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South America & Why Not Have Voter Competency Tests? 
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Director
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Post South America & Why Not Have Voter Competency Tests?
I posted this on my blog:
One of the elements of the Realist school of international relations is that a nation will always look at not only what its current position is relative to its prior position, but also at its position relative to other nations. Thus, if the two nations are in a mutually beneficial situation, but nation B is gaining more from it, nation A will look to change it so that they are the ones gaining more.

It's a fairly interesting, though entirely disheartening proposition. I think it has plenty of application to domestic politics, though, and a prime example of that is today's disastrous election in Peru. Peru has undergone dramatic economic growth in the last twenty years (that much is undeniable). As with any real economic growth, it hasn't been 'equal'--the nature of free economic growth entails a disparity of results, as there is a natural disparity of talent levels, work ethics, and yes, luck. It's fair to say that the living standard for virtually everyone in Peru has increased over the past twenty years, and for many, it has improved substantially.

So, the logical thing to do is to continue the policies that have caused the growth. That would mean electing Keiko Fujimori, certainly an imperfect candidate but still one promising to continue the pro-prosperity policies of the last two decades. The educated class of Peruvians understood this.

Unfortunately, there aren't enough of them. The rest of the population looked at their more successful brethren with a mix of greed and envy. Enter Ollanta Humala, promising to shift the country toward the failed economic policies of Corea, Morales, and Chavez. This involves the state devouring private industries with the promise of greater redistribution of earnings. It has ruined the economies of Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia, and it promises to do the same to Peru. Crime has skyrocketed in all three countries, as economic opportunity is stifled and the natural inefficiencies of the state lead to massive increases in black market dealings.

It's particularly depressing because it looked like Latin America was moving away from the failed policies of the leftist strongmen. Honduras has elected a free-market champion in place of a corrupt leftist tyrant. Uribe succeeded in crushing FARC, and his successor is keeping up with his policies.

Electing proto-tyrants with horrible economic policies constitutes a form of national suicide and begs the question of the sanity of an election system that lacks any sort of barrier to participation. It enables the illiterate, the criminal, and the non-producers to dictate over the producers (I really don't mean to sound so Randian). I think that every nation should seriously consider having some basic (fairly implemented, non-discriminatory) standards for access to political participation. The alternative is suicide.
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Short story for those disinclined to read the above: Peru elected an aspiring military dictator, because a bunch of illiterates were envious of the more successful parts of the country.
So, I pose this question: Why not have certain standards for permitting someone to have political influence? I think that no grossly ignorant person (as in, unable to name the president and vice president, etc.) should be able to vote. Also there's a good case to make that people who don't pay taxes shouldn't be able to vote: make taxation without representation work both ways. It's naive and dangerous to let people who do not contribute to the system rule over those who do, and to let incredibly stupid people decide elections.

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Sun Jun 05, 2011 11:22 pm
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Post Re: South America & Why Not Have Voter Competency Tests?
Short answer: Great ideas (in theory). In practice, though, having to take a test to prove your worthiness to vote kinda flies in the face of Democracy (American Style). Where we have had a history that included poll taxes and the restriction of the right to vote based on ethnicity or gender, trying to put additional restrictions on voting these days is difficult at best. Hell, here in WI it's been a 10 year battle to require people to show ID at the polls (passed a couple of weeks ago) and now you want to institute a test? Forget about it.

And on the taxation issue, you'll always get the argument that even though people may not pay income tax, they still may pay taxes in sales taxes, real estate taxes (both direct and indirect through rent), registration fees, etc, etc. Now a lot of these payments are at the state and local levels and not the federal level, but to make blanket statements that "they do not pay taxes" is not fair (so they say). But having a stake in democracy is not a bad thing vis-a-vis taxation and representation; I would even be open to "for every dollar in taxes you pay, that's how much power your vote gets", though I admit that that is a very "Un-American" thing to do, too.

As usual, just because something "seems right", doesn't mean that it is practical. These ideas would just add another layer of class warfare to our already fractured society.


Mon Jun 06, 2011 11:00 am
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Post Re: South America & Why Not Have Voter Competency Tests?
johnny larue wrote:
Short answer: Great ideas (in theory). In practice, though, having to take a test to prove your worthiness to vote kinda flies in the face of Democracy (American Style). Where we have had a history that included poll taxes and the restriction of the right to vote based on ethnicity or gender, trying to put additional restrictions on voting these days is difficult at best. Hell, here in WI it's been a 10 year battle to require people to show ID at the polls (passed a couple of weeks ago) and now you want to institute a test? Forget about it.


Very true. Literacy tests etc. were used in the past as a way of denying minorities access to voting. I don't think that the fact that it was formerly used in a racist manner invalidates the potential legitimacy of it though, but it does make it a much harder sell. One key thing to recognize is that in America, likely many more whites wouldn't get access to voting than blacks if we instituted such a measure (in part due to the percentages of the population; I'm guessing the percentage of individual subgroups would be about average).

Quote:
And on the taxation issue, you'll always get the argument that even though people may not pay income tax, they still may pay taxes in sales taxes, real estate taxes (both direct and indirect through rent), registration fees, etc, etc. Now a lot of these payments are at the state and local levels and not the federal level, but to make blanket statements that "they do not pay taxes" is not fair (so they say). But having a stake in democracy is not a bad thing vis-a-vis taxation and representation; I would even be open to "for every dollar in taxes you pay, that's how much power your vote gets", though I admit that that is a very "Un-American" thing to do, too.


One thing you could do is let people who don't pay federal income tax but do pay state and local tax vote in state and local elections, since they're shareholders in the government at that level.

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Mon Jun 06, 2011 11:11 am
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Post Re: South America & Why Not Have Voter Competency Tests?
firefly wrote:
One thing you could do is let people who don't pay federal income tax but do pay state and local tax vote in state and local elections, since they're shareholders in the government at that level.


Again...fine in theory, but a nightmare in practice. Since many federal elections coincide with local elections, now you have to allow for multiple ballots or multiple ballot versions and then there's "privacy issues" with the poll workers knowing, by inference, whether you pay taxes at certain levels. You could maybe do this with electronic touchscreen voting (i.e. Poll worker validates who you are, and somehow gives you a unique ballot ID that links to your SSN), but overall this would probably be more trouble than its worth to "disenfranchise voters."


Mon Jun 06, 2011 12:54 pm
Post Re: South America & Why Not Have Voter Competency Tests?
A democracy is a highly flawed system. Democratic voting allows for 50% +1 to rule as tyrants over everyone else. Some of, if not most, of the Founding Fathers envisioned a meritocracy, a system, I believe, to be just as flawed.


Mon Jun 06, 2011 1:01 pm
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Post Re: South America & Why Not Have Voter Competency Tests?
johnny larue wrote:
firefly wrote:
One thing you could do is let people who don't pay federal income tax but do pay state and local tax vote in state and local elections, since they're shareholders in the government at that level.


Again...fine in theory, but a nightmare in practice. Since many federal elections coincide with local elections, now you have to allow for multiple ballots or multiple ballot versions and then there's "privacy issues" with the poll workers knowing, by inference, whether you pay taxes at certain levels. You could maybe do this with electronic touchscreen voting (i.e. Poll worker validates who you are, and somehow gives you a unique ballot ID that links to your SSN), but overall this would probably be more trouble than its worth to "disenfranchise voters."


It seems like it'd be not too hard electronically: you could have your social security card scanned, which would then link to a database with information about what taxes you pay. Based on that, the database would bring up the ballot that they're eligible. That way privacy would be maintained.

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Mon Jun 06, 2011 2:31 pm
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