Sunday, October 10, 2010

Voting (What if...?)

With local council elections occurring at the moment, it brings my mind back to the nature of the system.  The question always occurs to me during this time:

What if you don’t like any of the candidates, and what if you don’t think the voting system is fair?

There is always the publicity line, “if you don’t vote, you don’t have the right to criticise,” which refers to you having a chance to have your say at the election booth.  If you don’t have your say, then who are you to speak against the powers that are elected if you didn’t vote against them?  This is very annoying to me, and it fails to deal with the serious issue where people deliberately do not vote.  Below are some problems with the system that give many a philosophical opposition to it.  We should not ask people to participate in a system they do not feel is appropriate.

Problems with the current system
The foolish majority could win a popularity contest and destine the state to fail. The best campaign will win, and not the best candidate for the job.  One candidate might be known for spending large and increasing debt and rates, but their spending makes a good foundation for future economic growth and income for the city that will mean lower rates later.  Another candidate might be known for trying to bring down the rates, lowering the potential for the city to develop and increasing the risk of much higher rates later down the track as the city tries to play economic catch up without the foundation of investment to support them.  On the surface it seems as if the candidate trying to get more money into the voters pockets with lower rates is better, but for the long-range well-being it is the other candidate who is better.

Under the present system, with perhaps half a dozen candidates for mayor, for example, there is the curious situation where someone could be elected in with perhaps 15 percent of the votes counting for them.  If up to 70 percent of eligible voters vote, and there is a pretty even field, the winner will win without a clear majority of support.  This sets them in a position of power when the majority clearly do not want them in power.  The best outcome from such a system is if 100% of people decide to vote for only one of two candidates and one wins by a majority portion of the votes.  But even then, the other objections to this system are present which can lead to an unhappy outcome.

No matter how many voters or whether there is a majority win or not, voters don’t know the people they are voting for and cannot be expected to make properly informed decisions about who to vote for.  The average voter does not possess enough personal information about candidates and their character, nor do they possess enough knowledge of the role they are voting them for.  In fact, it is only a very few people who do know these things.  When you think about it, it is almost a total fluke that anyone of any worth would be elected into the right position for them by a bunch of strangers!

This does not get into the other problems with the system, such as having too much say over our personal lives via legislation (which can be pushed through by a minority government!), but hopefully you can see that this is a hopelessly flawed system that is unfair for the majority of people who are electing representation for themselves that cannot possibly represent the majority properly.

A better system
It isn’t right to criticise the system without being prepared to offer an alternative that is better.  So here is my attempt.

Being nobody qualified in the matter of political systems, but merely an individual with an interest in having a system that works for me and those I love,  it seems that we should take a system that represents people well and where those voting have enough knowledge to do so fairly.  The people (or person) who has the final say should have enough knowledge of the system to be able to make it serve the people best.  Here is my idea for having representation and governance, taken partly from a more natural type of governance and partly from the Old Testament system of judges.

I call it, the “Chain of Trust”.  In this chain of trust it is important for people to trust whoever is put forward within their group to lead.  The leader must be willing to lead (even if they are a little reluctant, which is probably better) and must demonstrate a high level of natural leadership within the group.  The smallest group would be around 50 people, and they would have some simple but clear guidance about how to choose the best person to lead among them.  Once they have this person to lead them, they can now take all of their problems and issues to that leader to find wisdom or to pass the problem further up the chain if their leader lacks knowledge or wisdom in that situation (or if the situation affects people outside of their group).  

The next level is to take 10 of these leaders of 50 and ask them to choose a single leader-of-leaders.  A chain of trust should be developed from groups of 10 leaders all the way up to the top where there is a final group of 10 with one of them being the final leader who has the final say on the biggest issues that make it all the way to the top.  It sounds scary to have a single leader with that final say over so many, but it will work because of the chain of trust that puts every single person into a clear and simple line of contact with the decision makers.  

One of the advantages of this sort of system (other than dealing with the obvious problems quite nicely) is that each leader should not have too much of a work load if they are leading only one group of 50 or 10.  The leaders of 10 relinquish their leadership to the next best candidate on their previous level of leadership, narrowing their focus.  Each leader will mostly be able to carry out their own jobs and lives without having to be separated from the “real world” while leading.  

Another advantage is the clear and simple election process where trustworthy people are always electing the leader so that the top dog should be the most trustworthy of the lot.  Anybody of any standing in society will naturally become a leader if they are suited to the role.  Roles can be changed at short notice, and a majority decision at any level is possible with the decision travelling up to the next level if there is dispute or a lack of unanimity.  If the decision travels up enough levels it is clear that either way will be suitable anyway, otherwise if it was simple it would have been solved already.

A better system is possible, but if we put that aside for a moment and look at the current system; we can see that it is not merely a matter of complacency or procrastination that causes a lack of voters.  For many, their issues with the system are unformed and hard to identify where their ill-feeling comes from; and it becomes just too hard to try and form them, or too disheartening to offer their vote which, for the majority, will not matter.  

It has to be acknowledged that there are legitimate reasons for not voting and it is a immature and shallow response to dismiss principled non-voters.  Lets consider alternatives in everything we do so that we end up with the best system we can.