October 10, 2003


Being egalitarian types, Sydney Morning Herald readers like Kevin Bennewith want everybody to be able to participate in politics:

I sometimes think that people should be obliged to pass an examination in economics, history, geography, social science, current affairs and politics in order to earn the right to vote. Nothing against our friend Arnie, of course, who is a very worthy gentleman and probably not guilty of all the scurrilous things of which he has been accused. Yes, a minimum 50 per cent pass in the afore-mentioned subjects should be required for anyone to be given the title voter.

That examination would disqualify most SMH journalists.

Posted by Tim Blair at October 10, 2003 04:09 AM

C'mon, Arnie has a doctorate (honorary though it may be). But, he really does have a Bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Superior (about five miles from where I am) in business and economics. As is pointed out here, he married into modern American history (and passed exams in swimming and archery). As for geography, he found his way here, didn't he? I guess Arnold would be qualified to vote.
Methinks Mr. Bennewith finds democracy a little too democratic.

Posted by: Charles Tulk at October 10, 2003 at 04:49 AM

....and it would disqualified all of the jounalists at the LA Times. The test is a good idea though, Arnie probably would have gotten 75% of the vote. Lileks was right that this American brand of democracy would scare the hell out of Europeans, but it appears to have bothered a few Aussies. Go figure.

Posted by: Jack at October 10, 2003 at 04:51 AM

That sort of elitism was also put forth by certain of our founding fathers, Madison and Hamilton I believe being two of them. The theory was firmly smacked down by Jefferson who believed in popular control of government. I think that over two centuries of a vibrant and successful, if tumultuous, democracy have proven Jefferson right. "Only certain 'smart' people should vote" snobbery is anathema to everything this country stands for. I was happy to do my part to promote that chaotic democracy on October 7.

Posted by: Lynb at October 10, 2003 at 05:16 AM

Sounds a lot like the literacy tests we merkins used in many states to exclude "people off color" (sic) from voting.

Posted by: Jim from Califloweria at October 10, 2003 at 05:43 AM

Yes it was. Better to use a rule like property ownership - since that is what will be taxed to fund much of what government spends.

Posted by: JEM at October 10, 2003 at 05:48 AM

Yes, it does sound like the voter qualification tests of yore—except much more draconian, since those of yore were literacy tests, not Scholastic Achievement Tests or the like. Since Kevin Bennewith is advocating a voter-qualification SAT test that would have a negative disparate impact on the poor & discriminated-against minorities who don’t receive proper education from the government, it is proven by Democrat/Socialist standards that Kevin Bannewith is a fiendish, chainsaw-worshipping racist.

Posted by: ForNow at October 10, 2003 at 05:53 AM

Sounds a bit like one of Robert Heinlein's ideas for limiting voters to people who aren't complete idiots.

Example: go into a voting booth, a quadratic equation pops up. If you solve it, you can vote. Fail, and a big loud buzzer sounds complete with flashing light and the person can slink away in embarrassment.

Posted by: Patrick Chester at October 10, 2003 at 06:22 AM

You see, it won't be hard for the Right People to pass those exams... the "correct" answers will be the ones the Right People already know.

Sure, the so-called "experts" in History and Economics might not agree, but what do they know, those Bourgeois Oppressors?

Posted by: Sigivald at October 10, 2003 at 06:43 AM

Quadratic equations? The vote for math people only. The Nerd-King, the Philosopher-King, the Historian-King, King Barkeep, etc., etc. Different strokes for different folks.

Posted by: ForNow at October 10, 2003 at 06:46 AM

i like the barkeep-bit...i'd like to be in that welfare-state

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at October 10, 2003 at 07:06 AM

Considering how college admission test results are now tempered by various means to acheive the desired result, any attempt to formulate a "test" of any kind will be necesarily met with the same kind of loud wailing and gnashing of teeth about its empirically evident discrimination against some group or other.

Let every one vote. Or, at least, let everyone enter their voting booth with a ballot. If they cannot read the ballot or figure out how the machine works, well, screw 'em. That's as much of an intelligence test as I can sign up for.

Posted by: charles austin at October 10, 2003 at 07:21 AM

“King Barkeep” has been my most applauded idea consistently now for over twenty years.

