? Should all citizens — including birthright citizens — have to pass a test to demonstrate a requisite level of political and civic knowledge before voting? Of course not. To require such a test would be tantamount to eviscerating the heart and soul of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Still, we should recognize that being a citizen of the United States is a sacred gift. And, as with any precious gift, we should demonstrate that we cherish our citizenship by taking the time to refresh the civic lessons of our youth and educate ourselves about the issues and candidates that will be on the ballot this November.

To not do so would be ignorant.

Since 1998, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Comments

John Fielding 2 years, 4 months ago

. At the time our nation was founded, the right to vote was limited. One of the qualifications was ownership of property.

A modern equivalent might be the payment of taxes. In some instances this already applies by default, such as voting for County or school board officials, as all who live in a district pay property tax directly or through the landlord.

If payment of Federal income tax was required to vote for President there would be a very different outcome to elections, or a revision of tax law to ensure everyone paid something.

I personally think a competency in American civics should be required for a high school diploma, and a proficiency for an associate college degree. .

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Fred Duckels 2 years, 4 months ago

I have thought of the requirement to be off government assistance as a requirement to vote. Can you imagine the scramble by politicos to vacate the dependency gig?

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Tim Keenan 2 years, 4 months ago

Ah, so you mean no one who takes advantage of government subsidies, whether they be a CEO of a multinational or a mom on food stamps or an entrepreneur, should be able to vote? That would be interesting indeed.

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Brian Kotowski 2 years, 4 months ago

Here's the entire citizenship test (somewhat dated; it lists Pelosi as Speaker): http://usgovinfo.about.com/library/blinstst_new.htm Not an unreasonable threshold.

One minor quibble with the answer to question 76 - the Emancipation Proclamation didn't free anybody, and was in fact unconstitutional at the time. Abolition didn't occur until the 13th amendment was ratified more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

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rhys jones 2 years, 4 months ago

I'm sure the Republicans and rednecks would love to see an initiative which they thought might eliminate the lower classes and developmentally challenged from voting, but such a measure would only backfire on them, as most educated people I know are on the other side of the aisle.

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mark hartless 2 years, 4 months ago

Yes Rhys, many of the educated people you know are indeed "on the other side of the aisle". Which proves that your last statement is correct... "One can be educated and still stupid."

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rhys jones 2 years, 4 months ago

Not that it's my job to educate the stupid, but here is the definition of "aisle" in this context:

Sure, bring on the test, it'd keep the really ignorant out of the voting booths. Not to mention the STUPID.

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Steve Lewis 2 years, 4 months ago

Maybe Rob has posed the wrong questions?

If having no government assistance was a prerequisite to voting, none of you would be able to vote.

If tax payment was the prerequisite to voting, most 8 year olds could vote.

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rhys jones 2 years, 4 months ago

How arrogant and elitist, to suggest that anybody has any more rights than anybody else, merely by the rote memorization of a few obscure facts. Did Abolition end bigotry? So the black kid in the ghetto, who never learned his Amendments because he was supporting his siblings, now has no say in the future of his country?

While education MAY be an indicator of intelligence -- and it is certainly a good sign -- it is no guarantee, nor does it indicate that only educated people are intelligent.

Nobody is any better than anybody else, and all have their Constitutional rights, whether they know it or not.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 4 months ago

It probably makes more sense to ask if people understand basic concepts of science such as evolution.

And then we could not just exclude ignorant votes, but ignorant elected officials. Kentucky lawmakers are surprised that textbooks developed to meet national standardized science tests teach evolution.

http://www.kentucky.com/2012/08/14/2298914/gop-lawmakers-question-standards.html

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mark hartless 2 years, 4 months ago

I repeated your own words, Rhys. Your own words. After reading them you call me a moron. If true, that makes TWO morons, no?

You're so easy...

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rhys jones 2 years, 4 months ago

Yeah, you sure got me all right, agreeing that the educated can still be stupid, after I had asserted that the educated I know are on the other side of the aisle. The Fool's Gambit almost worked, necessitating a quick end-around to put you back in check.

Nice try, too bad you had to simultaneously discredit this article's author to do it. To agree that the educated can be stupid is to admit the fallacy of Rob's opinion.

And mate.

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mark hartless 2 years, 4 months ago

Who cares about voting anyway? If voting could change the system, it would be illegal. Voting is mandatory in many of the worlds WORST dictatorships. How's that working out for them?

Democrats want everyone to vote no matter how ignorant, illegal or lazy. The ignorant can't see the fate that lies at the end of the rainbow the democrats are selling. Explaining inflation, servitude and the merits of freedom to them is like trying to explain fly-fishing to my dog. The illegals might see the crash comming, but so what? They have a home to return to when the ticks finally kill this dog. The lazy just don't care. They have been told all their lives that their self esteem and comfort and happiness is all that matters. Even if they understood basic economics and the fate that awaits this nation, they would not care... it's all about them 'till there's no more gettin to be got.

Republicans want fewer and more intelligent people to vote because that would clearly put them in charge; but contrary to what they would have us believe, it would not save the nation from doom. I would remind them that, until Obama came along and made him look like a lightweight, GW Bush, a republican, was the spendingist president in the history of the world.

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mark hartless 2 years, 4 months ago

I did not discredit the author. I discredited YOU. Rather, YOU discredited yourself. Something you are doing on an increasingly frequent basis. A multitude of words is its own snare.

To disagree with Rob is not to discredit him. Rob is entirely capable of using sound judgement and still being correct without my agreement, consent or approval.

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rhys jones 2 years, 4 months ago

This is all so much hooey. No Supreme Court would ever let stand any legislation which served to restrict the rights of any person. This is just a bunch of rednecks, parading their doomed ideologies.

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kathy foos 2 years, 4 months ago

In making assumptions about the general population's intelligence about civics is lacking so severely that we are unfit for voting,is in itself an ignorant idea.All student's are taught civics and have been for a long long time.Our men and women have fought ,been wounded and died,for the right of every citizen in this country and voting is one of those rights.

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rhys jones 2 years, 4 months ago

Kathy -- You are correct, but certain segments of our society feel they are entitled, and are hence capable of making better choices than others. These are the same people who carry guns so they can shoot people who they don't like. None of the contributors in this forum suggesting we should test voters has ever given a day of his life in service to this country, which may be why they think they are so much better and smarter than everybody else.

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rhys jones 2 years, 4 months ago

Rather than asking whether ignorant people should vote, we should be asking whether arrogant people should write newspaper articles.

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