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“Bonus Votes” Civics Test

You should know something about what you're voting for
  (+3, -5)
(+3, -5)
  [vote for,

Quick, name all eleven Supreme Court justices! Odds are you can't do it (well, okay, I don't mean YOU specifically—just the statistical “you”). In fact, odds are you didn't even realize that there are only nine justices on the Supreme Court. Assuming you're an American citizen, this situation is rather unfortunate.

There really should be some way to promote a basic understanding of the workings of government to the public—who is, after all, tasked with electing that government. You have to take a civics test in order to become a U.S. citizen, so why not have one for voting as well?

So as to be extra careful not to disenfranchise anyone, the test would operate as a “vote multiplier”, based on how many questions you get right. Answering every question wrong, or failing to answer at all, leaves you at the base rate of a single vote. Each question you get right adds a given amount to your multiplier. Questions are all multiple choice and relatively simple. Sample questions might include:

Which of the following people is the Speaker of the House of Representatives? (1 point)

Which constitutional amendment provides protection from “unreasonable searches and seizures”? (2 points)

Which of the following people is NOT currently a Supreme Court justice? (1/3 point each question)

How many U.S. Senators are elected from each state? (1 point)

The questions would change with each election cycle, but would be the identical throughout the entire country. Additionally, the questions would be published before the election, and bringing a list of answers into the voting booth would be permitted.

The idea here is not to penalize those who don't do well on the test, but to incentivize voters to learn about the government they are voting for, as well as to encourage political organizations to make civics education a part of their election campaigns. Ideally, every single voter should be able to score 100% on the test without much difficulty. Accordingly, translations of the questions and answers would be made into all of the popularly spoken languages throughout the country, and waivers could be granted to those voters who are unable to comprehend the questions due to not speaking any of the translated languages or mental disability.

ytk, Dec 07 2012


       //waivers could be granted to those voters who are unable to comprehend the questions due to not speaking any of the translated languages or mental disability.// It may seem harsh, but doesn't that defeat the purpose?
DIYMatt, Dec 08 2012

       so basically you want to give the people who are able to game the system the power to game the system.
FlyingToaster, Dec 08 2012

       Yeah, yeah, yeah...I've run into this before with the study captive breeding group of Republicans. "Unless you know what I know, you're stupid and your vote shouldn't count".
normzone, Dec 08 2012

       //It may seem harsh, but doesn't that defeat the purpose?//   

       Only for a very small number of citizens, and it's better than effectively disenfranchising that tiny minority.   

       //so basically you want to give the people who are able to game the system the power to game the system//   

       How is this gaming the system? If you're a foreigner trying to gain U.S. citizenship, you need to know this stuff anyway, so it's not unreasonable to expect a U.S. citizen to know it in order to exercise one of the privileges of citizenship.   

       //That defeats the whole point of the test. //   

       Not really. You'd still have to read the questions and respond with the appropriate answer. Hopefully, you'd at least glean some information in the process. It'd require more thought than many people put into such matters now.   

       Make it too difficult, such that it requires memorization or critical thought, and you open it up to claims that you're trying to disenfranchise poor and uneducated voters. That's not the intent here, and I can't see any way of completely eliminating such concerns other than making the test completely open book. If you can't be bothered looking up the questions beforehand and writing down the answers, or even bringing the answer key that you got in the mail along with you, then really, your vote /shouldn't/ count as much as somebody who can put even the slightest modicum of effort into understanding the workings of government.   

       //Unless you know what I know, you're stupid and your vote shouldn't count//   

       That's a mischaracterization of this idea. Do you object to the civics test that's required to become a citizen?
ytk, Dec 08 2012

       // Ideally, every single voter should be able to score 100% on the test without much difficulty.//   

       I note that the line of argument has shifted.
normzone, Dec 08 2012

       Shifted? How so? That was in there from the beginning…
ytk, Dec 08 2012

       I actually sortof agree in one sense, but consider: do you require a degree in foodology to order a Big Mac ?   

       Voting's pretty simple: you like the guy/gal, you vote for them: knowing how things work isn't going to change that.   

       Of course you want to make sure that the person you vote for is all up on how the system works, but that's not the Idea.   

       You shouldn't have to go to medical school for 10 years to choose a doctor, or a lawyer, or a politician.   

       I didn't say it was gaming the system; I said that you're giving the people who know how to game the system more power to do so. Just sayin', not pointing fingers.   

