Rethinking the Voting System: Competence, Psychological Factors, and Ensuring Informed Decisions

The foundation of democratic governance rests on the principle that every citizen has the right to vote. However, as societies become more complex and issues more intricate, questions arise about the competence of the electorate. 

Should voting be universal, or should it be restricted based on certain mental abilities and psychological factors to ensure that voters are making informed and competent decisions

The Current State of Voting Systems

In most democratic nations, the right to vote is nearly universal, limited only by age, citizenship, and in some cases, legal status (such as incarceration). While this inclusivity is a cornerstone of democracy, it raises concerns about the electorate’s ability to make informed choices. Research indicates that many voters lack a deep understanding of the policies and candidates they support.

Statistics Highlighting Voter Competence Issues

  • Political Knowledge: A 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center found that only 39% of American adults could correctly answer 10 basic political knowledge questions.
  • Misinformation: According to a 2020 MIT study, false news stories are 70% more likely to be retweeted than true stories, indicating widespread misinformation influencing voter decisions.
  • Education and Voting Patterns: Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that individuals with higher education levels are more likely to vote and participate in political activities.

The Case for Competence-Based Voting

A competence-based voting system would ensure that individuals casting votes possess a fundamental understanding of political, economic, and social issues. This approach is not without controversy but has potential benefits in enhancing the quality of democratic decision-making.

Psychological and Cognitive Factors

  1. Cognitive Ability: Studies suggest that cognitive ability correlates with political knowledge. A 2018 research paper in the Journal of Politics found that individuals with higher cognitive abilities are better at processing political information and making informed decisions.
  2. Critical Thinking: Critical thinking skills enable voters to evaluate political messages, understand the implications of policies, and resist misinformation. A competence-based system could emphasize the importance of these skills.
  3. Emotional Intelligence: Emotional intelligence allows individuals to manage emotions, understand the emotional impact of policies, and engage in civil discourse. Voters with high emotional intelligence can contribute to more rational and empathetic political environments.

Real-World Examples

Singapore’s Meritocracy

Singapore’s political system is often cited as a model of competence and meritocracy. While not a perfect example of selective voting, Singapore emphasizes education, continuous learning, and competency in governance. The country’s approach has led to a highly efficient government and impressive economic growth.

Ancient Greece

In ancient Athens, the birthplace of democracy, voting rights were restricted to male citizens who had completed military training. This early form of selective voting was based on the belief that informed and invested individuals would make better decisions for the polis.

Expert Opinions on Competence-Based Voting

Thomas Jefferson

“An informed citizenry is at the heart of a dynamic democracy.” Jefferson’s emphasis on education underscores the importance of knowledge in voting.

John Stuart Mill

“A person should be free to act as they wish unless their actions cause harm to others.” Mill advocated for competency in voting, suggesting that informed voters are less likely to support harmful policies.

Yuval Noah Harari

“The greatest scientific discovery is the discovery of ignorance.” Harari argues that recognizing the limits of knowledge can lead to better decision-making processes, including in voting.

Implementing a Competence-Based Voting System

Transitioning to a competence-based voting system would require significant changes in policy and societal attitudes. Key considerations include:

  1. Assessment Methods: Developing fair and unbiased methods to assess voter competence, such as standardized tests on political knowledge and critical thinking skills.
  2. Education: Enhancing civic education to prepare citizens for informed voting. Governments could invest in educational programs that cover political processes, economic policies, and social issues.
  3. Inclusivity and Fairness: Ensuring that competence assessments do not discriminate against any group and provide equal opportunities for all citizens to qualify.

Challenges and Criticisms

Implementing a competence-based voting system is fraught with challenges and ethical concerns:

  • Discrimination: There is a risk of disenfranchising certain groups, particularly those with less access to education.
  • Bias in Assessments: Developing unbiased and fair assessment tools is complex and could inadvertently favor certain demographics.
  • Democratic Principles: Restricting voting rights contradicts the fundamental democratic principle of universal suffrage and could lead to societal divisions.


The idea of a competence-based voting system raises important questions about the nature of democracy and the role of the electorate. While ensuring that voters are informed and capable of making sound decisions is crucial, any move towards selective voting must be carefully weighed against the risks of discrimination and the erosion of democratic values. As society continues to grapple with these issues, the focus should be on enhancing civic education and promoting informed, responsible voting among all citizens.


  1. Pew Research Center. (2019). What Americans Know About Politics and Government.
  2. MIT Media Lab. (2020). The spread of true and false news online.
  3. U.S. Census Bureau. (2020). Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2020.
  4. The Journal of Politics. (2018). Cognitive Ability and Political Sophistication.

By fostering a more informed and capable electorate, we can strengthen the foundations of democracy and ensure that the decisions shaping our future are made with knowledge, wisdom, and integrity.