I conversed with someone the other day who said that just like we study and take tests to obtain a driver's license, we should similarly study and pass tests to get a voters' license. She said that this would at least partially prevent unengaged and/or uninformed voters from influencing the election in an objectively undesired way.

What are some objective reasons why this won't work as intended, or why it is a bad idea?

By objective, I mean, please avoid answers such as "voting is a right", and so on. That is definitely a respectable response, but a very subjective one as well.

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    There are no purely objective reasons. They're all going to be subjective. That said, in terms of a democracy, it defies the very definition of democracy: everyone can have a voice. – user1530 Jul 7 '17 at 6:39
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  • One problem with this is - it disenfranchises citizens. Aside from the very good 'quis custodiet ipsos custodoes' response, disinterested voters are a reflection of public sentiment. And that sentiment should be reflected in public action, lest rising disinterest translate into something worse than a bad midterm election. – tj1000 Jul 7 '17 at 13:06
  • Reopen vote. The true answers to many interesting questions are negative answers. The value of such questions is in clarifying the error or problem or assumption, and as education for those new to the question. Closers here are like a children who despise younger children doing puzzles they once found engaging, which once puzzled them too. – agc Jul 20 '18 at 5:29
  • @agc I'm not an original closer, but after review I think the answer to this question is the same as the questions linked by SJuan, making this question a duplicate. – Jeff Lambert Jul 20 '18 at 14:27

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

One important reason to not implement a license system that it is much more vulnerable to manipulations. Whoever runs the tests gets the power to decide who can vote and who cannot. There is no objective measure of "voting fitness" - the test's difficulty can range from only very simple questions that most people should already know without looking them up (who is the current head of government? etc.) to something that you cannot pass without at least one month of preparation. Where do you draw the line, even in an "unbiased" test?

How do you make sure that the test designers are fair? As it is, many ruling parties in democratic countries try to use their power to exclude certain minorities from voting. They cannot directly forbid it because the right to vote is universal - but they are sometimes trying really hard to set up some barriers to make it very inconvenient to vote for groups they view as leaning towards their political opponents. Or take, for example, gerrymandering. In theory, it is great to make every vote count exactly the same, but in practice, you can see what it leads to. Giving out licenses would make things much easier for parties that try to shift elections in their favor.

By the way, did I write "unbiased"? Even that is an illusion. The test will be biased by design: It is specifically targeted to exclude uneducated voters. A lack of education correlates with a lack of income. Thus, the final vote will shift towards the opinion of the rich. Is that even desirable in the first place? Elections are democracy's way to give the people a way to "correct" their government if they disagree with it - the other way to do so used to be revolutions. There are many disillusioned voters right now already. If you completely take away their right to re-join the democratic decision making process, they won't be happy, that's for sure.

At the end of the day, the only "objectively desired" outcome of an election has to be to accurately reflect the opinion of the entire electorate. If the majority of the people are making "stupid" decisions, well, that sucks, but it is their right - not only because of ethics, because of necessity. They will continue to be existant even if you chose to ignore them. So you have to listen. Many of the world's politicians make the mistake to think otherwise.

If you want to have less uneducated voters, the most sustainable way is .. to educate them.

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    " If the majority of the people are making "stupid" decisions, well, that sucks, but it is their right". This. I wish I could upvote more then once, just for this. Everyone has the right to vote, and there is no "objectively undesired way" uneducated people can be influenced to vote. Its their damn right to vote however they want. – Polygnome Jul 7 '17 at 11:17
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    Right on the money. When disenfranchised citizens have no say, they can in extreme situations, resort to other means. The US avoids this by having midterm congressional elections, as a way for the people supporting the party out of power to make their voice heard. One country that didn't have this was Spain in the early 1930's. When a left leaning group took over, and those on the right felt powerless to affect their government, the result was the Spanish Civil War. – tj1000 Jul 7 '17 at 18:35
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    "Elections are democracy's way to give the people a way to "correct" their government if they disagree with it..." - this presumes people know the truth about what's wrong. The issue of late is that there are so many voters who think something's wrong when it actually isn't. – CramerTV Jul 20 '18 at 23:45
  • @CramerTV "The issue of late is that there are so many voters who think something's wrong when it actually isn't.".... Respectfully, I disagree. If a majority of persons in a democracy believe there is a problem, there is a problem. Even if the 'sane', or 'educated' or 'pick the word you choose' simply know they are wrong, it doesn't, and perhaps shouldn't, matter. – CGCampbell Jul 25 '18 at 13:17
  • @CGCampbell, I believe it does matter. Opinions are fine when those opinions don't affect others but ignorance, prejudice, etc. must be combated. randysrandom.com/6-vs-9-eternal-struggle – CramerTV Jul 25 '18 at 17:35

History shows us that once people are given power that lets them decide if someone can vote or not, they will abuse that power to target and exclude their opponents.