Posted by: ForNow at October 10, 2003 at 08:48 AM

Hell, I'd be satisfied with making them factor a simple polynomial...

Posted by: mojo at October 10, 2003 at 08:54 AM

tim, you're again falling into the easy trap of criticising the SMH because of some of its readers. are you answerable for everyone who posts here on your blog.

and while we're on the topic - it was on this very website that i was told a few months ago that my opinion didn't matter because the other visitor i was debating with nominated himself as "more important" than me (and this, despite him not having a clue who i actually am).

criticise this guy's position if you like, but quit blaming the SMH for everything you don't like in this world.

Posted by: john at October 10, 2003 at 09:32 AM

john, I don't think Tim was criticizing the SMH per se for publishing the letter, only its readers (for being elitists) and journalists (for being idiots).

Posted by: R. C. Dean at October 10, 2003 at 10:10 AM

That is an unbelievable letter. What a load of crap. Who will run the tests? Who will decide on the minimum pass mark? Who will decide the questions? Who will decide the "history"? If this guy has ever studied even one line of politics he will knows the answer- NOT THE COMMON PERSON THAT IS FOR SURE. What a dork.

Posted by: Rob at October 10, 2003 at 10:43 AM

I think the point is that those who wear an egalitarian heart on their sleeve so frequently reveal a morally superior self-regard.

The epicentre of this kind of thought just happens to be the SMH, which its readers clutch so self-righteously to their chests as they head into the coffee shop; or sit down in front of the television for another nod-along session with the ABC.

Posted by: ilibcc at October 10, 2003 at 10:50 AM

Yes yes, unfortunately here in the states that would be unconstitutional. The ACLU would step in file lawsuit after lawsuit claiming this infringes on the constitutional rights of the stupid. Besides, the Democratic Party would prevent this, because without votes from the functionally stupid they would never again hold power since most their constituency would be prevented from voting.

Posted by: Imam Psycho Muhammed at October 10, 2003 at 10:56 AM

There is something to be said for our current system in the US, where Democrat-designed ballots are miscast by Democrats for Republicans. The result is not the disenfranchisment of fools, but even more: the casting of their votes for the opposite party.

Posted by: ForNow at October 10, 2003 at 11:19 AM


your point is perfectly valid in the real world.

but calm analysis, and specific responsibility for comments would run counter to the point of this site don't you think?

plenty of options for reasoned reflections in blogosphere, many of which i have gleaned from spleenville.

this is the front bar of a rowdy pub.

a punter can go home, or into the lounge, whenever they feel like it. or stay and get really tanked, and blame the SMH and the ABC for everything they don't like, or agree with.

and the toilets and floors are cleaned nightly by maoist university lecturers and UN human rights inspectors.

* wakes and rubs eyes *

Posted by: chico o'farrill at October 10, 2003 at 11:37 AM

Bring back the property franchise.

Posted by: Habib Bickford at October 10, 2003 at 11:45 AM

And the workhouse.

Posted by: Habib Bickford at October 10, 2003 at 11:46 AM

I think perhaps we are all approaching this from the wrong angle. Lets look at the positives, if this were introduced whilst the Howard Government is in, conservatives get to set the test. So that means that we could have questions like :-

- Gough Witlam is the worst Prime Minister in the history of this great country, an aberation on the body politic and a traitorous blot on the landscape, explain why it would be preferable to hang Gough with a 3/4" hemp rope as opposed to death by firing squad?

- The Australian Democrat and Green Parties share what policy positions with the Nazi party of Germany circa 1941?

- Given the choice between paying 65% income tax of which half would be provided to a serial offending crack-addicted single mother on welfare with 15 children to 9 different partners, all of whom have criminal convictions, including the children; and dropping the entire family listed above off the continental shelf, explain what sort of boat you would prefer to use and why. Extra points will be awarded for describing in detail the tackle you will use for the fishing trip on the way back in.

See, there are good points to everything. Besides, imagine the frame of mind the average voter will be in after they have to take the test just before they are allowed to vote.

Posted by: Todd at October 10, 2003 at 11:49 AM

Whereas in Australia, a vote for a minor party usually becomes a vote for one of the two majors, as the candidates with least votes have their voters' 'second preference' reallocated. OK in theory but it leads to parties doing 'deals' to secure that second preference on the ballot paper.

