Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bring Back Literacy Tests

In the US, a “literacy test” was used in the Jim Crowe era to disenfranchise black voters in some southern states. Essentially, white poll workers could ask voters questions to determine if they had a sufficient level of literacy to vote. In practice, this meant questions that were nearly impossible to answer for most black voters while white voters got softball questions. In 1965, the Civil Rights Act outlawed literacy tests. This is unfortunate, because literacy test could really improve elections in America.

No, I am not advocating a return to the Jim Crowe system. What we should do is have a bipartisan commission come up with a list of hundreds of multiple choice questions and have each voter receive ten of them at random. If the voter is unable to get seven of the ten correct, that person’s vote won’t count.

Imagine how this would change elections. Cable news channels, instead of focusing on how the horse race will end, will offer program after program trying to educate voters to pass the literacy test. Dishonest attack ads will be replaced with ads targeting likely voters for a candidate and try to ensure that they can answer seven of ten questions. Candidates for office, instead of trying to mislead the public, would be well served trying to educate voters. Talk around the water cooler, instead of passing the latest bullshit propagated on cable news and campaign ads, would be about new factual discoveries about the state of politics and the empirical affects of recent legislation.

And the electorate would vote for candidates based on how they actually performed in office instead of how their PR people and financial backers framed the debate.

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