The 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in January 1964. It spelled out that the right of any citizen to vote shall not be denied or abridged by reason of failing to pay a poll tax.
It may be time for a 28th Amendment:
"Resolved, the right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall be granted solely to those who can successfully answer 70 percent of the questions on a simple civics and current events test."
I’d love to see how our various state legislatures would vote on that one. Can you imagine the stirring floor speeches and soaring rhetoric defending the unalienable rights of self-imposed ignoramuses everywhere to the right of suffrage, to hold the power to select our elected representatives? For many of our elected officials those are their constituents, without whom they’d never have been elected.
Two surveys of Americans in recent weeks lend a modicum of credence to this otherwise outlandish-sounding concept.
First was the Zogby exit poll of 512 people who said they’d just voted for Barack Obama. Fully 57.4 could not correctly say which party currently held control of Congress.
Guessing should’ve rendered a 50 percent result.
Then 71.8 percent did not know Joe Biden, out of the four presidential and vice presidential candidates, had dropped out of a previous campaign after being caught plagiarizing.
When asked, "Which candidate said their policies would likely bankrupt the coal industry and make energy rates skyrocket?" 27.5 percent thought it was John McCain, while only 11.6 percent of Obama backers correctly named their own candidate.
And 82.6 percent did not know Obama won his first election by getting opponents kicked off the ballot.
Only 2.4 percent answered 11 of 12 multiple-guess questions correctly.
The fair criticism of this exit poll is that it was asked of only Obama voters and not of those who voted Republican. They too might have been just as clueless, right?
In that case we turn to a survey of 2,508 Americans by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute for its American Civil Literacy Program. Surveyors asked 33 multiple-choice questions ranging from naming the three branches of our federal government to naming one of the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment.
Many of the questions are quite similar to ones found on the standard test for foreigners to become U.S. citizens. Why should an accident of birth alone grant suffrage?
Fewer than 1 percent of those surveyed correctly answered 90 percent of the questions. Fewer than 11 percent answered 70 percent of the questions correctly, anything less was considered a D or F grade. The average score on the test was 49 percent.
Only 21 percent of those surveyed knew the phrase "government of the people, by the people, for the people" comes from the Gettysburg Address.
Only 27 knew the First Amendment prohibits establishing an official religion.
Liberals scored 49 percent. Conservatives scored 48 percent. Republicans scored 52 percent. Democrats scored 45 percent.
One of the disturbing, though possibly not surprising, findings was that people who said they’d at one time been elected to public office attained an average score of only 44 percent. The citizens are smarter than those we elect?
Those who say they read newspapers, of course, scored higher on the test.
All else being equal, the survey found "a person’s test score drops in proportion to the time he or she spends using certain types of passive electronic media. Talking on the phone, watching owned or rented movies, and monitoring TV news broadcasts and documentaries diminish a respondent’s civic literacy."
So there you have it, under my 28th Amendment only 11 percent would be granted the right of suffrage.
Now the question is: Under this revised Constitution, would you have the right to vote? Want to find out?
That’s easy enough. Get on any computer with Internet access and go to http://www.americancivicliteracy.org/resources/quiz.aspx.
Take the test, I’ve already spotted you a couple of answers, and see how you score on the citizenship scale.
Yes, I took it and scored 90.9 percent, missing three questions, the answers to two of those are disputable. Let me know how you fare.
Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and writes about the role of the press and access to public information. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at tmitchell@review journal.com. Read his blog at lvrj.com/blogs/Mitchell/.