       Re: the civics test: immigrants haven't grown up in the system: I imagine the test is there to make sure they understand that it isn't the same as the place they left.
FlyingToaster, Dec 08 2012

       //You shouldn't have to go to medical school for 10 years to choose a doctor, or a lawyer, or a politician.// But you should stay informed enough that if a doctor recommends brain surgery for your foot problem, they probably suck at doctoring. I don't think a test should require a lot of knowledge of the system, but it should require some knowledge about what the issues are so that people know their options, for instance they should at least know where the republican party stands on taxes before casting their vote. I've heard people say that they won't vote for Obama because "they don't want to be paying for other peoples' healthcare". Those people should plain not be allowed to vote. TBH I don't think many people should vote, we should just have a meritocracy.
DIYMatt, Dec 08 2012

       I don't think most of your sample questions are relevant.   

       If voting for people, they should know what positions those people hold, and the scope of power that the elected office has.   

       If voting on an issue, they should know about the issue, and the commonly stated arguments for and against the issue.   

       Knowing the names of supreme court members or speakers would mostly be non-relevant.
Kansan101, Dec 08 2012

       And another thing . . .   

       What if you're not all up with the government's traditional policy <x> ?   

       That makes "What is the purpose of <x>" a loaded question since the answer "to look good while screwing over the next generation or two who will grow up thinking it's normal" isn't gonna get you any points.
FlyingToaster, Dec 08 2012

       The real way to do this is to suppress turnout. The main weakness of any democracy is people actually vote.
theircompetitor, Dec 08 2012

       If you could only regulate the speed of light. Getting around the galaxy would be so much easier.   

       As to revenues numbers, one doesn't need to debate the Laffer Curve -- the best evidence is the amount of money pushed into this year by dividend paying companies -- the rich in fact will always find a way to minimize taxes as long as deductions and nooks and crannies exist in the tax code. The best approach is to eliminate deductions not raise rates.   

       And as to fairness, there's no scenario where the progressive or even flat income tax can possibly be fair, a VAT is the only "progressive" approach that can be fair, if done properly (i.e. instead of income tax, not in addition to)
theircompetitor, Dec 08 2012

       your brother has money offshore?
theircompetitor, Dec 08 2012

       //his endorsement of the flat tax amounts to trying to shoot himself in the foot//   

       Putting this specific issue (taxation) aside, along with any other specific issue, I am always a little appalled when someone says something like that. Its a common sentiment, too.   

       In my opinion, we should see it as our moral duty to vote for the good of the country, for the right thing, for fairness, for justice, etc.   

       We should NOT just look out for our own individual self interest when we vote. Time and time again I have heard some perplexed person laugh at some group who seem to vote "Against their self interest". People ought to admire it when people do that, so long as it was not otherwise a stupid vote.   

       Sadly, I think I am almost alone here.
Kansan101, Dec 09 2012

       //alone here// fish much ? Anyways, voting for one's-self is how democracy is s'posta work.   

       But only a true psychopath defines themself as a standalone entity without membership in groups, which well-being occasionally is at odds with that of the individual.
FlyingToaster, Dec 09 2012

       it's progressivity in the tax system that is disproportionate, by definition. The VAT, on the other hand, is fairer because while it generates more revenues from those who spend more, it is their choice to spend it. The flat tax is better (and fairer) than the current system, but is inferior to the VAT.
theircompetitor, Dec 09 2012

       //Anyways, voting for one's-self is how democracy is s'posta work.//   

       That becomes a problem when a lot of people own slaves, or are on the dole.
Kansan101, Dec 09 2012

       //You think the tax distrubution shouldn't match the wealth distribution? That seems perfectly fair to me.//   

       The analogy I like to use is simple. We go to lunch, or dinner. Some (lame) groups of friends might consider splitting along the lines of what each ordered. Most often, groups of friends would split per family, or person. But I've never heard of anyone offering to split the bill based on the size of their paycheck -- and even if someone, in incredibly good spirits after, say, a win at the track, might offer to pick up a round, they would not think much of friends that demanded that treatment day after day, year after year.   

       Democracy exercised this way is rather like extortion (we've thought about it, and we think you should pay more). It is not what the founders of this country envisioned (which is why we needed an amendment to allow the income tax), and it is certainly for the worse.   

