A post by John Burnheim.
About ten months ago, John Burnheim wrote to me in terms I’ve reproduced on this blog previously. John was one of the early movers in academia exploring the limitations of electoral democracy with his book Is Democracy Possible published in 1985 and then decades later with his book last year The Demarchy Manifesto. After a long academic career, he’s still gnawing on the bone of how we might make democracy work better in the modern world. And after many quite lengthy exchanges with me by email, he’s writing posts for us here at Troppo. Here’s his first post. There will be more to come:
The poverty of voting
Votes carry very little information, but often give form and content to power. It is sometimes seen as virtue of voting that it hides the motives and understandings that motivate a person to vote in a certain way. From this point of view, a vote is a piece of power. A system of voting determines how many of those pieces of power constitute a valid power that overriding all the other votes and binds the other voters to accept that decision. A constitution determines what matters are being decided by voting and who is entitled to vote.
The voter is thus completely free to vote as she likes, answerable to nobody, in a fully secret ballot. Even In the case of a public ballot, the voter is not required to offer any justification for how she votes. The vote is valid no matter what her motives. If others are entitled to criticise or retaliate; it is because of other undertakings or relationships. The secret ballot is pure liberty, an exercise of power answerable only to one’s own conscience. Advocates of the secret ballot often assume that the voters have a soundly based conscience on the matters on which they may vote and that he danger to be avoided is that others will try to intimidate them into voting against their better judgement. Advocates of public voting often see voters as inclined to vote privately for reasons they cannot defend. Continue reading