Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ignorance is Bliss

There is something troubling about politics.  Well, there are many things troubling about politics but the issue of voter ignorance is a significant issue.

While everyone seems to agree on the concept of  "one person one vote" we haven't looked at that in the context of our changing world.  Should ignorant citizens subject to misinformation and an inability to understand the issues involved really be deciding our future?  As much as I don't like the idea of denying anyone a voice I also don't like the idea of the ignorant masses setting our course for the future.

How do we improve the perception of voters?  We certainly can't rely on the media, in particular the news, as these organizations now pander to the lowest common denominator in a competition for viewers and profits.  They don't care about the veracity of their content anymore.  They use misleading titles, inflammatory statements, and generally allow potential leaders and pundits to say anything they like -- as long as the claptrap of both sides is represented they label it journalism.

So, when we combine incompetent journalism with an incompetent public we get citizens willing to be led around by their emotions.  We have the public casting votes for issues they don't understand or simply don't care to think through.  Does this lead to good governance?

What if there were basic qualifications required in order to vote at the provincial or federal level?  Hold on, this does not mean we'd have to choose discriminatory qualifications.  We'd want to avoid historic concepts such as land ownership or other monetary factors.  Can we find some publicly available resource that all citizens can avail themselves of that would provide voting qualifications?

Yes, we can.  I doubt we'll do it but I don't think it would be problematic if we trusted the supreme court to make sure that non-discriminatory means were used.

For the purpose of discussion consider the following scenario:

  • Upon showing up to vote you are given a pencil and an additional piece of paper.
  • The additional item contains a common set of questions with randomized multiple choice answers in each of the official languages.
  • People who can't correctly answer enough questions have their vote weight adjusted.
  • When counting votes the plain tally and the adjusted tally are calculated.
  • If the two tallies are not in agreement, for a particular polling station, then a manual review is performed to ensure that the adjusted tally is valid (as it will be used).
Importantly, consider that nobody is treated differently on the way through the voting booth.  As votes are confidential nobody will know how any particular person scored on their multiple choice questions.  People who can read and reason in one of our official languages will be rewarded with a slightly higher probability of impacting the course of the future.  

Also, keep in mind that public education is available and required for all children as they are growing up. Perhaps there would be some discrimination against immigrants who can't speak any of our official languages but this is a minor factor and probably not something that cannot be justified.

Obviously, a politically independent panel would have to come up with the questions used. The questions would focus on issues related to the responsibilities of the level of government for which the election was to be held.  The vote adjustment could be a simple binary rating of valid or invalid or, alternately, votes could be scaled based on a straight percentage of questions answered correctly.

Finally, there is no reason that we can only apply this policy to voters.  Perhaps all politicians running for office should be required to take a lengthy written questionnaire with topics related to governance, ethics, world affairs, history and industry.  Just as we don't need idiots electing people who will chart the course of our future it would be nice to disqualify idiots from running for office.

Of course, I can hear the cries of elitism now.  Yes, requiring that people actually be able to read and write to participate in shaping our common future is elitist, isn't it?

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