Mill's Ideas On Voting Exams

I’m no fan of discrimination and enjoy the concept of freedom of expression as much as the next man person. But there’s something about John Stuart Mill’s concept that a person should demonstrate that they have enough intellect and knowledge about the political situation of a country to be able to vote. Meaning - we should sit an exam before we’re allowed in the voting booth.

Quite what questions we’d end up asking, I don’t know. Probably all the wrong ones, and perhaps that’s where the idea finds its greatest flaw - in a circumstance where everyone is to be judged, who is the judge? Nevertheless, there shouldn’t necessarily be any right answers either. These questions wouldn’t be “who is the head of the Liberal Democrats?” or trivia along those lines. They would ask the participant to demonstrate that they know roughly how the political system of a state functions, what the relevant levels of politic do and how they are separated, and so on. The end result would hopefully be to filter out those voters who are not intune with their country (again, I don’t know who draws the line since we’re all pretty incompetent to some degree), or who are exercising their right to mess around with the welfare of millions (e.g. Republicans and Tories).

Is it even worth doing? Is there a significant number of people who vote without really caring at all about what they’re doing? Is it enough to seriously impact on the functioning of government? Usually not.

Australia has mandatory voting, and that works OK. Some might say that the only way you could implement such a test would be where a state had mandatory voting, otherwise the exam would simply scare even more people away.

But still… there is an appeal. It’s not about segregation, it’s about ensuring that those who have an serious interest in the country are the ones who get to vote on its future.

Or maybe that already happens naturally… we shouldn’t be too concerned about voter apathy, since that’s our selection process. Decisions are made by those who show up, said a man. Yet democracies falter when the will of the people to participate wanes. Even the most educated voter can be caught in the trap of believing their country is doing OK, when in fact there are deep, deep problems they aren’t aware of because they stopped digging.

:unamused: @ self.

I completely agree with you. I also enjoy the fact that my country allows every citizen to vote, and that there is no descrimination on the part of race or sex when it comes to allowing people to vote. However, there exists somewhat of an injustice in that someone who has no information on the political situation at hand and is simply voting based on trivial aspects of a candidate (such as appearance) has the same vote as someone who has a heartfelt interest in their country’s future. I am not really sure about how to solve this problem, though, because denying a citizen the right to vote is against our Constitution. It would be nice if there were some way to educate the majority of the public on the issues so that they would have an idea of what is going on before they go to the polls. But that’s just my opinion. :slight_smile:

i think the most important concept in mill’s theory was what shadow touched on, the need for mass education. the voting exams were only a temporary, band-aid solution until the society could be mature enough to do without them. for this to happen, public education needs to be the highest standard it can. i know that in my country, it definetly could be better, and when i say better, i mean that the education material stands to be vastly improved (as suppose to standardized test scores needing to be raise). if the basic political ideologies and framework were efficently taught in public schools i do not think voting exams would be necessary. i also think more people would vote. education is a right. :slight_smile:

Unforunatly if you’re a bit of an elitist like me there will never be a point where people are sufficiently educated. Personally I think may people are just plain stupid. The interesting thing I’ve found is that people who don’t think like that tend to be people who actually haven’t encountered the lower (and I hesitate to use the words lower or class) “classes” of society.

Quite a bit of justification is needed for this view if I’m not to sound like a complete arrogant arsehole, I know!

Firstly many people aren’t interested in politics because they just want to get on with their lives. After all, if you actually remember the point of government it is supposed to be there to help people get on with their lives. I’m sure there are probably at least a few people on this website who think complete anarchy is the best government system. So they may not be interested in anything but the superficial, like will this party maintain the status quo or be revolutionary? They need know no more to make their political decision.

Secondly, as anyone who has actually worked the shit jobs you get when you’re temping as I have done for the last 4 or 5 years would know, I have found many people completely incapable of getting even the most simple concepts of government. They operate almost entirely on some kind of basic morality and a lex talionis system of law. Just look at the tabloid papers if you need any further verification of this. You only have to see the huge swing in support for the war (in Britain, from anti to pro) to realise the majority of the public are swayed by the most simplistic and fatuous arguments (interestingly enough I am pro (and always have been), but have great contempt for all those who have changed their minds).

Personally I don’t think the above is a reflection on our education system, but on the intellectual capacity of the population as a whole. You musn’t forget that the majority of us here probably have at least above average IQs, if not significantly above average IQs. There’s a reason why we like discussing these things, we understand them! As I’ve said elsewhere, some of us are blessed with brains, other with looks, other with great creativity, others with social intelligence, others with natural strength, etc., etc. IQ is no different from height, some of us are short, some of us are tall. Some of us are blonde, some brunette. It’s just life.

However therein lies the problem of Mill’s idea. To create a voting system dependent on our ability to understand politics is to do no more than discriminate against people with lower IQs. Their needs will not be properly represented. And they will be the people wanting certain things people with a higher IQ won’t.

Why shouldn’t people make a decision based solely on the promise that taxes won’t go up? That question has to be comprehensivly answered before anysort of proposal like Mill’s could even be considered!

