Lloyd Omdahl: 'All we can do is pray for wisdom'
"Meeting will come to order," announced Susan B. Olson, chair of the Western League of Women Voters and now chair of the ad hoc Ultimate Blue Ribbon Committee on Remedying Ignorant Voting on Measures. (She was named for the famous suffragette, Susan B. Anthony.)
Around the table were two delegates from the League of Women Voters, three political science professors, one psychiatrist, a school superintendent, the English Teacher of the Year, a priest from Richardton and two unemployed wheat shockers. (The shockers hoped Trump would bring their jobs back.)
"At the last meeting of the legislative interim Committee on Initiated and Referred Measures it was suggested that the only defense against big money was an informed citizenry," she explained.
"Everybody knows that many people are easily misled when it comes to voting on measures so we are here to address the problem," she concluded.
"At least the 40 percent that don't vote are smart enough to know they don't know," noted one of the political scientists. "So it would be a lot worse if everyone voted."
"At one time the state Constitution authorized the Legislature to pass laws requiring everyone to vote," a second political scientist added.
"Too bad science hasn't come up with an intelligence shot that could immunize voters ..." the school superintendent started to suggest.
"Great idea!" interrupted one of the wheat shockers. "They have shots to make people tell the truth so I don't see why they couldn't do that for raising intelligence."
"If they are too dumb to vote maybe they're too dumb to get the shot," the second shocker concluded.
"Way back in 1898, the people voted for a measure to provide an educational test for voting but the Legislature never implemented it," the third political scientist reported. She was looking in a fat book so no one doubted her.
"The Legislature was run by Germans and Norwegians and they weren't about to disenfranchise all of their relatives," the first shocker scoffed.
"It would be simple if we could just require a high school diploma to vote," a League delegate suggested.
"Well, I am not so sure that would help," a political science professor doubted. "I have seen some professors who knew nothing but their subject and that was about it. Knowing everything about rocks doesn't help when voting on tobacco tax issues."
"Smart isn't always smart," another political scientist added.
"Couldn't we design a special exam?" the psychiatrist asked, thinking about some good questions he could put on the test, like, did they have potty training problems?
"It would have to be a simple test so it could be processed quickly," a League delegate observed.
"I think it should be an essay test in which they had to explain each measure in 25 words or less," the English teacher proposed.
"Who would grade 300,000 papers in time for the election?" asked the second League delegate.
"Besides, there would be a problem with distribution and collection of the tests."
"Before we could test anyone, we should give them the basic information about the measures," a political scientist proposed.
"The secretary of state was required to publish and distribute a booklet to every voter — it was called the publicity pamphlet — but it was eliminated in 1964 in exchange for a tax cut," a League delegate reported.
Realizing the committee had exhausted all options, the priest from Richardton stood up.
"It sounds to me like all we can do is pray that wisdom would be poured out all over North Dakota like never before."
The meeting was recessed without a benediction.
Lloyd Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor and professor at UND. His column is published each Monday in the Herald.