[EM] Conceiving a Democratic Electoral Process

Kristofer Munsterhjelm km_elmet at lavabit.com
Thu Jul 5 14:40:35 PDT 2012

On 06/27/2012 07:10 PM, Jameson Quinn wrote:
> I am enjoying this discussion and I thank Fred for starting it. However,
> I have only a little to add:
> 1. Under plurality, parties are a necessary evil; primaries weed the
> field and prevent vote-splitting. Of course, plurality itself is an
> entirely unnecessary evil, mostly because it makes parties necessary.
> 2. Even without plurality, there would probably still be named,
> structured groupings. Unstructured anarchy may be desirable, but it's
> not very stable. That's not to say that there's no way to make the power
> dynamics inside the party less pernicious, though.
> 3. As I envision PAL representation, the PR system I designed, parties
> would simply be a label that any candidate could self-apply. To keep out
> "wolves in sheeps clothing", any candidate would have the power to say,
> among the other candidates who share their chosen party label, which
> ones they do not consider to be allies. I think those dynamics – free to
> "join", no guarantee you won't be shunned by the people who already have
> "joined", but the binary shun-or-not choice should help prevent cliques
> of gradated power – would be relatively healthy.

I'm not sure why the To of this message was set to my address, but while 
we're adding our ideas to it, here are mine:

- Aristotle says that elections impart upon a system an element of 
aristocracy. In this, I'm inclined to agree, because elections involve 
the selection of a choice (or choices) from those that are known to the 
people doing the voting. Thus, if a minority has the power to be more 
visible, representatives will tend to be chosen from that minority.

- Whether this is a good or bad thing depends upon whether you think 
aristocracy can work. In this sense, "aristocracy" means rule by the 
best, i.e. by a minority that is selected because they're in some way 
better than the rest at achieving the common good. The pathological form 
of aristocracy is oligarchy, where there's still a minority, but it's 
not chosen because it's better. If aristocracy degenerates too far or 
too quickly into oligarchy, that would negate the gains you'd expect to 
see from picking someone who's "better" rather than just by chance alone.

- I think that, in practice, the collection of rules that make up the 
electoral system has a significant influence on both the nature of 
politics in that country as well as on the quality of the 
representatives. It's not too difficult to see that if you take it to 
extremes: for example, if you'd devise a system where only parties given 
permission to operate by already-permitted parties would be allowed to 
exist, you'd get political monopoly in short order.

- Thus, it's not too hard for me to think there might be sets of rules 
that would make parties minor parts of politics. Those would not work by 
simply outlawing parties, totalitarian style. Instead, the rules would 
arrange the dynamics so that there's little benefit to organizing in 

- For instance, a system based entirely on random selection would 
probably not have very powerful parties, as the parties would have no 
way of getting "their" candidates into the assembly. Of course, such a 
system would not have the aristocratic aspect either. Hybrid systems 
could still make parties less relevant: I've mentioned a "sortition 
followed by election within the group" idea before, where a significant 
sample is picked from the population and they elect representatives from 
their number. Again, parties could not be sure any of "their" candidates 
would be selected at random in the first round. While that method tries 
to keep some of the selection for best, it disrupts the continuity that 
parties need and the effect of "marketing" ahead of time.

- Gohlke has also suggested a method he thinks would diminish the power 
of parties, wherein people meet in small groups (of three, but could be 
extended) and elect a subset (one of them according to his idea), and 
these then repeat the process until the number of representatives is 
reduced to the number you'd want. Parties could still exist as 
organizations that help people be better at the process, but party 
members can't secure a position by appealing to masses; rather (at least 
this is the idea), they must be able to defend/compromise in a thorough 
discussion of their ideas that the small-group setting supports.

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