19A006 Direct Voting? by Jim Davies, 2/5/2019    


Someone who posts on the same discussion forum as me suggested recently that the cumbersome process of representative democracy be scrapped in favor of direct voting on the issues of the day; a question would be posed, and 280 million Americans would be entitled to vote Yea or Nay, and that would be it. Why not? - the technology exists. Pull up the question, on a PC or smart phone, key in the vote, the deed is done. The majority will rule and democracy will be served.

At least he wasn't mindlessly presuming that the status quo is fixed for ever. He is most likely a Democrat, who has noticed that the "popular vote" would have picked Hillary in 2016 and that Trump won only because the rules of their political game require a majority of the Electoral College - as they all knew full well before they even file their decision to run for office. But no matter.

Would that idea be an improvement? Would it make government "work"?

Not in a million years, but let's check some of the reasons why not. Yes, perhaps it would bring one very marginal improvement. Today as soon as the votes are counted the candidate forgets most of the promises he made; under direct voting, there wouldn't be need for any candidates. Or promises.

But the obstacles and objections are formidable; insuperable, I think:

1. Since it would bypass the State legislatures, 50 sets of Pols and b-rats are likely to oppose it tooth and nail. They are in government for power, and power is what they would lose; yet their permission is required for the change to take effect. Short of an armed revolution (which the Army, sworn to maintain the Constitution as it stands, would repress) there would have to be a Constitutional Convention. I can't imagine any vote there other than 50 - 0 against.

2. Each day, one or more topics would be chosen from the current news, on which a vote is invited. Who makes that selection? Indeed, who decides what the day's "news" is anyway; there is almost infinitely more news in the world than any one person can even read. Obviously, the selector has a huge influence on the results.

3. Voters are to be qualified by taking a knowedge quiz about each topic. Who designs the quiz? Its wording will have a major effect on the outcome, and so the designer is, again, a person of vast importance. As with opinion polls, there is no such thing as a neutral question.

4. The idea presupposes that majorities are always right, or decide what is best for the society as a whole. I know of no evidence for that presupposition.

5. What's to prevent someone voting more than once? Even assuming (why?) that the computers tallying the total each time are tamper-proof, the possibility that some of the 280 million voters are going to fool the system (by using more than one device, borrowing the SS# of a deceased person...) is considerable; at least as large as the vote difference in a closely-contested item.

6. Just as in the present system, all the votes will result in a winning majority and a losing minority, so there will be a constant stream of disgruntled, losing minorities. Any form of government, with its one-size-fits-all decision making structure, brings this result. The idea will do nothing to relieve the discord in society that necessarily accompanies all government.

7. A direct-vote system would be unmoderated by any degree of good sense. Not much of that is present today anyway, but there is some awareness among the political class that fairy godmothers don't exist; that books have to be balanced, maybe, some time. This sense was abandoned in recent decades in Venezuela, and the result is that a prosperous nation has been reduced to penury. The US is on a similar slippery slope, though less steep. Direct voting would abandon it all; should we double the Minimum Wage? - of course, why not? Should we double Social Security? - certainly! We neither know nor care where the money comes from. In short, the idea would bring rapid disaster; Ben Franklin had it about right with “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.” A direct-vote system would rapidly self-destruct.

8. Some of the decisions taken will be those of life and death. Suppose 75.1 million vote to wage nuclear war on Iran, while 74.9 million vote to leave Iranians alone. It's possible. So the life or death of 82 million Iranians will hang upon the keystrokes of 200,000 American fingers. Should that tiny percentage discover later that they accidentally hit the wrong key, just as some Floridians in 2000 left hanging chads, it will be too late. An ancient and civilized people will have been vaporized. Yet if there's to be some kind of damper, oversight or constitutional limit, who picks the limits and how?

Probably you can think of some other obstacles that would prevent this idea taking place - but even if it did, it would in no way moderate the fundamental objection to all forms of government: that it uses force to over-rule individual choices, applying authority where no valid authority exists. By the self ownership axiom we each have an absolute right to run our own lives, and every kind of government violates that right. It needs not to be modified, but scrapped.

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