Voting Shouldn't Be a Right But a Privilege

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by Barrett Kalellis

In the wee small hours after the election and the prospect of a Gore electoral win in Florida began to recede, the Democrats took a page from the Clinton playbook: send a horde of lawyers and party functionaries to Tallahassee to belch out dense smokescreens about voting "irregularities" while they sniff out friendly courts that will entertain motions to overturn the standing vote count.

Additional trolling for votes comes via litigation threats from Jesse Jackson, who specializes in engineering street theater press conferences, discerning racial animus in the Palm Beach County precinct elections. Next on the to-do list, the usual swarm of party hacks and camp followers descend upon network and cable TV studios to bloviate about "fairness," "illegal" ballot design, the accuracy of hand counting, and how chad fools the voting machines to "disenfranchise" innocent voters. Sensing a boost in ratings, the media keep the pot boiling with round-the-clock coverage of the controversy.

As Florida's political process continues to spiral downward into voting minutiae and legal gambits, the specter of similar scenarios in other states looms on the horizon: recounts of close vote margins in Iowa, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Oregon are being darkly hinted at by Republicans, perhaps opening a Pandora's box that threatens to invalidate the entire election.

One of the more instructive signs that Bush supporters carried in the Tallahassee streets read, "Democrats Are Too Dumb to Vote", in response to the "confusing" butterfly ballot. Straining at gnats, the partisans who advance this issue fail to see that it's more likely that the minority of voters who filled out the ballot incorrectly are the ones that are confused instead of the form.

Faced with the loss of the executive office, it's quite clear that the Democrats are advancing any argument that might gain traction in order to prevent Bush from winning. And since the nation has become inured to eight years of disreputable Clintonian legerdemain, they are counting on any possible combination of tactics to achieve this goal.

Avoiding unproven claims of voter fraud, these tactics include charges that: 1) Gore votes were lost because of a misleading ballot design;

2) votes were lost because vote counting machines invalidated thousands of ballots, otherwise preponderantly going to Gore if they had been counted manually; and 3) minority voters in some precincts were turned away from polling places. These claims are dubious to begin with, and the Gore partisans have tipped their hand by demanding that only ballots in four heavily Democratic counties be counted manually, where subjective interpretation could conceivably add to the Gore total using ballots previously excluded. They filed this request, of course, with the knowledge that the time limit had expired for Republicans to do the same thing in Republican counties.

Elsewhere, other subterfuges were tried: In St. Louis, Missouri, a partisan judge gave heavily Democratic inner city polls three additional hours to remain open, until a court injunction closed it down. In major metropolitan areas, labor unions and city political machine ward heelers provided quid pro quo transportation to the voting booths. It was even rumored that homeless people were rounded up and offered free packs of cigarettes to "come in and vote". All of these sly maneuvers surrounding the election process point to one thing: thousands of voters can be easily manipulated, and they don't seem to know enough to cast an informed vote, or even to fill out a simple ballot.

In our republican form of government, unfettered universal suffrage has been taken to an extreme. Why is it that there are age and residency qualifications for voting, but none for the comprehension of elementary civics? Why is any vagrant allowed to cast an ignorant vote on our country's future and that of all of its citizens, but cannot participate on the jury panel of, say, the Van Cliburn Piano Competition?

Why should our society grant the franchise to people with no knowledge of our form of government, its laws and policies, coupled with little understanding of the issues, yet make them take written and performance tests before issuing drivers' licenses? From whence comes this romantic notion that the more people who vote the better?

Voting shouldn't be a right but a privilege. This puts the responsibility for qualifying where it belongs – on the individual.

As Epictetus warned, "Only the educated are free."

November 14, 2000

Barrett Kalellis is a frequent contributor to The Detroit News, and

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