What would a perfect voting system look like?
If the leader appoints the new leader, you could just have two people bouncing the leadership back and forth between them without caring about what people think of them. Or even if you added a rule saying you can only be leader once, a large enough group of like-minded people could just pass it around.
@mosbrooker this kind of system is only feasibly democratic when the population is very small and homogeneous.
@toby-pereira @mosbrooker and indeed (as you know) this ping-ponging is exactly the game Putin played with Medvedev and the Russian "presidency."
That's a good point. Mr. Tyrant and his wife could just kick leadership back and forth amongst themselves. But I do believe that they would get tired of people ousting them all the time. One of them might say "what if I tried giving peeps what they want so I have a strong approval rating?" People can change, Mr. Tyrant included. Especially if his actions were guided by the people and not a powerful minority. Again, just election game theory here.
Elections are flawed because there is no way to run them fairly. Some are much better than others but is there a best way? The goal of democracy (and the foundation for fairness) is people govern the leader. When? All the time. Who? Everyone. Someone might not like the idea of everyone all the time (my grandmother used to say the "masses are asses") but I have hope in people.
Again, from a game-theory standpoint: The island's inhabitants each hold a continuous binary opinion: agree with the status quo or change please. Nothing comes before the people's connection to the leader. Just yes or no. The votes ebb and flow as a person can change their minds as much as they like. Again no pre-ordained rules between a person and yea/nay to the leader. The leader will try to keep his approval up and sure, he could try the ol' tyranical way but he will soon find that there are too many NOs to play whack a mole. Instead, he will grumble but he will "OK OK give the people security and hope for the future." Like magic, votes start to go his way, he is king of the world, and we all live happily...
@mosbrooker the main problem here is how to establish the incentives for representatives to make decisions that are in the interest of the general public. For me, the goal of (real) democracy is to stabilize a society away from the extremes of anarchy and authoritarianism. We may need a better way, but we don’t need the “best” way (especially considering that there is no such thing).
Informal methods like this make sense for small groups where interpersonal social ties and influences are significant, but for large and heterogenous populations those interpersonal social ties become heavily diluted.
Dictators don’t reign primarily by playing whack-a-mole, although they do this as well. The most significant source of dictatorial power is having the seat at the very top of a pyramid, just above an oppressive (and often internally dysfunctional and corrupt) block oligarchy.
A different issue has to do with stability and competency. The whims of the masses are fickle and can be easily swayed by media bias and propaganda, and enabling immediate changing of seats can destroy the coherency of a policy-making apparatus. People are already skeptical about the prospect of term limits being imposed in Congress for that reason. New blood isn’t always a good idea when it means a lack of experience, and direct majoritarian democracy is a bad idea because it enables oppression of minorities without protection or recourse.
What happens in your hypothetical society when competing factions campaign to take control of leadership? In my mind, without a constitution and a formal electoral power structure in place, it devolves into a state of populist demagoguery (and it might do that anyway.) I think just historically that kind of society is only appropriate and stable for a small homogeneous tribe, which is why that’s the only context in which it can be found.
To tie things to current events, the reason Putin hates “The West” (read: liberal democracy) is that it is the single biggest direct threat to his authoritarian regime. All of the culture war nonsense is almost fully pretense or self-deception, and with a psycho-narc vampire like Putin it could go 50/50 either way, at any given time, take your pick.
I appreciate your detailed response. On my fantasy island, there is no middle man representatives. Just a leader and the people. The check and balance is direct and immediate. People thumbs up or down depending on how things are for them. The leader will delegate managers so she's not doing everything herself. I think a perfect system is if every islander got a binary, continuous vote and the leader reboots if the voting scale simultaneously tips "disapprove."
The servant of the people, not a dictator, constantly looks over her shoulder at the people's whim.
This is about what the people want/need. Every dictator (and non democratic leader) pays the most attention to a tiny, very powerful group (who are usually not good for people/island/planet).
There is a very formal electoral structure in place. One person, one continuous vote, cradle to grave. No ambiguity and no one plays god and makes prior rules (like felons and teens can't vote).
The masses can be swayed most easily by having their basic needs met. Minorities are a majority when they have qualifiable equality. Anyway thanks for reading and responding. Believe me I know how untenable this sounds! But still...
A note to anyone reading this. With any system there seems to be two concerns 1)what it looks like and 2) what will happen.
Clearly 2) is a long shot. I ask a favor: that you can focus on what it looks like. For example, if I said the best government would be if everyone wore purple shirts you might ask "what about night time or swimming?" or "what about mauve?"
