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GUEST COLUMN – Suffrage, the ballot and democratic governments

By PIERCE GRAHAM
Guest Columnist

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 The essentially faulty assumption underlying that old premise, of course, has been replaced by the assumption that, if one is of a given age – suddenly, miraculously, inexplicably – he has become competent to select the government.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.

About Mel Rothenburger (8330 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

2 Comments on GUEST COLUMN – Suffrage, the ballot and democratic governments

  1. David Johnson // June 15, 2021 at 3:50 PM // Reply

    First off Mr. Graham, I definitely appreciate your use of the language, and the complexity in which you use it to describe your thoughts. It is simply refreshing to read an opinion, crafted in such a way to summon a readers advanced ability to understand the nuance that a writer is trying to share.

    It is a rare skill, and over a subject like this … its a definite challenge to get it right … one small step and you could be easily labelled a non-democratic tyrant espousing a preference for a system akin to feudal dark age voting rights, and the destruction of democracy.
    It is a very slack line you walk, and I think you pulled it off.

    Regarding the subject, the way its framed … its not hard to agree with you from a intellect standpoint, EVEN IF suggesting doing such, results in the disenfranchisement of many. The problem is the slippery slope.

    Humans have proven time and time again, that if left to run with what starts up as an obviously good idea, it will over time become twisted and reinterpreted by way of personal ego, group dynamic cliquey and us vs them mentality, all resulting in a social division.

    You would end up with a society of haves vs havenots. Signs on universities, movie theatres and an endless variety of public and social places and opportunities would devolve into “you’re allowed in … and you are not”, based on only a membership card derived from a subjective questionnaire … based on whether or not you read and properly understood political news, and have the capacity to balance the multi-faceted processes to be able to vote well.

    To take it to the extreme; you are basically opening the future to ‘whites only’ type signs and relegation to the ‘back of the bus’ social mentality, which in the most dystopian interpretation could end up with the literal culling of those tattooed with ‘star of David’ like voting intellect labelling, and being seen as disposable miscreants. Eventually, less rights to healthcare, education and opportunity. They can pay more taxes because their success means less, and of course are less represented … because they just are not worth it.

    Just to side step to just one actual event in history when this happened
    … and we ended up with the French Revolution.

    Obviously … I’m running to the extreme, but its to make the point. The essence of the future could easily become ‘If you cant vote, then there is danger in many other aspects of who and what you are, and you need to be controlled.’

    Control one day is a slippery slope to sidelining on the next day, and extermination on the third.
    We have done this before, and we will undoubtedly do it again.

    Yes, this is obviously just a thought experiment, and one that many people watching recent American politics from the benefit of distance can easily slip into for consideration. It is an easy correlation between the right to vote and who voted for trump, and the wonder if they should be able to do that. That is such an easy connection to make.

    My argument is only that, to enact such a simple solution has future unforeseen impacts that we just can not envision at the outset. History shows that on balance … it doesn’t go well in the long term for people or society as a whole. Remember, these are people with the exact same carbon based bipedal waterbag bodied existences as yours … but they are less?
    That is a slippery slope.

    One day they will react and revolt, akin to our example of the French Revolution.
    This is a cycle best not restarted, at the behest of our own heads rolling.

  2. I do fully agree there should be a license to be acquired to vote, basic understandings and all of that. BTW, Facebook does not print. It allows all kinds to “participate” and one can report foul language and the algorithm checks against specific words, deciding, pretty much without human intervention, who gets time out and who does not.

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