For example, in the United States, literacy tests have in the past been used to disenfranchise minority groups from voting, which prompted laws to make such tests illegal.

Because elections are locally administered in the United States, voter suppression varies among jurisdictions. At the founding of the country, most states limited the right to vote to property-owning white males.[10] Over time, the right to vote was formally granted to racial minorities, women, and youth.[11][12][13] During the later 19th and early 20th centuries, Southern states passed Jim Crow laws to suppress poor and racial minority voters – such laws included poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses.[14][15][16] Most of these voter suppression tactics were made illegal after the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 2013, discriminatory voter ID laws arose following the Supreme Court's decision to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which some argue amount to voter suppression among African-Americans.[17][18]

-- WikiPedia: Voter suppression

  • I upvoted, but I think you need to explain why voter suppression, or classicism, is a bad thing. An of the people. by the people, for the people locution would drive this home. – K Dog Sep 8 at 18:21

What are some objective reasons why this won't work as intended, or why it is a bad idea?

Oh, it probably would work.

But the idea of a democracy is not to always find the best possible solution. Technocracies (governments led by experts) can often do that better.

The idea of a democracy is to come to results that most accurately represent the will of the largest part of the population. You sacrifice quality for responsibility; rather a not-so-good decision that a majority of the population can subscribe to, than a better decision that only a tiny elite understands and accepts.

You can question this assumption. You can argue that a technocracy, a meritocracy, or a benevolent dictatorship might yield better results. But on the long run, a democracy seems to be more resilient against (although not completely immune to) the corruption of power than any other system.


A major premise of modern democracies, perhaps the major premise, is that national sovereignty stems from the will of the people, who assemble and design their government to perform certain otherwise difficult or impossible tasks and duties, and who delegate to their government certain powers by which to regularly accomplish those duties.

To license or permit voting would be to pretend as though the people were not sovereign, making a privilege of voting as if granted by the grace of a monarchical will high above its people. In a monarchy, a voting license would make perfect sense. Such licenses might all be revoked at any time, if the monarchical government found its people undeserving of the privilege, or bought and sold, as with NYC Taxi cabs and ticket scalpers.

But in a nation with democratic values licensed voting would be self contradictory, and a sign of some broken and disobedient perversion of its government. A democratic government can however safely regulate and better organize its elective processes, in such a way as to equal or better any appropriate features of monarchical voter licensing.

  • Kind of a general stub of a more classical answer. Needs more details, and background, plus a few relevant historic URLs to emphasize its intentionally complete lack of novelty. – agc Jul 21 '18 at 0:47

1) Minor gerrymandering with questions. According to my academic experience economics is being studied by people more on right wing (especially in economics), while political science seems to attracts more left-wing leaning people. Which one should dominate on the exam paper? (not mentioning even higher ideological disparities between military academies and humanities)

Sure, people could learn for the exam, but with limited effort you could actually eliminate less educated and more lazy part of some electorate, which in your opinion is undesired.

2) Gerrymandering by dealing with threshold. For example, in great oversimplification: in the US poorly educated minorities vote Democrats, above that you have let's call it Bible Belt, then college educated Democrats, and on the whole top are over represented classical liberals (libertarians) who consider Republicans as lesser evil. Pending where you put the cut off line, you may slightly skew whole political composition.

3) People don't like being told that they are idiots. It would be even more humiliating when the test would actually show that in quite clear and hard to refute way.

4) Big part of democracy is not electing bright people, but providing social harmony - people frown at you when you say that masses are on your side and you need to throw country in bloody revolution, when if your support was genuine it would be much simpler just to run in next election. Apparently using check and balances (or deep state in soft version like technocratic civil servants) is a bit more palatable for general population.

[Personal opinion: I'm surprised that other answers were excessively general, with limited amount of pointing out where exactly one could skew such system a bit. Nevertheless, there is clear limit in making the test an overkill, as ones favourite electorate would have to be able to pass it without serious problems. Personally, I'd like for such system to be tested on small scale]


Democracies aren't the "best" form of government except in one major regard - they are less likely to have violent revolutions. Voting makes people feel that they are both responsible for the current government and that they have a way of fixing any problems that exist. Democracies have problems when the democratic-ness is skewed, where some populations have disproportionate influence, or some populations have no influence. This leads to feelings of futility and frustration, which (combined with other factors - like a government that doesn't meet their economic needs and a large enough population) can lead to violent revolution. As a way of avoiding this, democracies should seek to equalize individual's voting power.

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