Voters should pass civic literacy test

Former Republican presidential candidate and former Congressman Tom Tancredo attracted criticism with comments he made in his opening keynote address at a Tea Party Convention in Nashville on Feb. 4.

“…Something really odd happened mostly because we do not have a civics literacy test before people can vote in this country,” Tancredo said to the cheering Tea Party Convention. “People who could not even spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House. (His) name is Barack Hussein Obama.”

Tancredo blasted the “cult of multiculturalism” and touched on a sensitive topic. Literacy tests were a staple of Jim Crow disenfranchisement of African-American voters in the South until they were banned by the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

“It’s innate racism, and I think it’s why young people are turned off by this movement,” Meghan McCain, daughter of former presidential candidate John McCain, said on ABC’s “The View.”

While Tancredo deserved criticism for agitating the Tea Party crowd, he is right for suggesting that civic literacy tests should be put in place for future elections. Voters should have to pass a test before they are allowed to vote because it is important to understand the country’s basic principles.

According to a 2006 Zogby International poll, only 24 percent of Americans could name two U.S. Supreme Court justices, though 77 percent could name two of Snow White’s seven dwarfs. A 2008 Intercollegiate Studies Institute poll found that less than half of surveyed college students knew the three branches of government.

The racial portion should be ignored. Youth of different races are equally engaged in civic activities. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, civic education levels and understanding of American ideals are relatively the same among all races.

But the lack of civic knowledge or involvement across the board should raise questions.

Tancredo explained his views in an interview with right-wing blogger John Hawkins.

“We strain to tell Americans and aliens in this country that there’s nothing unique about America, nothing unique about American civilization, nothing that requires their allegiance, nothing of great value that they should sacrifice for,” he said. “Then, of course, people come here in big numbers from other countries in other cultures.”

Tancredo and his Tea Party followers probably couldn’t pass this supposed test themlselves, as they fail to understand the unique history of America. The U.S. was founded on the principles of equality of opportunity and freedom from oppression. Now, more than ever, it’s important to accept all cultures.

However, since civic literacy is relatively equal along ethnic lines, civic literacy tests would serve the purpose of weeding out angry uninformed voters without the side effect of racial discrimination.

Neil Manimala is a junior majoring in biomedical sciences.