Sorry trix, following you around again :wink:

I don’t think it is a right at all. What is the point of teaching someone with an IQ of 78 quantum mechanics? To go even further, what is the point of teaching someone with an IQ of 100 quantum mechanics? For fun? They’re never gonna contribute to the field! Their knowledge would be a waste of resource that could be better spent teaching someone withpotentialthe subject to a much higher degree. Why educate 100 in a subject they have absolutely no use for to a substandard, when you can educate 10 highly gifted people to an extremely high standard?

On the other hand I do believe to a ristricted form of your “right”. I think everyone needs to be taught up to a certain level in literacy, numeracy, history, etc. But I see this as an economic necessity rather than a “right”[1]. But certainly nowhere near where the British government is suggesting atm. 50% in higher education? WHY??? What can that possibly do apart from waste thousands of millions of pounds?

Note to all who read, while I have used IQ in this quite often, if you don’t believe it is a good judge of intellectual capacity, substitute whatever you DO think is a good judge of it (or what could be). A Forrest Gump can never be an Einstein.

[1]I have a prejudice against rights, I don’t believe there are any. Though I’m too tired to go through why, as I’ve argued here a few times before on that subject, though i appreciate many active members now will not have seen those discussions.

Matt wrote-

You got a laugh out of me :smiley:

I believe that everyone has the right to be educated to the maximum of their potential. I think some of the people that you feel are just plain stupid are not necessarily. I’m imagining that you’re speaking of the Jerry Springer-type people. While I admit, they are stupid the responsibilty is not all theirs. I don’t think they were given the same chance to be educated as you and I were. Parents have a lot of influence over how you interact and interpret the world. Aside from mental retardation, I think the majority of stupid people just grew up around other stupid people. They don’t know any different. Even so, there would still be people that lacked the capacity to be intelligent.

So the question is: is Forest Gump’s rights just as important as Einstein’s?

Hehe, thankfully it was supposed to be half a joke!

Right to live, yes. Right to education, as I outlined above, no. FG deserves some educatio, but that is only so he can operate well within our society. Einstein desevres to be taught to the highest level.

I do think you are right as well, people are almost encouraged not to use their brains and this is a fault of their upbringing and our wildly varying education system, boith here and in America.

however I don’t think that they’ll ever be a point whewre everyone wants to learn about politics and yet even the most basic grasp will help them make their decision.

Their thought process could be, Conservatives favour business over workers, labour are the opposite. I am a worker, I vote for labour. It could even be simpler. My Dad voted for Labour so i do. But what is wrong with that if that voter is in the same social situation and the party hasn’t majorly changed it’s fundamental views?

I really can’t see Mill’s voting exam idea working. And in the end why show a complexity of understanding? After all there are quite often 2 major parties. So even if you understood all the issues, you have a choice of 2, both of which have advantages and disadvantages. You might as well flip a coin ometimes (especially over here where Labour have turned into the conservatives anyway).

I agree. I often equate voting to guessing which party won’t screw you over the most. Either way you’re going to get screwed. Too much self-interest and too many favors being done in politics. Look at the Haliburton Company (Vice President Cheney was their CEO for some time). Everyone makes a big fuss about how Haliburton is going to get the contract to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure because of it’s ties to Cheney. So Haliburton drops out of the bidding. But guess what? Now they are only going to be a sub-contractor. What’s the difference? Either way, they are making money. When I vote, I always realize I’m deciding who’s friends are going to become richer.

hey matt :laughing:

i was wondering when your nationality would come up :wink:

alright, you know all the arguements that you outlined, about how people just go with the flow, change ideas on a whim, do what they think is best for them in the short term rather than looking at the ‘bigger picture’?? well, i think those are all really really good examples for why public education is failing. when i mean public ed., i’m not, in any way, talking about the quantum mechanics type. if anything, i feel more philosophy courses should be taught so people can find out who they are and where they stand and their thoughts on society will likely follow. i’m preaching a more rousseau-type education that a james mill one. a how you know rather than what you know.

voting definetly can feel like a toss of a coin, irrelevant action, especially in a majoritarian system. that’s a flaw of the political system however, and an educated and well alert citizentry will catch this and change it.

education is a right! you might not make a forest gump into an einstien, but at least they will both have an understanding of the soceity and their role in it.

The right to Vote is nice to have, but if you want to have any real say in a society you’re going to need real power and that requires money or blackmail. While I might Vote for candidate A over B, this is pointless if both can be bought, as it no longer matters who I vote for as money will buy what it wants despite democracy.

So you might say, “That’s not a problem we’ll just vote in somebody who can’t be bought!” Hehe, and I’d love to meet this person when you find them!

Politics is all about deception, if people think they give you the power to do something they will more then lightly not worry about what tyrannical laws are enacted in the name of Liberty, as it’s believed what the people give they can also take away. You might vote in one man, but how many others that you didn’t vote for follow him into power???

It for this reason I believe Marx’s was right when he said: We must be constantly in a state of revolution.

hey there pax sorry for the delayed answer:
you wrote that:

because the electoral system is so rigged with corruption. obviously, i think your basic assumption is that humans are corruptable and because of this, there can never be an honest government without complete and constant surviellence from the public. this superivision seems to be more along the lines of a radical anarchy that you (and marx) seem to be endorsing. myself, i’m with a rousseau on this one and think that an alert citizenry is enough for keeping the system (relatively) honest. i was wondering if you could elaborate on you proposal to suggest why a loss of freedom is an adequet accomadation for a fair government?