Kristin Kittell | Assistant Perspectives Editor
I registered to vote when I was a senior in high school. They handed me a piece of paper, I filled out my information and then handed it back to them. After this, I was permitted to vote in the 2008 election. I do not recall receiving any information on the candidates and I most certainly was not asked to prove my competence. But should I have been?
Recently, the question of voter proficiency has become a subject of concern for media and politicians alike. The public is increasingly easily swayed by politicians who take aim at the naïve, declaring witty catch phrases, making empty promises and enlisting popular celebrities to gain support. And while most everyone has an opinion on the major issues facing us today, far too many of us do not ground these opinions in hard facts, but rather emotional notions. If you do not understand what you are voting for, you obviously cannot cast an educated vote.
It seems that the leading proposal for solving this problem is the addition of pre-vote testing to ensure the voter in question is up to date on government proceedings and the history therein. CNN correspondent LZ Granderson even suggests the same test used to determine immigration rights should be administered to voters pre-registration in order to prove their know-how. This idea is problematic for more reasons than I’m sure I could even come up with.
First, the practice of standardized testing in general has been under fire in the education realm because it is not an accurate method of measuring an individual’s proficiency.
Educators realize not every student will perform under the same circumstances and, therefore, not all of them will be able to show the same level of understanding in standardized testing alone. A large faction advocates the elimination of standardized testing as an indicator of knowledge altogether; why would the government mandate more?
Also, a lack of knowledge of the processes of the government does not necessarily mean one is not aware of the issues and therefore not proficient enough to vote. The fact of the matter is most Americans do not know the senate convened for the first time in 1789. I myself would not have known had I not read it 15 seconds ago on the senate website.
However, not knowing that does not mean an individual does not have an educated opinion on the direction of the government. They may still know they want a candidate who believes in affordable health care or funding for the military, and they may know exactly which candidate stands for those policies.
Voters need to be aware of their voting circumstances, but testing is not the way to go about ensuring that. Educating the public and allowing them to glean from the information what they wish is a far more democratic way to approach this. It is by no means ethical to deny someone the right to vote because they do not stack up to what one group has set as an intellectual standard. This nation is not made up entirely of Harvard scholars; just as a military general might point out the military is not made up of Purple Heart worthy soldiers. Still, the government is intended to represent both and many more.
Education is beneficial to the American public on any and every level. The best solution to the problem of under-educated voting is federally funded and completely unbiased education, and this is far easier said than done. Regardless, voter testing would be of no use to the future of the American public. TAS