[EM] A design flaw in the electoral system

Michael Allan mike at zelea.com
Mon Oct 3 01:30:43 PDT 2011

Thanks very much for replying, Fred.  Metagovernment is a good list
for these kind of discussions, as good as any I know.  You'd
definitely be welcome there.  I'll look up the reference you mention,
and respond more fully soon.  In the meantime, I wish to share an
updated abstract, plus a first draft of the section that concerns the
electoral system.  Critique is welcome.


An individual vote has no effect on the formal outcome of the
election; whether the vote is cast or not, the outcome is the same
regardless.  This appears to open a structural fault in society
between the individual person and the individual vote.  The voter as
such (as a decider) is thus alienated from the means and product of
decision, and thereby disengaged from political power and freedom.  I
argue that the sum of these disengagements across the population
amounts to a power vacuum, which, in mid to late Victorian times, led
to the effective collapse of the electoral system and the rise of a
mass party system.  Today, the organized parties make the decisions
and exercise the political power that was intended for the individual
voters.  I trace this failure back to a technical design flaw in the
electoral system, wherein the elector is physically separated from the
ballot. [QCW]

The electoral system uses a flawed model of the social world and no
valid decision may be extracted from its results.  The results depend
upon a voting procedure in which the individual person as an elector
is separated from her ballot (or his ballot) prior to the formation of
a decision.  This procedure not only invalidates the decision, but
physically causes the structural fault in society between the
individual person and the individual vote, thereby raising the
possibility of broader societal failures.  That fault and those
failures are the topic of the previous and subsequent sections
respectively, while this section deals with the root cause in the
design of the electoral system.

           +---->   meaningless vote     ----+
           |                                 |
     (a)   |                                 V       (d)
           |                     (g)
     Disconnect between elect-            Structural fault between
     -or and ballot in flawed   ------>   person and vote in
     electoral procedure                  society
           |                                 |
     (b)   V                                 V       (e)

     Flawed model of social               Power vacuum
     world in count engine                   |
           |                                 V       (f)
     (c)   V
                                         Collapse of electoral
     Invalid decision                     system onto party system

     =========================            =========================
     Formal failure of          ------>   Actual failures in
     technical design                     society

   [REL] Causal relations.  The direct causal relations among
         flaws, fault and failures (a - g) appear to establish an
   indirect relation (h) between a formal failure of technical
   design and the actual failures in society.

Consider the voting procedure.  On election day, the individual
elector arrives at the polling place and enters a voting booth.  There
she (or he) places a pencil on the ballot and marks an 'X'.  By this
act, she becomes an actual voter.  As a voter, she walks over to the
ballot box and deposits her ballot, then walks away a non-voter again.
She and her vote now go separate ways, her vote to remain in the
ballot box to be summed with the others; and she perhaps homeward to
await the announcement of the results.  This, in essence, is the
procedure for every voter in every state election.  It is a direct
cause (g) of the structural fault between person and vote in society,
which here assumes its physical form in the disconnection between
elector and ballot, as multiplied across the population.

The individual votes are summed in the count engine to produce a
numeric result, which in turn decides the final issue of the election
- one of the candidates enters office, for example, while the others
do not.  This issue is interpreted as a legitimate decision of the
voters.  Some doubt might be cast on this interpretation, at this
point, by observing the state of expectant curiosity in which the
voters, now bereft of their votes, await to hear the decision.
Ordinarily a group of decision makers is cognizant of the decision
they are making.  This doubt as to legitimacy takes on a technical
form in the observation that the interpretation of results is lacking
in material grounds.  The formal aggregate of votes in the count
engine does not correspond to an actual aggregate of voters in the
social world.  The individual votes were brought together to make a
result, but the individual voters were not brought together *as such*
(b) to make a decision; therefore (c) no valid decision can be
extracted from the result.