       The VAT works at every level: It generates sufficient revenues for the government, it is "fair" because avoidance simply involves saving, rather than spending, it encourages savings which is good for the population, it puts no artificial brakes on growth, and it is "progressive" in the sense of the rich contributing a lot more than the poor. Exemptions for those at the bottom of the ladder, or for food and necessities could easily be made.
theircompetitor, Dec 09 2012

       So the "masses" are entirely capable of voting other people to pay for entitlements, but not capable of voting against wars? Or entitlements are the protection money we pay to avoid the pitchforks at the gate?   

       "wars in the middle east" and the like are nice fig leafs, but the reality is, the rich wait as long at the DMV, and pay the same toll to cross a bridge. Fighting outsourcing is about as visionary as fighting the Industrial Revolution. Before long, automation will replace those jobs, anyway. Might as well break windows so they can be replaced.   

       Taken to its logical conclusion, your argument about percentage of income would mean that a cell phone should cost you less than Paris Hilton, since you make less money. If that is truly your position, then the logical conclusion of that is not liberalism, it's something significantly left of that, and fundamentally incompatible with our system of government, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
theircompetitor, Dec 09 2012

       unless you're the muscular guy, and after awhile you notice that they're bundling up all the small things together to make big packages that are "too heavy for us to carry" ...
FlyingToaster, Dec 09 2012

       Christ. Now I really DO regret posting this idea.   

       Nobody is going to win this argument, because like it or not taxation (not to mention politics in general) is an emotional issue for most people. No amount of logic or debate is going to convince anyone, because every goddamn person and his uncle is personally invested in the notion that /his/ way to run the country is the only rational, reasonable, sane, caring, and by God, /correct/ way to run the country. Just shut up, people.
ytk, Dec 10 2012

       //Nobody is going to win this argument, because like it or not taxation (not to mention politics in general) is an emotional issue for most people.// That may be true, but it doesn't change the fact that we're here, on earth, and we have to work it out somehow.
DIYMatt, Dec 10 2012

       The Washington Post merely the latest of the President's unabashed fans announcing that they're moving dividends into 2012, thus costing the government (and enriching their shareholders by) tens of millions of dollars. While writing endlessly about the problem of money in politics -- this being people who spend their own money voluntarily on politics -- as somehow being sinister. Priceless.
theircompetitor, Dec 10 2012

       I've concluded long ago that there is no optimal taxation solution set that does not need a good basic reworking every now and again as conditions change. Dynamic stability is our economic friend.
RayfordSteele, Dec 10 2012

       [21] -- that's admirable rhetorically, but to me, the facts that Costco and Washington Post, both unabashed liberal supporters, just avoided massive amounts of taxation, that Google, whose management I'll venture to say voted 100% Democratic, and whose employees, for that matter, probably voted 70% Democratic, is hiding billions in Bermuda, that Tim Geitner was caught not paying taxes, etc, etc, is not a signal of some huge hypocrisy -- what else is new -- but a signal of the massive inefficiency of the current approach.   

       So even putting aside the rationale of how much needs to be spent by the government, when applying the same principles as I would apply to say, the drug war -- enormous waste of money, resources, and a corrupting influence on our politicians and society -- I realize that progressive taxation is doing exactly the same, but probably at N times the waste.   

       I'm a firm believer in laws -- but to be effective, laws have to channel "built-in" human principles, not oppose them by sticking fingers into dikes at futile efficiency rates. This is why markets work, within their limits, and socialism fails. This is why financial regulations tend to fail. This is why sexual repression laws fail. This is why drug laws fail. This is ultimately why dictatorships fail, because you cannot, indefinitely, make people do what they don't want to do.   

       But it is easy to have a system that is much more difficult to game and is fair. A national property taxes might be interesting, and have a progressive effect (might even have a re-distributive effect) without being unfair. These approaches have their own side effects, to be sure, but they are not penalizing what ultimately benefits the state - - growth in income.
theircompetitor, Dec 11 2012

       I think the two of us have different definitions of long time and indefinitely :)   

       Non withstanding the fact that we had slavery in Mesopotamia, and prior to civilization, gathered berries and bashed each other's brains out for a living, and the universal certainty of taxes, it is not, in my view, taxes that built civilization -- though they were certainly used to build it. It's the desire to have the largest harem. I guess on this we just differ.
theircompetitor, Dec 11 2012


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