Posted by: ilibcc at October 10, 2003 at 11:57 AM

the problem with this proposal is that with the exception of economics:) those subjects are not sciences at all and are wholly subjective

Posted by: Jason Soon at October 10, 2003 at 12:10 PM

Todd, you have hit oil, found the silver lining, found the gold laden mother load.Bless you.

Bennewith his name,
Pennyworth his dribble,
Frigginnora, what a brain.

Posted by: d at October 10, 2003 at 12:30 PM

Surely Mr. Bennewith is from the side of politics that wants all academic tests to have equal outcomes.

What a moron.

This Aussie is very glad that Arnie has won and thinks he'll do a better job than his predecessors despite the treatment he is sure to cop from the left wing media, Democratic politicians and chattering elites.

Posted by: Michael Gill at October 10, 2003 at 12:43 PM

The guy probably advocates qualifications to breed too. . . now there is an idea. Probably stop the population growth in Moe, VIC, dead in its tracks. Is this a possible solution to the housing price boom too? And there would be more space to let all the illegal entrants, sorry immigrants in too. And the greenies would love any slow down in population growth, wouldn't they. And the lower socio-economic members of society seem to have an obsession with driving over-powered motor vehicles - so it would cut down on pollution and the raping of the environment and Iraq because its all about the ooooooooiilll and not in their name. The benefits just go on and on and on . . .

Posted by: Razor at October 10, 2003 at 12:45 PM

George Will is not so sure.

Posted by: ilibcc at October 10, 2003 at 12:47 PM

George Will here?

Posted by: ilibcc at October 10, 2003 at 12:50 PM

I give up. He's in the Sacramento Bee. Apologies.

Posted by: ilibcc at October 10, 2003 at 12:51 PM

ForNow: Actually I think he was tossing out brainstorming ideas. It's been awhile since I read it. (ISTR another idea that only allowed mothers with children to vote in the same essay.)

Also, since when is a quadratic equation something limited to a person with a degree in mathematics?

Posted by: Patrick Chester at October 10, 2003 at 12:56 PM

I like the idea. One of the problems here in the US is the power of the education establishment. However, in just about every state that tests teachers and administrators butt-loads of them fail pretty simple tests. (Wasn't it the Superintendent of a major East Coast city that recently failed his written English test for the *third* and hypothetically last time?)

This would mean that a couple of million teacher who tend to vote for Democrats (and many more millions of their uneducated students) would no longer be allowed to vote. In Detroit, near which I live, I'm willling to bet not 10% percent could pass an eighth grade level test. There goes about 500,000 Democratic votes.

Posted by: JorgXMcKie at October 10, 2003 at 01:30 PM

I'm with Habib, bring back the property franchise.

This idea that a government should represent people is a modern fad. Even the much vaunted Greek democracies only gave citizens a vote, the vast majority of the population didn't qualify.

A government should represent interests.

Why is it common sense that an unemployed druggie who has been a charge on the state ever since he was involuntarily propelled out the end of his old man's dick and breeds hordes of his kind gets one vote ... while a hard-working citizen, who builds a company worth millions and employs hundreds, also gets just one lousy vote?

It isn't common sense, it's stupidity.

Posted by: os at October 10, 2003 at 01:36 PM

This sounds like the plan carried out in an early cloning experiment to create the perfect Democrat. The problem was, they succeeded. They created the smartest, wonkiest, social-engineeringist Dim ever - - - I give YOU - - - MICHAEL - - - DU----KAKIS!!! Yeah, yeah, ugh! Splat!

Posted by: Jabba the Nutt at October 10, 2003 at 01:42 PM

Yea, yu juste tRy to taek my voTe awaye, yu fukers...I bett Busch anD his fukkin fRiends are tryen to Do it rite now... tu git The oil and with the Joos tu, yu knowe...buT Doktor Deene wiLL stop tHem yu just watsch!!!!!

P.S. Bee shure tu reed mY columm tomOrrow

Posted by: Angery at bUsh and them at October 10, 2003 at 02:30 PM

Its a great idea. Think it through to the logical conclusion. If a minimum standard is a prerequisite to vote, surely a higher standard should be required to govern. Accordingly, the office of Prime Minister should be bestowed upon the highest scorer.

