This post grew out of my thoughts about required training for juries (see American InJustice System Part II). While clearly there are issues beyond voter incompetence (see Frothing Moderates for some thoughts) I started to think that educated juries are probably also likely to make good (or at least better) voters than the race to the bottom we have today (where any moron can (and most morons do) vote for their favorite in the nonsensical popularity contest which is our electoral system). As mentioned in my second post on the American InJustice Part II initially there was a quite substantial poll tax when the founding fathers were making decisions about our government system. In order to vote, run for office (or sit on a jury) you had to be a male landowner. That 'tax' was such that likely less than 20% of the population was eligible for participation in our government. Somehow (or such is reported by all the histories I have read) people were OK with the exclusion and pretty much happily got on with their lives. As I propose in American Injustice II regarding qualifying to serve on a jury, I think the same sort of requirement ought to be present to participate in any level of government (e.g., voting, running for office, etc.). I think that anyone who wants to participate in our governmental process (including the (In)Justice system, i.e., juries) ought to pass a rigorous exam that requires extensive knowledge of history in general and US history in particular. I know that many might argue that we are all supposed to have passed an analogous exam as we went through our educational system or were required to learn the same in immigration classes, but for the vast bulk of us the requirement to know any of this information was fleeting and terminated when we were all still in school. However, if you have to pass, as an adult (if you can't vote until you are 18, why not wait until then to pass the exam), an exam particularly tailored to your ability to comprehend our government and justice system and in particular if that exam were not required to enter society as a contributing member (meaning graduate high school, enter college, get a job, etc.), then likely only people seriously interested in the subject (or seriously interested in participating in government, which I would like to presume would mean the same thing) would bother sitting for the exam.
Unlike our rather silly system of getting driver's licenses here in the US (same caveat about morons) where you pass the (rather simple) exam once and you are basically good for life, I believe that every 2-3 years you need to pass an exam on current events and how they might impact our government. If you can't seem to find the time to stay abreast of the current sociopolitical environment, why should you expect to have a meaningful vote in our government? While clearly this system will favor the highly motivated hyper-partisan members of both extremes of our political situation and disfavors the likely large swath of middle America that rarely summons the effort to vote, at least these hyper-partisan nut jobs have to have a grasp on both sides of the issues else they won't be able to answer the refresher exams correctly.
Clearly the creation of the primary exams and particularly the refresher exams are hugely subject to meddling, but I do believe that it is possible to have an open system that could agree on the subjects to test and the correctness of the answers. It is possible to build a multiple-choice exam that is very good at testing comprehension, but naturally it takes a lot of thinking to do so. Perhaps in the long run partisans would poison the system, but on the whole I see our judicial system as capable of remaining above the political fray so something modeled on that has a chance of success.
Naturally actually implementing something like this in the good old US of A is impossible, to put it mildly. If there is one thing that Americans will rise up against is taking something away from them even if they don't cherish it or even make use of it. Just like babies and candy, Americans won't part with something they perceive as a right even if that 'right' was just something given to them for some expedience. I put for this proposal for discussion only, I believe our system is well and truly broken and broken in such a way that it is impossible to fix, ever. The only thing I see that could cause our government to change is where some other government comes in and takes over and imposes something else. As I argue in "Frothing Moderates" our founding fathers, accidentally I think, created a government immune from revolution. Thus we spiral further and further into irrelevancy and I feel that at some point (which could be very far off indeed as we have huge resources that are barely tapped) some other government will step in and take away our resources and while they may let us continue to play at governing ourselves, it will be one giant insane asylum. Of course, there exists a small chance that we could somehow elect leaders who will make the short-term sacrifices for the long-term good, but I just don't see how our popularity contest, guaranteed to elect a liar, system can possibly evolve to that point.