Testing the populace before they can vote

Dambisa Moyo:

I have been examining electoral systems across the world. In many democracies, including the US and UK, migrants are required to pass government-sanctioned civic tests in order to gain citizenship. So, in this vein, why not give all voters a test of their knowledge? This would ensure minimum standards that should lead to higher-quality decision-making by the electorate. The message this would send is that voting is not just a right, but one that has to be earned. Such testing would not only lead to a better-informed electorate, but also to voters who are more actively engaged.

Of course, such a system would be truly democratic only if everybody had a fair chance of casting their vote. It is vital that those with fewer life opportunities have their say, and we cannot have a system that is skewed against the worst educated, which would leave poorer people even more marginalised and unrepresented than they already are. To that end, the knowledge needed should be part of the core curriculum, with young people tested in their final year of secondary education. Governments could also organise tests for those over school age.

But if we raise the bar for voters, we must also do so for politicians. Improving the quality and credibility of political leaders is essential to enhancing democracy’s legitimacy. One approach is to move away from the career politician model by setting minimum experience requirements for politicians.