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One Writer's Ravings:
A Logophile's Blog
for Language Lovers

Duhmockrasy in Akshun

In this presidential election season, political scientists and pundits are fond of distinguishing between the so-called high-information voters, the small percentage of the electorate who keep up with the news, are informed about the issues, and can speak intelligently about what's at stake, and the so-called low-information voters, the vast majority of the electorate who know little about the issues, make gut decisions based on whim or prejudice, and can be swayed by rhetoric calculated to inflame their emotions.

One issue that has inflamed the emotions of many voters over the years is whether ballots should be printed in various languages or only in English, and whether a citizen should be able to speak and read English in order to vote. I have long puzzled over why this debate has always focused on naturalized citizens with little or no fluency in English, while ignoring the far greater number of American-born citizens who have little or no fluency in standard English.

What gives native-born Americans who are semiliterate, slipshod users of English any more right to vote than nonnative Americans who are struggling to learn the language? If you think citizens should demonstrate their fluency in English to gain access to the polls, then why shouldn't all citizens be tested to see if they can compose a coherent paragraph with properly spelled words? After all, stupidity and ignorance didn't just get off the boat at Ellis Island. They've been with us, regrettably, since the Mayflower.

As Exhibit A for this argument, I offer the following letter from a native speaker of English, which was sent to the office of a California state senator. It (sort of) speaks for itself:

Senator ——:

Please vote AGAINST Senate Bill 12133.

The ballot is for citizens of this country. To become a citizen you
must be born here or be naturalized. The naturalization process, I
beleave, required the person be able to comunicate in English. Natural
born citizens have gone to school and have been tought English.

If you cannot comunicate in English how can you understand what you are
voting for?

A vote made unintlengently is worse than no vote.
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