Jonah Goldberg

Some more serious people suggest that voting should be mandatory, believing that if the "disenfranchised" - often code for dream Democratic voters - cast ballots, the country would move profoundly to the left. John Kenneth Galbraith proclaimed in 1986: "If everybody in this country voted, the Democrats would be in for the next 100 years."

This last bit is almost certainly false. The evidence is that if every eligible voter voted, national elections would probably remain unchanged. "Simply put," political scientists Benjamin Highton and Raymond Wolfinger wrote in a 2001 article, "The Political Implications of Higher Turnout," U.S. "voters' preferences differ minimally from those of all citizens; outcomes would not change if everyone voted."

So, maybe, just maybe, we have our priorities wrong. Perhaps cheapening the vote by requiring little more than an active pulse (Chicago famously waives this rule) has turned it into something many people don't value. Maybe the emphasis on getting more people to vote has dumbed down our democracy by pushing participation onto people uninterested in such things. Maybe our society would be healthier if politicians aimed higher than the lowest common denominator. Maybe the people who don't know the first thing about how our system works aren't the folks who should be driving our politics, just as people who don't know how to drive shouldn't have a driver's license.

Instead of making it easier to vote, maybe we should be making it harder. Why not test people on the basic functions of government? Immigrants have to pass a test to vote; why not all citizens?

A voting test would point the arrow of civic engagement up instead of down, sending the signal that becoming an informed citizen is a valued accomplishment. And if that's not a good enough reason, maybe this is: If you threaten to take the vote away from the certifiably uninformed, voter turnout will almost certainly get a boost.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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