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

Kristofer Munsterhjelm km-elmet at broadpark.no
Sun Jan 18 12:15:58 PST 2009

Michael Allan wrote:
> 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.

You may put it that way, but I think that goes the other direction as 
well: if it is true that distortions (by carrot or by stick, e.g 
vote-buying or coercion) degrade the public sphere so that one have to 
use a secret ballot in ordinary elections, then the distortions will 
remain when using a method that relies on public sphere information 
(that is, what you call communicative assent), yet the means of masking 
that distortion no longer applies, because it's no longer a private 
matter of voting, but a public one of discussion.

Or to phrase it in another way: the distortions of action can be called 
corruption, since this is really what happens when you're letting the 
distortions govern how you act when you're supposed to be acting either 
in accordance to your own opinion, or as an agent of someone else. For 
obvious reasons, we don't want corruption, and we would seek to minimize 
it, but it's still a problem.

The secret ballot came into use to protect voters from the distortion. 
Presumably the distortion was real and sufficiently severe to need such 
measures. If we remove the protection, the distortion will again be 
uncovered. It may be a problem with society, or with the method, but 
it'll be there, whatever the cause.

> 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.

The vote-buying effort would, of course, be a this-for-that endeavor. I 
provide money, you provide the vote - I "buy" your vote. After you've 
voted, I got what I bought, and I may buy another vote later.

Alternately, it can be continual: for as long as you, as a proxy, mirror 
me, I'll pay you. Stop doing it and I stop paying.

In both cases, the vote is the commodity.

>> ... 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
> the:
>    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.

I thought the system would have a deferred direct democracy component, 
as others have talked about in previous descriptions of proxy democracy: 
that each voter has a vote but can assign it to a proxy. If that's the 
case, then though each decision has less value, there are more of them 
from which to gather feedback.

I'll grant the part about assembly voting, though I'll note that if an 
elected assembly votes, then the composition of that assembly can be 
done by using ordinary secret voting, in which case there is no problem.

More information about the Election-Methods mailing list