By PIERCE GRAHAM
OVER THE LAST several hundred years the public demand for voting rights and the subsequent emergence of democratic governments has been a fascinating process to follow.
Even more fascinating are the varieties of government and governors that have been posited, proposed, rejected, or accepted – all in the name of the ideal – of democracy.
Indeed, this movement, or struggle, or process, has virtually dominated what we call modern history. Most wars, whether civil, regional, continental or world-wide, have been entered in some way either in the search for, the defence of, or the denial of, the principle of freely chosen governments.
As we proceed through this analysis of the historical process, I ask that the reader concentrate on the notion of rights, for it has been the contention of all democracy seekers that the goal was the affirmation, not of a privilege held by a few, but of a right – sometimes allegedly god-given or naturally acquired, along with birth or breath. That is not the case.
More than once in the past century, – or even decade, I am sure – intelligent observers have looked at election results in various jurisdictions, local, national or global, and asked a question something like, ”How in the name of …….’’did that happen?”
The question usually follows an election upset or a result that was unexpected, unpredictable, or down-right insane. Readers will have in mind not only aberrations like the success of Donald Trump, but also many at regional or local levels.
The answers vary, with one most logical and sensible being the completely mystifying, “Because that’s the way the vote went.” Sort of like saying, “It is because it is.” It may be indisputable – particularly after a recount – or “when people have spoken….” the people must listen.
Perhaps it is time for modern societies to consider the notion of establishing criteria beyond age and residence for acquiring the right to vote.
In the past, only land owners and the rich were enfranchised. The essentially faulty assumption underlying that old premise, of course, has been replaced by the assumption that, if one is of a given age – suddenly, miraculously, inexplicably – he has become competent to select the government.
And it is my contention that the fact of having reached the age of adulthood, which varies across jurisdictions, is just as unsound as the one it replaced.
It is my contention also, that the permit (note the change?) to vote be acquired not through an impassive and naturally accidental or incidental process called time, but through a deliberate, rationally informed process of understanding.
This would be a process of qualification, or demonstration of competence, based on specified criteria. A right – any right – after all, is nothing more than a socially recognized permission. But it is based on commonly understood standards or expectations whose purposes are to maintain social order.
Therefore, in order to participate in such an essential and vital social process as selecting a government, one should be required to demonstrate certain understandings and competences.
Most social processes and decisions require that such criteria be met, but there is something sacrosanct about the vote which abhors qualification. How ironic. You can drive, carry weapons, drink alcoholic liquids, or other intoxicants, marry, do hundreds of things potentially impacting other people, but only with a licence.
And you can, ironically, participate in the selection of government without being able to read, count, know the difference between a donkey and an elephant, and, if your man loses, call the winner a traitor!
If any readers doubt the sincerity or the logic underlying my proposal, I urge them to follow the postings on such popular media as FaceBook, on which one regularly sees insanely irresponsible condemnations of political figures of all stripes as criminals, crooks, liars, child abusers, agents of China or of alien cultures, and the like.
And here in Canada! The utter ignorance of these contributors is exceeded only by the eagerness of the FaceBook site to print it. And, they vote. I have recently been restricted on the site for being so audacious as to mention that fact.
Another argument I put forth is the analogy of being licensed to drive a car. Proper qualifications are set in order to protect society and its members. I cannot see any difference between that motive and the motive to demand pertinent – and important – qualifications for selecting a government.
Look at the process that elected Donald Tump; it was the triumph of ignorance, bigotry, greed, hostility and hatred. No criteria were used, other than being an adult (in years) American citizen.
If I were asked to design a system of responsible qualification for voting, I would ensure that the requirements included the ability to know, understand and articulate the basic platform planks of each candidate or party in contention, the implications of those tenets for the essential social services such as health, education, workforce, social welfare or cohesion, and regional or national impact.
In that respect, civic elections are often far more target-oriented than are provincial, regional or national candidates, who rely more on abstract policy slogans or visions often unattainable or even irrelevant.
Pierce Graham is a retired vice principal of NorKam secondary, a long-time English teacher, and a member of the Rube Band.