As Winston Churchill once famously repeated, “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.” Democrats are frustrated when poor Southerners vote against their interests, and when Naderites swing an election. Republicans are frustrated with Ron Paul siphoning votes from the establishment. As a Salon.com article concisely summarized:
For starters, they know nothing about government or current events. They can’t follow arguments of any complexity. They stuff themselves with slogans and advertisements. They eschew fact for myth. They operate from biases and stereotypes, and they privilege feeling over thinking. The result is a political system of daunting irrationality, and rational people like Rick Shenkman are paying the cost.
In an ideal world, we can imagine a system where only the qualified are given the right to vote. The experts, the followers of current events, the readers of newspapers, the practitioners of the scientific method (though sadly this would be controversial), the level-headed and rational college of cardinal citizens. This group would be large enough to achieve the critical mass of “wisdom of the crowds” and stay small enough to exclude the unworthy. It’s not hard to conclude that this system would lead to better outcomes and smarter decisions, and in fact it’s why we have a limited form of it already: a facet of our having a representative democracy reflects a fear of pure democracy.
Of course, the problem with this is obvious. Coming up with a system to selectively exclude people is difficult, if not impossible, particularly with the legacy of Jim Crow in this country. How smart do you have to be? How do you verify your qualifications and attention to news and history? Who is designing this test, and how is it administered? Any system for discriminating between the worthy and the unworthy would be rife with corruption and a bias toward the values of the designers. For practical purposes, it can’t and won’t be done.
Yet the right to suffrage is not universal, and it’s not unalienable. Some groups already lack the right to vote. Children, of course, don’t have the right to vote because they are deemed emotionally and intellectually immature. We don’t grant the right to vote to foreign nationals, non-citizens, and convicted felons (in some places even when they are released from prison). Society judges, I think correctly, that these latter individuals may not vote with the interest of society in mind. There are probably anti-government wackos in the general population as well, but these individuals have more clearly conflicting incentives, or have demonstrated through their actions that they don’t respect societal welfare. They are clearly unqualified to vote.
This post isn’t actually advocating taking the right to vote away from normal citizens. I actually want to talk a bit about baseball, and a situation where we can demonstrate people clearly lack the capacity to vote correctly, or lack the honesty to do so. Read on.