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

Michael Allan mike at zelea.com
Sun Jan 25 10:19:13 PST 2009

Juho Laatu wrote:

>>> I see three alternative approaches (for each individual voter)
>>> here.
>>> 1) The vote is forced secret. The voter can tell how she voted
>>> (=freedom of speech). But she can not prove to the coercer or
>>> buyer how she voted.
>>> 2) The voter can choose if her vote is public or secret. She can
>>> also tell what her secret vote was.
>>> 3) The vote is public.
>>> What I mean is that also enforced secrecy and free speech can be
>>> combined.

Michael Allan replied:

> > Not in the public sphere - neither (1) nor (3) is enforceable - only
> > (2) is allowed.  It is the nature of the public sphere, and part of
> > the legitimacy it confers on the process.  More on that later...

Dave Ketchum replied:

> I get dizzy on public vs private as used here, but have to disagree
> on some of the above.

My argument above is a continuation from previous posts.  To

By a voting system "of the public sphere", I mean a system situated in
a common space where systematic force is inapplicable.  Unlike the
voting systems of the state (general electoral and in-house
legislative), where the state enforces a monopoly system of a
particular design, there is no way to enforce a pattern of design on
the systems of the public sphere (primary voting systems).  Competing
designs are allowed, and voters may choose among them.

Just as people are free to speak their minds in the public sphere, so
they are free to propose and build their own voting systems for public
use.  This is especially easy, because much of the software is open
source.  No authority can *generally* enforce a secret ballot.  If
some people happen to dislike the strictly secret ballot of one system
(1), they may build an alternative system (3) that restricts itself to
a public, fully disclosed ballot.  And if others prefer no
restrictions at all, they may build yet another system (2) that allows
for *both* secret and public ballots (voter choice).  Mutatis
mutandis, the least restrictive of these systems will eventually
acquire a broader level of participation.  So I argue - neither type 1
nor 3 is likely to be stable in the face of competition from type 2.
We may therefore assume type 2 voting systems in public sphere.

This is important, because the design of type 1 is quite different
than 2 and 3.  We can save effort by forgetting about type 1, and
concentrating our thoughts on 3 (the simplest overall), moving later
to 2 (not much different, so an easy migration).

> True secret voting - important to protect a voter's vote from being known:
>       A society can use a ballot box with black and white balls, especially
> for deciding whether to accept a new member.  There is NO record to protect
>     or lose as to who voted black.

Each such voting system is enforced by the private "society" (club,
etc.) that employs it.  It is therefore not a system "of the public
sphere".  To change voting systems, one must change clubs.  (There is
no way to change public spheres, we all share the same one.)

>       Lever voting machines can be used in public elections.  At least
> originally these were as secret, though all kinds of cheating now becomes
> possible.

Machines could be used... the interface medium is irrelevant to the
argument.  A public voting system must be open to all members of the
public, and they must have (in principle, if not in practice) a choice
of alternative systems, with no design restrictions.  So the public
(in effect) designs its own voting system.

>       Paper absentee ballots can be handled in a way that, if done
> properly, maintains secrecy.  The envelope has the voter's name.  The
> ballot is forbidden to identify the voter in any way, and is void
> otherwise.  When the envelope is opened the ballot is placed in a stack of
> such without looking at content.

(Again, the interface medium is irrelevant to the argument.)

> Signing petitions is generally non-secret - with this known to the signers.

But this (type 3) cannot be generally enforced.  General rules are not
possible in the public sphere.  It must be allowed that some petitions
be of type 1 and 2 - if that is feasible for a petition.

> Speech is only occasionally kept secret - courts and legislatures and
> societies choose when they need this.

Secret speech in a public space.  OK, but not too much, or the space
is no longer public.

Think of a private speech in Parliament.  Weird, but this has become
the norm since the late 1800's or so.  The real debates moved to
back-rooms, where the organized parties hammer out their differences
in private.  Parliament is now a stage on which these parties speak in
front of the public, and exlusive of it.  So Parliament is no longer
an institution *of* the public, but rather of the party and state
administrations - as we all intuitively know.

Likewise, in a broader public voting system, as I propose.  If private
voting comes to pre-dominate in such a system, then it is no longer
*of* the public.  It becomes an artificial synthesis of private
opinion that speaks *to* the public.  It speaks in a voice that
neither the public nor individuals can recognize as their own - the
voice of the mass.

> Proxies?  There is need for a verifiable record as to how many votes a
> proxy can cast.

Like any voter, a proxy (delegate) casts a single vote of her own.
Those of her voters are carried along with it.  The method is
described in the first section of the original post.  Also here:


Michael Allan

Toronto, 647-436-4521

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