[EM] The structuring of power and the composition of norms by communicative assent

Michael Allan mike at zelea.com
Fri Jan 16 04:20:55 PST 2009

Kristofer Munsterhjelm wrote:

> The general problem is that if there's a way of finding out what a certain 
> person voted, or whether a certain person voted in a particular way, one 
> can apply pressure to get that person to vote a desired way (to the one 
> applying the pressure). That can be simple coercion, be it formal (in 
> "democratic" countries that aren't fully democratic yet), semi-formal (mob 
> bosses, or "vote this way or you're fired"), or informal (social pressure). 
> The coercion is "do it my way or something bad happens" - it can also 
> easily be changed into "do it my way and something good happens", as with 
> vote buying.

If coercion is a problem in this case, then it is strictly a social
problem.  If the private sphere of individuals, families, employers,
and so forth, is restricting the public communications of individuals
wrongly, in defiance of the norms, then society itself has a problem
in the relations between its private and public spheres.

It is not a problem for a voting medium that functions exclusively in
the public sphere.  The purpose of the medium is to accurately mirror
public opinion, and so it must also mirror the distortions, including
those caused by private coercion.  If people cannot *speak* their
minds freely, they ought not to *vote* them either.  This connection
between speech and voting is especially crucial to a voting system
that is based on communicative assent, as I propose here.  It is
essential that the voters, delegates and candidates all be engaged in
mutual discussion.  If the votes were not public, then the discussion
would die out, and voter behaviour would cease to be informed by
communicative reason.

None of the above applies to traditional voting mechanisms, of the
sort normally discussed here in election-methods.  Those mechanisms
are not designed for the public sphere.  They are designed for the
private sphere, opening a private communication channel from
individuals to the government.  Traditionally, the only communications
that become public are those of the reverse channel, in which the
voters are informed via the mass media, as a passive audience.

> Any sort of voter-reconfigurable proxy democracy has the kind of feedback 
> that enables coercion or vote-buying. ...

Re vote buying: Although the vote is public and compliance may easily
be verified by the buyer, there is no guarantee of *continued*
compliance.  The voter may take the money from one side, then shift
her vote and take it from the other.  Vote buying is likely to be a
poor investment.
> ... if the conspirators assume law X has near-majority support, they
> can buy the votes of enough to get a majority, and then pay them if
> X does indeed pass ...

Such a deferred and contingent payment will be unattractive to someone
who is selling her vote for a few dollars.  She probably wants the
money right away.  If her payment is contingent on subsequent
administrative action by the government - what the buyer really cares
about - then the delay is apt to be too long.  In a legislative
context, for example, the assembly must schedule a separate, in-house
vote.  The vote buyer must then engineer a massive shift in public
votes, just prior to the in-house vote.  But caveat emptor, because of

   i) cost of buying votes in vast numbers;

  ii) risk of discovery in such a large operation;

 iii) likelihood of the assembly ignoring the vote shift, knowing it
      to be a momentary artifact.

Crucial to (iii), public vote shifting for/against the proposed bill
will continue non-stop, even after the assembly accepts or rejects it.
So the assembly members will have ample opportunity to learn from the
public's past voting behaviour, and avoid mis-interpreting it.  They
will have ample incentive too, because their seats will be the issue
of public voting in separate polls.

For another example, consider an electoral context, where the issue is
an office.  The issue depends on the public voters recasting their
votes come election day.  Only then can the buyer see the outcome, and
know whether to pay or not.  But he cannot tie that outcome back to
the public votes that he bought, because the translation was carried
out by the voter themselves, in secret ballots.  The best the buyer
could hope for, once again, is to engineer a massive shift in public
votes just prior to election day, thus attempting to persuade other
voters to go along with it.  But the same cost/risk considerations
apply (i and ii).

And caveat voter too, considering the:

  iv) embarrassment of being implicated as a vote seller, in a scheme
      that was subsequently exposed.

Michael Allan

Toronto, 647-436-4521

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