Barry Jones in power at last!

Posted by: Greg at October 10, 2003 at 02:38 PM

Great Idea Greg. It isn't fair that California has the only incomprehensible leader. Barry Jones would be perfect. Nobody understands what he says anyway so its a starting position. Hopefully though, nobody starts to understand what he says as that is just going to upset people.

Posted by: Todd at October 10, 2003 at 02:45 PM

Thanks Todd. An incomprehensible politician would be a plus for some. The media could do something they never, ever, do now. That is impose their own interpretation upon a quote.

Posted by: Greg at October 10, 2003 at 03:22 PM

Walking dictionary Barry Jones may be one of the stupidest men in Australian politics for his signal failure to drag the Australian Labor Party into electable territory.

Hence the chagrin and frustration of Simon Crean's speechwriter, Dennis Glover, in his book reviewed by Michael Costello - see link in Tim's post above Beating Terror.

Posted by: ilibcc at October 10, 2003 at 03:40 PM

I bet Kevin is from the EU. He sounds like he has the right attitude for their ruling elite. Must be a member of the EU Parliament, I bet. If not, he's missed his calling. Bet he'd love the EU and all it's elites. I'm sorry if the voters in one of our states has caused Kevin any distress. But, what can you expect from a bunch of cast-offs from Europe? We're just ignorant cowboys.

I've made up my mind that the elite will never like the US. Even our own 'elite' don't like us. Can't expect anyone else's elite to.

If they want to have any sort of test, it should be a common sense type test. For example, common sense tells you that if a group of people have declared war on you, believe them and fight back. I'll take that kind of knowledge any day over knowing math. Math can be learned. Common sense usually can't.

(I am NOT in favor of ANY test for voting.)

Posted by: Chris Josephson at October 10, 2003 at 03:58 PM

adam supports the palestinian cause. palestinians support terrorism. adam supports terrorism. filth.

Posted by: rosco at October 10, 2003 at 06:48 PM

Forget doing tests. Those with uni degrees (real ones) can vote, those without uni degrees can't vote.

It'll make sure we get the right people voting, and the right electoral results are obtained.

(I have a uni degree BTW)

Posted by: Andjam at October 10, 2003 at 09:25 PM

Since taxes pay for what the government does, skip the property or educational qualification, let's have a TAXABLE INCOME qualification.

The more tax you actually pay, the more votes you get.

As is well known, there are lots of people who manage to live in better suburbs than I do, drive a better car than I do, send their kids to more expensive schools than I can, but quite legally have a much lower TAXABLE income than I (wage earner) can.

"No Taxation without Representation", becomes "No Representation without Taxation"!

Posted by: bai ren at October 10, 2003 at 11:29 PM

Mike Carlton also thinks he knows better than the Californian voters.

About as sorry as that other Austrian politician and actor manque who invaded Poland. But then nobody mention the war.


Posted by: Andjam at October 11, 2003 at 02:31 AM

I wouldn't support an "intelligence" test as described (I know many "uneducated" people who have ten times the intelligence of the average leftist-university-professor-wanker.)

I do, however, support a "bare minimum awareness" test. Since an uninformed vote is worthless (and probably dangerous), a voter should be able to:

1) Name the Vice-President.

2) Name two Supreme Court justices.

3) Name five European countries.

4) Find England, Russia, Israel, and Iraq on a map.

5) Place the American Revolution, Civil War, and WWII in chronological order and date them within fifty years.

6) Identify two Allied powers and two Axis powers from WWII.

At the very least, this might encourage the Democratic tools at the NEA to actually educate their charges lest they be denied the opportunity to vote for the Democratic candidate.

Posted by: Dave S. at October 11, 2003 at 06:08 AM

1) His name is locked in a secure undisclosed location in my brain.

2) If it weren't for judicial activism, it'd be as important as knowing the name of the rubbish pick-up guy.

3) I've divested myself of that question.

4) I'm just happy enough to know that they're all still there.

5) Wasn't the civil war the one Robert Byrd participated in?

6) Which side would France count as being on?

Posted by: Andjam at October 11, 2003 at 11:18 AM