According to the Constitution (of America) the president must be a natural born citizen, at least thirty five years old, and have lived in the United States for at least fourteen years. Mind you, these are the only qualifications stated. Nowhere does the Constitution clearly define what a “person” is. Could the government of the people, by the people and for the people include such people as chimpanzees, dolphins or parrots?
If a citizen has to be a person, then how do you define what a person is? The easiest way to describe a person would be that they are a member of homo sapiens sapiens; they have 46 chromosomes, and can breed successfully with other members of the species. We could add that they have the ability to think, reason and communicate. But, is this too narrow a definition of what a person is? There would seem to be beings who meet many of these criteria who cannot vote and beings who fail to meet some or all of these criteria who can vote.
It is known that chimpanzees share 98% of their DNA with us and that humans are just another great ape. But, at no time in history has suffrage crossed species lines (Caligula’s menagerie notwithstanding). Currently, the only voting standards are that one must be a citizen, aged 18 or older and a member of homo sapiens sapiens. This does not take intelligence into account at all and yet we often separate human and non-human animals by the ability to speak, communicate and reason.
If a parrot, chimpanzee or dolphin can communicate and shows evidence of reasoning at the level of a human child, why should they be denied suffrage while a retarded human adult with a five-year-old’s mind is granted suffrage? Should they be denied personhood on the basis then of species? They do have different numbers of chromosomes, but then again not all humans have 46 chromosomes. Should we deny the vote to those with Klinefelter’s syndrome? After all, they have 48 chromosomes, the same number as a chimpanzee. But, species is not just chromosome number, actually most scientists would describe a species as an isolated breeding population. Yet those who are sterile or use birth control are not denied the vote.
Mind you, there have non-homo sapiens sapiens who did possess intelligence equal to us. Would a living Neanderthal or Cro Magnon be turned away from the voting booth simply because they do not belong in the exact same species as us? We can define “human” or “personhood” across species lines, so why then do we not define citizen status across species lines? If dolphins can be as intelligent as we are, why are they not granted suffrage that an equally intelligent human or perhaps a non-homo sapiens sapiens Neanderthal would likely be?
There are numerous non-human animals at least as intelligent as below-average humans. Many of these animals can communicate with us in abstract ways, they are self-aware, can use tools and think. Perhaps they are not as intelligent as anyone reading this article, but they are certainly more intelligent than many mentally impaired adults and imbeciles.
Now, another question arises; do non-human animals really understand the issues involved in the elections and in government? Well, they may not, but this is not a requirement of human voters. While there were, at times, literacy tests at the voting booths, currently literacy, and understanding of civics are not required of any human who wishes to exercise her right to vote. As governmental decisions affect human and non-human animals alike, we could in fact say that it is cruel to not grant non-human animals the vote, since laws may affect their very lives. Should they not have a voice?
True, non-human animals do not pay taxes, but are also no paid for the work they do. Plenty of non-human animals have jobs for which they are not compensated, so they can’t actually pay taxes. But this is irrelevant. Despite the popular idea of “no taxation without representation,” we rarely hear the converse “no representation without taxation.” But of course, paying taxes in not a requirement for voting.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution reads:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Historically, the Supreme Court has held that the amendment’s protections extend to such ‘persons’ as Exxon, Google or Sony, which now under U.S. law can be considered persons. Granted, a corporation cannot vote, but this does show that the U.S. government is willing to extend the constitutional person-hood to non-human entities.
So, what is preventing us from extending suffrage to non-human animals? Science recognizes that a human being is a member of genus homo, has 46 chromosomes, thinks, communicates and forms a reproductively capable population with others like it. And yet, voting privileges extend to beings or constructs that violate each and every one of these criteria while conversely denying the vote to beings who do meet quite a few of the criteria.
Why does suffrage work this logically inconsistent and unfair way? It is easy to see that it is our own human bias and species centrism and that discrimination against intelligent non-human animals has no real logical, biological or legal basis. Perhaps one day soon wise up and then we will have a Commander in Chimp.