Following up on Effects of "know before you vote" political system

One controversial aspect of that question was: who writes the knowledge test? Top answers pointed out that such a test "could [not only] be manipulated to exclude certain groups of people" but also "ignores some very interesting aspects of humanity such as the 'wisdom of the crowds'".

An idea would be to have the test itself be written by the citizens in a stack exchange / reddit kind of way: anyone can contribute to what you "must-know before you vote". Other aspects such as the number of questions to include or the score to pass the test could also be collectively decided.

Would such a system:

  • allow an unbiased literacy test (disallow propaganda, exclusion, ...) ?
  • take advantage of the 'wisdom of the crowds' ?
  • change anything at all (the questions are selected by the people) ?
| improve this question | | | | |
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think you have the same problem. If a strong enough group of people rigged the test, they could more easily rig the election $\endgroup$ – Marshall Tigerus Jul 5 '16 at 16:14
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Besides the problems pointed out in the answer below you should also consider that that makes it incredibly easy to cheat; just look up the questions (if not the answers) in the creation thread $\endgroup$ – Annonymus Jul 5 '16 at 17:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Just from the title and nothing else, I envision yiutube comments and twitter… $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jul 5 '16 at 18:22
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ It also leaves out interesting concepts like, "stupidity of the crowds and common misconceptions". I mean, you wouldn't be able to vote during some of history if you thought that humans caused global warming, the earth orbited the sun, or the earth was round, all of which are now found to be false. Who knows how many things we think we know in modern times are false, especially in more scientific realms? $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Jul 5 '16 at 22:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That's not even talking about intentionally slanting the test. $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Jul 5 '16 at 22:37

This would almost instantly produce systemic disenfranchisement of racial and cultural minorities, and in the long run, destroy social cohesion within the nation. The reason is, the majority group would automatically (if not intentionally) write the test in a way that make sense only for that cultural group, and since the test is a literacy test (i.e. based on language arts skills), this effect is especially pronounced.

A real world example of this is the controversy surrounding culturally biased questions on the SAT that advantage students who are native speakers of the majority “white” dialect of English. It is a simple fact of life that there will be differences in culture between different groups of humans, and that some concepts and expressions that make sense in one culture may not translate as well or come as easily to a native of another culture.

Such a system may work just fine in a relatively homogenous country with little diversity. However, in a multicultural society, this would be an invitation for complaints of “bias!!!”, founded or unfounded. Leaders of large minority groups in such a country may discover that it is possible to reflexively claim “the test is biased!”, since members who fail the test will naturally blame the test, whether or not it’s really biased. We see this commonly in the United States today, which does not even use literacy tests for something as important as voting. Leaders like these may play on fears of racism or discrimination to consolidate their influence, producing subnations and tribal loyalties within the country and a “trust no other color” attitude among members of the minority groups. The end result would be one of three possibilities:

  1. Discrimination is expanded and made explicit

    The majority group internalizes the complaints of bias and racism in the tests, and simply decides that biased tests are a fact of life and moves to make the tests even more biased towards the majority. Essentially “if we are accused of being racists, we might as well get something out of it”. The result is something of an apartheid society.

  2. The nation breaks apart

    Minority groups decide they want no part in a discriminatory system, and divide the country. If they are scattered across the country, they may reach an agreement with the majority to form reservations or enclaves which would be nominally self governing. If they are concentrated in one geographic area, they may simply secede. This scenario has the highest likelihood of violence and bloodshed, as partitioning a nation is usually a very messy and blood-drenched process.

  3. They get rid of the test.

    Supporters of democracy on both sides may foresee the consequences of such a system, and decide that a national literacy test is simply not worth the social strife, and move to eliminate it and reinstate universal adult suffrage.

| improve this answer | | | | |
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the interesting insight ! Do you think this would also happen with 1/ a very basic test on the knowledge of what's being voted* 2/ an effort to take the bias risk into account** ? * which should make it harder to introduce any sort of bias ** for example by allowing any minority to contribute to an extra step of validation of the test to ensure it's as unbiased and nondiscriminatory as possible $\endgroup$ – 7hibault Jul 6 '16 at 8:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ to 1) if the test is made very basic, by definition 99% of the populace will pass it, which by definition defeats the purpose, and 2) that is impossible because bias is not easily quantifiable, or easily compensated for especially without accidentally overdoing it. Members of minorities in the "test" group may also behave differently or have different traits than the group as a whole; this is the problem of field testing. $\endgroup$ – taylor swift Jul 6 '16 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with your comments on 2) but I disagree with your remark to 1), I don't think it defeats the purpose even in that case. There’s a line between what people know at all times and what they’re able to learn/remember from studying. A basic test does not mean that it’s a test anyone could take anytime anywhere without getting ready for it. If 90% of the population could pass the test without studying, which sounds fair for a basic tests and assuming that with some studying 99% of the population passes, that’s an extra 10% of (hypothetically) better-informed voters, which is not negligible. $\endgroup$ – 7hibault Jul 6 '16 at 15:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Time is a resource, like any other. Those with less free time (“Those with a real life and a real job”, to quote o.m.’s answer below) would be at a disadvantage. $\endgroup$ – taylor swift Jul 6 '16 at 15:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In theory. But introducing an actual test as qualification puts a target on democracy’s back for people who want to accuse the test of being unfair, even if the accusation is unfounded. See the first answer to the parent question of this question. Lesser things have produced outrage over perceived “bias” in the US. The losing party will invariably blame the test, even if the test is not at fault. $\endgroup$ – taylor swift Jul 6 '16 at 16:10

I can see several problems with this system, and any of those could become an interesting plot point in your fictional world ...

For practical purposes, first you hold a vote on how the question is framed, then you hold the vote itself. That first vote doesn't meet the requirements of a democracy.

  • Votes must be free. On StackExchange a quorum of voters with enough reputation can delete questions and answers. (Look at the voting patterns to block some holocaust deniers on History.SE for an example.)
  • Votes must be secret. On StackExchange I can't be completely anonymous, I have an account. (Mine doesn't tell my real name, but someone who knows me might have recognized it.)
  • Votes must be equal up to inevitable rounding errors. On StackExchange users with a high reputation have more rights.
  • Also, the first vote is deliberately designed to reward people with time on their hands. Those with a real life and a real job are at a disadvantage.
| improve this answer | | | | |
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't think of that. Should the vote framing the vote meet the same standards as the vote itself? IMO, it shouldn't but this would certainly lead to complications. That's some tasty food for thought. $\endgroup$ – 7hibault Jul 6 '16 at 8:33
  • $\begingroup$ @7hibault, you could have a situation where enough people support the referendum to make it happen, but a couple of determined (or well-funded) campaigners "hijack" the question-writing process. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Jul 6 '16 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ The most ironic part about that would be that if votes aren't secret, people couldn't do a thing but witness that group hijacking the process $\endgroup$ – 7hibault Jul 6 '16 at 16:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @7hibault, accusations of posters being "paid trolls" or "astroturf" or very soon of being a "bot" would fly every time. Few people can do the statistical analysis themselves, they'd rely on the (paid?) specialists of their own side. (From my own account one might be able to guess that I have a "real" 9-to-5 job which has nothing to do with posting opinions on Stackexchange. The number of leave days where I can post during daytime correlates with my apparent timezone, assuming regular working hours and European labor policies, I'm real.) $\endgroup$ – o.m. Jul 7 '16 at 5:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.