what my intuition tells me now: An Idea That Might Just Improve DemocracyPosted by Jason Apollo Voss on Jun 11, 2011 in Best of the Blog, Blog | 5 comments
I normally don’t blog about politics except as it affects investing. I consider myself a lukewarm follower of the political scene – having given up on politics as the real source of power in the United States. One person = one vote, but one dollar = one vote; so businesses are the real source of power in our culture.
However, as many of you who follow the blog know, I am simultaneously an arch-capitalist and a critic of capitalism. I feel that capitalism is a great good because it so efficiently organizes resources around the preferences of people. In other words, stuff gets done. But much damage has been done to the capitalist system by corrupt individuals and the businesses that they command, such that Joe and Jane Blow, myself included, have a difficult time trusting the scions of capitalism.
Even Apple, that cultish company, and maker of slick consumer products that even a curmudgeon like me loves, behaves badly. To my way of thinking, Apple is guilty of arrogant hubris. So what is needed is an authority that can check the rampant power of businesses and truly represent the citizenry.
Unfortunately, as we all know, the political situation in the United States – especially at the national level – is even more stupid and corrupted than are businesses. So how can we change things? Here’s an idea that came to me in a moment of intuitive inspiration that I hope catches fire.
All political ballots going forward need to include a voting category entitled something like: “None of the above.” That category would have the weight of a decision, not just an abstain. So if the “none of the above” category got the most number of votes in an election then the election process would have to be started over. The candidates that had run before could run again, but the election process could be opened up to new candidates. So literally the election process would start entirely over. Candidates would have to defeat the “no” votes against them!
What are the advantages of this system?
- A chance for citizens to say “no”
One of the problems with the way democratic systems have been set up is that there is no ability to say “no.” Regardless of whether or not you and I vote, say, because we don’t like the candidates, the election is held and someone takes over in office. This happens even if there isn’t a quorum of voters.
So even if the majority of the citizens don’t like the bums that are running in an election, those candidates might still get elected because there is no way to say “no.” How stupid is this? For all of the illustrious, beautiful ideas of the framers of the United States they seemed to have overlooked this simple point.
As currently set up you can only vote “no” by voting for the other candidate or not voting at all. That has to change, if…
- Alignment of politicians with the citizenry
If we want politicians to truly be in alignment with the citizenry then we have to be able to say “no.” This is how contracting works throughout the rest of our culture.
If you don’t like the products of a business then you don’t buy those products. Eventually that business will stop making those products – they are not shoved down your throat. But elected officials are foisted upon everyone, even if the majority didn’t want him/her in office. If you don’t like a job you can quit. If a business doesn’t like you they can fire you. If the military doesn’t like you they can discharge you. But what is the mechanism of saying “no” in our political system? There isn’t one.
If each of us could vote “none of the above,” and that category won on election day, and the election had to be held again, then the candidates that ran again would have to run on issues that people genuinely cared about. Candidates for office would have to actually win.
Think about it. The purpose of a representative democracy with elected representatives is that they are supposed to vote the interests of their constituencies. Yet even in heated national presidential elections less than half of the voting public votes; to say nothing of local elections. Clearly there is a lack of interest on the part of the citizenry. My hunch is that’s because there is a lack of accord between voters and those who would represent us.
But if we had to hold the election over and over again until the “none of the above” category “lost” the election, then politicians would be newly accountable to represent the interest of the people.
- More people would vote
As I said above, most people no longer vote in elections, even in important elections. Why? Either they are lazy – which is certainly true – or, they don’t like the candidates, and feel those candidates don’t really represent their interests – which I consider to be a greater truth.
Think about it. If you had the ability to effectively vote “no” for a candidate then your vote becomes important again. That ability gives you an incentive to participate in the democracy again as opposed to the limp “abstain” that happens when you don’t show up to vote. Now you show up because you know that your disgust will be logged and counted. Amen!
