Saturday, September 11, 2004

Thoughts on Voting

Since there is a discussion on voting going on at FBC (as well as this brief post at All Day Permanent Red, on a slightly different but related subject) I thought I would post my thoughts on the nature of voting. They are controversial, since I have never met anyone else who had them.

1. Voters do not compete with each other in the act of voting itself. An election is not a competition among voters but among candidates and parties. This, incidentally, has implications for discussions of 'voting power' or the 'worth of a vote', which often make the false assumption that voters are in competition.

2. The self-governance of a people is only possible if it goes with the self-obedience of the people. In elections this means that to vote is to accept that you might be outvoted, and not to vote is to accept that others will decide the outcome.

3. The power of a vote consists entirely in its potential for contributing to a collection of votes such that, if they meet the standards in place, will determine the outcome. So long as the standards are not rigged so as to discount votes on the basis of the voter's intention, there is no way to diminish or augment the power of a vote cast. One's voting power is not diminished by an increase in the likelihood of being outvoted. One's voting power is not augmented by an increase in the likelihood of outvoting others. To think it is -- is to misunderstand the point and nature of voting. The power of a vote is not measured by how near or far away from holding sole authority you are; the power of a vote is either there, or it is not. To put it another way: the power of one vote is...one vote.

4. Votes in different elections are noncommensurable. One practical application of that is that a vote in a different state (in the U.S.) or a different riding (in Canada) cannot be given a common measure according to which they may be compared; this means another common assumption in discussions of 'voting power' is false.

5. In elections there is no such thing as a deciding vote; there can only be a deciding vote if there is a tie-breaking authority capable of voting after the results are in. There is therefore no such thing as "the vote that makes the difference". Every vote makes the same difference: one vote in the election in which it is cast.

6. Voters should be allowed to determine through their own deliberation whether they are competent to vote, and how voting stands in their own priorities. This means that there should not be mandatory voting. And yes, important as voting is, it can be perfectly reasonable to have higher priorities than voting.

7. Sometimes, from a personal perspective, the most important vote is the one in which you will certainly be outvoted. It can be most important in the sense that sometimes just putting down a vote for what you see as the right side is morally a very high priority. A matter of principle, as we say. Sometimes the most important moral consideration in a vote is that this position should not go without anyone voting for it, or this candidate should not go without anyone voting for them.

8. There is no such thing as a clear mandate from the people. Votes are just not that precise. The only thing one gets from the people is votes, and that could be for any number of reasons: your position on x, your position on y, your not having a position on z, the color of your hair, not sounding like a Yankee, not being your opponent. In fact, all of them are probably in play. Not looking like a doofus is not an electoral mandate; but there are probably more than a few politicians who have easily won primarily on that ground alone.

On the lighter side, see this Mallard Fillmore.

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