I think Voting is Killing Democracy

Authoritarian autocracies like China are showing up the west with how they can get shit done with their laser focus on long-term goals. Seeing this from the vantage point of your typical representative democracy, where politics is a shitshow of bitter infighting with glacial short-sighted progress (if not backtracking), some might start to think voting for someone with authoritarian leanings might be a positive change.

Op-eds from representative democracies that don’t have ranked choice voting say if only they had 1234 in their ballots they’d get some consensus in government. In the ones with low voter turnout they say if only they had compulsory voting. What’s Australia’s excuse? As soon as leadership changes hands between parties they immediately start scrapping and overturning projects that were in place leading to governance that’s only as consistent as it is dominated by a single party/ideology. Is that really democracy? Seems more like authoritarian musical chairs.

The problem is to become a representative you need to run expensive campaigns (in time if not money) to win votes which structurally selects for people of certain social strata. Party structures form primarily to help representatives campaign and those parties to be effective in competing for votes need to show contrasts with opposition parties values which structurally selects for polarization (and contempt). We end up with representatives that aren’t very representative of how the population lives or what they think. No matter how fair you make the ballot, no matter how much of the population you force into a voting booth, even trying your best to get money out of politics, the core system of representatives competing for votes is destined to lead to these corrosive effects.


I think you be interested in this 15min audio summary of a Designing Open Democracy meetup called “Summary - Challenges facing the Present and Future of Democracy”

The full discussion notes is located in here: https://discuss.designingopendemocracy.com/t/challenges-facing-the-present-and-future-of-democracy-friday-may-19-2017/68

But yes there is a real issue in how Democracies around the world is functioning, not just from a technical perspective (e.g. spoiler effect), but also the social-economic perspective with a tinge of cultural inertia.

Does the above 15min summary cover all the ideas you have on why voting is killing democracy and perhaps the challenges that democracy face?

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As I see it the only meaningful solution is to remove representative election voting.
There’s 2 ways i know to go about that…

Direct Democracy, have everyone vote directly on policies.
Ignoring the technical issues of even enabling everyone to vote on policy issues at a large scale and high frequency, there’s a very real issue of attention… you’re expecting a majority of the population to stay informed and active on every policy issue that comes up, on top of their everyday lives. A system like that is begging for minority manipulation and has it’s own class stratification in who even has the time to get informed and think about issues critically. It’s hard to even say that the money interests will have less sway when they can still finance advertising and other shenanigans.

Sortition, randomly selecting representatives from the population. This is how we get a jury for courts. With random selection we know for sure we’re getting average people with views that represent the community and we have a well-trodden template in the courts for how to do it effectively. (An aside, how fucked up would the justice system be if we had general elections, where people campaigned to be jurors and had party affiliations and they stayed on for many years getting reelected so that they could contribute their views to many cases “on behalf of voters”?)

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Is this a hypothetical question, or a reference to how many US states have partisan elections for their state supreme court justices?

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Autocratic systems are good at getting shit done in exactly the same way that planned economies are good at getting shit done. There’s no overhead in bothering with competition. But there’s a very important single point of failure. When, not if, whoever is in charge gets it wrong, then everything’s fucked.

You’re also ignoring the bitter infighting that still goes on even in autocratic authoritarian states. There are good reasons that when a dictator takes power, the first thing they do is get rid of dissidants elsewhere in government to shore up their position.

The people writing those op-eds haven’t done the research, probably. The effects of introducing preferences or making voting compulsory are minor and insufficient. It’s possible to have a healthy democracy without them, and it’s possible to have an unhealthy “democracy” with them.

You’re rightly observing that two party winner-take-all systems where majority governments are the norm produce polarized authoritarian musical chairs. But this does not mean that such results are unavoidable no matter what sort of democratic representative system is used.

So what would a workable system look like? Let’s speculate:

  1. There would be many parties present in parliament. The best outcome would have a couple of parties that could be viable parts of quite different coalitions.
  2. Outright majority governments would be rare.
  3. The process of forming a government after an election would always involve compromise.
  4. The makeup of parliaments would correspond as closely as practical with how people voted.
  5. It would be easy for citizens to initiate referendums and recall elections, should there be sufficient support from the population to do so.

Points 1, 2, 3 should help to discourage polarization and prevent drastic policy shifts. Points 4, 5 should help keep politicians in line with actually representing what people think.

Are there real world examples of systems like that? I think so. First places that come to my mind are Switzerland and Finland. The obvious problem being that they use non-English languages, so studying their politics in depth is difficult.

Relating this back up to those op-ed pieces, what would be a very important thing to have that would greatly help is some sort of proportional representation voting system.


European democracies really don’t get anything done when they have weak majorities split over many parties. And why would they? Parties aren’t magically going to stop having the incentive to kneecap each other just because the government isn’t getting anything done… the party (as a structure) has no need for anything to ever get done as long as they can convincingly blame their opponents for the obstruction.

There are two occasions where compromise and consensus can be reached among parties… when the people controlling the parties (party bosses, donors, cabals of PR firms) agree on an issue across party lines or when enough individual representatives on one side of the issue courageously (or selfishly) break away from the party line.

A good system wouldn’t have powerful parties because a good system wouldn’t need money and influence brokers and strategy committees all for deciding something as basic as who gets to be the representatives.

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It’s really damn late, so I’m not going to post much, but I just want to point out one thing here:

In most European democracies, governments are always formed of majorities split across many parties. Your statement is equivalent to claiming that those democracies never get anything done, ever. The claim seems just a little bit suspect.


The things they get done are here…

And I should mention for the first case it isn’t just that they agree, it’s that they have something to gain by agreeing or something to lose by not which is what I was talking about here…

Whether or not a majority formed of multiple parties gets anything done has to do with whether theyre both being run by the same interests and how competitive the parties are. The Coalition here are not very competitive at all, they’re a defacto single party by means of consistent alliance but the second an alliance stops being symbiotic for the party organism it will start becoming divisive and a hindrance immediately whether or not there are any actual representation differences.

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