Greater voter participation means that politicians have to be more accountable and more appealing to the general citizen. Greater voter participation and then the democracy will begin to resemble its citizenry.
- Help cleave the influence of special interests
Overwhelmingly most people in the United States are for some form of limited gun control, yet the National tRifle Association repeatedly has wielded outsized influence over the outcome of elections. This is possible because its membership donates generously to politicians who vote in accord with their narrow interests.
If we all had the ability to vote “none of the above” in elections then special interests would hold less sway. Why? Because the people opposed to that flavor of special interest influence would have the ability to say “no.”
In part democracy is crumbling because there are too many “single issue voters.” So politicians find a small number of single issue voter hot button issues and campaign on those issues; and this becomes a part of their campaign issue portfolio.
But because as voters we have no ability to say “no” to the politician, we are forced to accept the whole campaign issue portfolio even if we are strongly opposed to one aspect of that portfolio. The only way to say “no” is to vote for the other candidate. But typically that other candidate has a majority of distasteful issues in her/his campaign issue portfolio. So effectively, you have to accept something that is distasteful to you.
Instead, if you can say “none of the above” then the politicians that lose, are likely to poll the citizenry to find out why they lost. Then they will see that their kowtowing to special interests cost them the election. So when the election is held again the special interest campaign issue mysteriously disappears from the campaign issue portfolio.
- Checking the power of businesses
One of the reasons that the business community has become so powerful in the United States is because of the weakness of politicians and the political system. If you improve democracy then you strengthen it. If you strengthen it then democracy can more adequately check the power of business.
- Campaigns more competitive on the issues
Right now most election campaign issue portfolios have as their “center” the center of gravity of the voting population. Then conservative and liberal candidates will add some issues to the portfolio to appeal to their specific constituents. So campaigns are fought to “not lose” more than to win. Why?
Candidates are not stupid, because there is no ability to say “no” to the two folks in the final election, they know that most everyone who shows up is not voting “for” them, but “against” the other person. That’s why campaign ads are so negative. If candidates can make the other person distasteful then they feel that they are securing votes for their own campaign.
But what about the voters who don’t like either candidate and find both of them distasteful? Because they don’t have a voice they don’t show up, so if you are a candidate, who cares?
Having the ability for voters to say “none of the above” would mean that candidates can’t just win by “not losing.” After all, an election victory would be secured by securing the votes of those who voted against the other guy, but also “for” you. That’s because folks do have the option of saying “no” to both.
Now I know what some of you are thinking: what if an election repeatedly ends up in a “none of the above” vote? Won’t important issues go unattended?
If you could tell me just what issue is so important as to require the immediate attention of most politicians, I would love to hear about it. The United States has many gigantic, seemingly intransigent problems. The size of those problems grows and grows due to the constant procrastination of politicians. Here I am talking about:
- Social Security and Medicare – which are bankrupting the country
- Budget deficits leading to accelerating total government debt
- Campaign finance reform
- Alternative energy
- The unemployment situation in the United States
- Two ongoing wars that we all grew tired of long ago and can no longer see the benefit of fighting anymore
And I could go on. Sans a state of war, the fact is that Congress and the Presidency have proven time and again that most issues just are not that timely. What I feel and think would happen in a democracy where “none of the above” is a choice is that the first several election cycles would be turbulent. Candidates and voters would need to feel out the system.
Candidates would have to figure out how to reconstruct campaign issue portfolios to win the election. That would mean a re-tooling of campaign strategies. But eventually, since the system would become more competitive, the best candidates would win and influence other, future candidates to follow suit.
Voters would eventually have to adapt to the system. A whole class of voters that currently do not vote would have to be coaxed back in to the system to participate. I am guessing that the novelty of being able to say “no” would entice a number of fence sitters to show up in the first several elections post the “none of the above” change. If democracy were to improve based on the “none of the above” change, then voter participation numbers and sophistication would grow over time.
Spread the word, damn it!
[This post has been edited for typos and greater clarity.]