Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Is the most important right of citizenship voting?

Article first published as Is Voting the Most Important Right of Citizenship? on Blogcritics.

I had a class in the seventh or eighth grade – I think it was called Civics – that introduced the concept of citizenship.  I suspect that a lot of us can’t even remember the eighth grade, and I can’t remember any specifics from the class, but I recalled it recently while reading an article about immigration reform.

The concept seemed to have had more importance in the early days of our nation than it does now.  Then, it was more about there being an “us” to fight “them” over rights – most notably taxation without representation.  (It only occurred to me about a week ago that the “Boston Tea Party” had any connection to the modern one, duh.  If I had ever thought about it when I was young, I imagined it being like a Margarita party, but with tea.)

So, back to citizenship, we have certain duties (jury duty, Selective Service), rights (freedom to: reside and work, enter and leave the US, vote, stand for public office), and benefits (consular protection outside the US, access to social services, protection from deportation), but no requirement for civic participation.  Shouldn’t every citizen be more involved in the business of our country?  In the 2010 elections only 37.8% of the eligible voters showed up and voted.

Chart Data

Is there a more important way to show your involvement in American politics than by voting?  Now, there are some strong arguments saying that uninformed voters are worse for government than informed ones, but to me it means that more time should be spent educating potential voters.  I think I agree, in principle, that if you don’t understand the issues you shouldn’t just vote for the candidate that has the most air-time, or whose ads are glossiest (or who slings mud best), but how CAN we get more, informed involvement in politics?

There has been some disagreement over requiring voters to have and present valid picture identification when voting.  I have heard the democratic argument against it – discrimination towards students, the elderly, and minorities – but I don’t agree with that.  Who doesn’t have some sort of picture ID?  Even if you have a phobia about driving, don’t all states issue ID cards?  Don’t students have a school ID?  Is this somehow keeping 42% of the voters away from the polls?

A few years ago a friend and coworker originally from Slovenia (Hey, Matt, I hope you are voting) was taking his citizenship test, and we discussed the questions among ourselves.  Some of the questions seemed simple and obvious, but some made me stop and think.

  • What did the Declaration of Independence do?
  • What does the Constitution do?
  • Under the Constitution, what powers do the states have?

Maybe we need a similar, but perhaps simplified, version of this test at the polling booths.  No ID required, but you have to score at least 80% on the test.

Hey, I might not get to vote next time.

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