One might counter at this point with the argument that, as the
decision comes entirely from the votes and the votes entirely from the
voters, the decision must *also* have come from the voters. [QTE] This
argument may be tested against a thought experiment.  Imagine an
extreme form of society that is constructed of cubicles.  Each cubicle
is provided with a television receiver, a voting slot and a single
occupant.  The occupants have free movement in the world, but no
intercommunications with each other.  Periodic elections are held in
which each occupant marks a ballot, drops it into the voting slot and
awaits the announcement of the results.  In this extreme situation of
a "cublicle society", it is clearly possible that someone (or
something) behind the television receivers might be making all of the
decisions.  This remains a possibility even when the decisions are
executed in proper form through the intermediation of the voters and
their votes; the content of the televisions signals may nevertheless
be exposing the occupants to decisive, manipulative force.  Note that
such exposure would be contingent on either (or both) of the following
forms of separation:

   1. Separation of person from vote

   2. Separation of person from person

To see why, imagine an extreme anti-cubicle society in which both
forms of separation are eliminated.  The voters retain (1) possession
and control of their votes during the process of decision formation,
and (2) freedom to intercommunicate and interassociate.  Here it
becomes apparent that only the voters could decide the issue of the
election.  No matter who (or what) had control of the television
signals, it could never gain sufficient traction to sway the decision.
Together the voters would see through the attempt and follow up
individually by adjusting their votes.

The situation of an actual, modern society is unlike either of these
two extremes.  Although the electoral system formally enforces (1) the
separation of person from vote, no part of society attempts to enforce
(2) the separation of persons; rather more to the contrary.  In this
situation, we cannot with confidence say anything about the actual
source or sources of the electoral decisions, or how they are
mediated.  The content of those decisions might originate entirely in
the voters, or not at all, or in some mix of different sources.  We
are left in doubt.  At this point, it is useful to restate the
criteria of reasonable doubt in a simpler form:

   3. Separation of voter from voter

To the extent that the voters are separate during the formation of the
decision, and out of communication with each other, we may reasonably
doubt that the decision was theirs.  One thing we know with certainty
is that the electoral system enforces (1) a separation of person from
vote.  We also know that a person who does not actually possess and
control a vote is not *formally speaking* a voter.  It follows that
regardless of any intercommunication that occurs person to person (2),
the electoral system nevertheless guarantees the formal isolation of
voter from voter.  Here the design of the system is working directly
toward the ideal of the cubicle society, in that it maximizes our
doubt as to the source of electoral decisions.  Given that the purpose
of an electoral system is quite the contrary, this particular design
violates the basic engineering principle of efficacy, and this, in
turn, enables us to conclude with some confidence that (b) the design
is flawed.  Moreover, since the flaw *might* be having significant
effect on the content of the decisions, we may further conclude on the
basis of that doubt that (c) those decisions are invalid.  Finally,
since the meaninglessness of an individual vote arises from the
objective certainty that the vote is *not* a source of decision, the
flaw can only (a) be contributing to that meaninglessness.

These conclusions concerning the effects of the procedural flaw (a, b,
c) were reached without knowledge of the actual extent of separation
caused by the flaw (3).  Further definite conclusions would depend
upon that knowledge.  It is possible that electors who are not
formally voters as yet will nevertheless behave as such, so that
elector-elector communications are voter-voter communications *in
effect*.  Such voter-like communications could break the formal bonds
of isolation to some extent.  This raises a question for empirical
science: To what extent do individual electors who are not yet voting
behave as a group of decision makers in the midst of a decision?
Lacking an answer, the remainder of this study departs from the
relative certainty of empirical facts and engineering principles, and
moves into theory.


 [QCW] Thanks to CW who's steady insistence (Skype, 2011-9) that the
       economy has primacy over politics has led me to the
       juxtaposition of these two snippets of theory:

         * The individual worker as such (as a labourer) being
           alienated from the means and product of labour, is thereby
           disengaged from economic power and freedom.

         * The individual voter as such (as a decider) being alienated
           from the means and product of decision, is thereby
           disengaged from political power and freedom.

 [QTE] Thanks to TE who prompted the thought experiment of the cubicle
       society with his counter-argument of: the decision comes from
       the votes and the votes come from the voters, so the decision
       must have come from the voters (Skype, 2011-9-30).

Michael Allan

Toronto, +1 416-699-9528

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