Unlike shirt color, I think that Democracy (in my definition) is unambiguously clear. Every islander gets a continuous binary vote, the leader resigns if ever over 1/2 are aligned NO, she appoints her successor and votes reset. I think we agree that we don't want some crappy leader. IMHO my definition of democracy assures that if we do, the ship is almost immediately righted. (There I go being defensive about category 2- apologies)
@mosbrooker allowing appointments of the successor doesn’t make any sense to me. Don’t take this the wrong way, I think the fantasy doesn’t take into account very real problems that exist with democracy. There are no checks and balances, there’s no constitution, there’s no protection for minorities, and there is no avenue to establish representation, or to create, enforce or validate laws. To me it seems mostly like a vacuous space for something more substantial to fill. What stops the society from devolving into an authoritarian mafia-run police state, or from being destroyed by warlike neighbors who want to take their crops, enslave their men and rape their women?
Toby Pereira last edited by Toby Pereira
@cfrank said in What would a perfect voting system look like?:
@mosbrooker allowing appointments of the successor doesn’t make any sense to me.
Me neither. I'm not sure what the motivation for this bit is. Other than being simple, but that's not enough.
Yeah I don't like the idea of a one family rule forever but I can't see how you could chose a more fair successor. In fact I see this as the ultimate compromise in a fair society: John Doe gets to vote, whenever he wants, to oust the leader, in exchange he doesn't get to say who the leader is.
I think this takes into account every real problem facing person and planet today. We can't seem to fix this crumbling restaurant. Not without new management (a just voting/legal structure).
There is a check and balance: directly in the hands of the people. Imagine a leader that is nervous for his job every second! He will quickly come around to making sure his restaurant is top notch. No powerful person wants to loose their job. In a partial or non-democracy he can focus on the rich, dismiss (or worse) the poor and let the restaurant fail.
The constitution is the beginning of law but it is made to be changed. No more 3/5 clause. Freedom of speech is an amendment, an add on.
So I say reduce the constitution to the most vital bits and let law emanate from there. We The People.
To me, the amazing thing is that Democracy exists. It is the light we need. It's really is so simple: I think that's it's beauty.
The fact that every single human is exactly one is the only fuel we need to run our species with happiness forever. No one is the same but no living person is more or less than exactly, precisely one human being.
I know this is a ramble and I hope not a rant. I honestly believe that I see something really really helpful. The devil is in the details so I very much appreciate your input and not outright dismissiveness (which I certainly would understand).
@mosbrooker I think you are mistaken, as democracy is absolutely not simple at all. Your ideal is good and it would be nice if people were empathetic and universally cooperative, and didn’t bandy together in exclusive groups to exert power and control over others, but unfortunately that isn’t true. People do bandy together in groups to exert power and control over others. If we could stop that from happening, we would hardly need any government at all, and people would just organize their societies spontaneously without any conflict. That doesn’t seem possible in a world where life is short and resources are finite.
A fair successor is one who has “consent to rule by the people.” Defining what it means to have the consent of the people in a way that can be efficiently verified is not easy, so we use the proxy of a vote. I don’t see how your system avoids an oligarchy. What happens if leader A states “if I am not approved, I appoint leader B,” and B states “if I am not approved, I appoint leader A”? This situation is impossible to reconcile with the details you’ve described, and according to it the pair A and B are in power perpetually, which is as close to a dictatorship as you can get without being one.
The only reasonable response to this, unless the dictators are very highly benevolent, is an insurrection by the people to either disregard or overthrow the system. But then there is no need for a leader to begin with, this is just direct democratic rule—which, I agree, is efficient and probably usually good for very small societies.
At the risk of continuing this rant, somebody might try to point to Ancient Greek society as a candidate or example for this kind of democratic system. But the truth is that democracy meant something very different to Ancient Greek people than what it means to us today, and their society was actually highly oligarchical. Something that is historically overlooked quite often is how very new the democratic republic is as a form of government. It was not that long ago that most men simply could not vote. I would recommend reading some of the Federalist and anti-Federalist papers, as well as John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty.”
I can't seem to convince myself that this is a bad idea. Kinda wish I could so I could move on with my life. I greatly thank you for your input. It means the world to me. Please feel free to agree to disagree and I will resume playing solitare.
Just for arguments sake, what would have happened on the Mayflower if someone suggested that yes, Captain Jones can be the boss but every single person gets a continuous approval vote? First, how would it work? Maybe everyone wears a thin necklace to show approval of Jones. To disapprove, a passenger would put her necklace on a hook for all to see. Mr. Story can changes his mind and take the necklace on and off as he likes.
Jones drives his boat and makes proclamations. "All Saints get food, Strangers are now slaves." Immediately more necklaces land on the hook and Jones is replaced by his pick. Everyone gets their necklace back on and Carver will change the new law to keep from being similarly ousted.
Carver could molest all those without necklaces and rule by force but the ease of revolution (lets all post our necklaces at 2pm) would make him... a better leader. Besides, he probably wouldn't hassle bare necked people because his "opponent" is his best friend. No motivation for authoritarian rule.
If I was a passenger and suggested this system I would be thrown overboard. Same if I said women could vote so, in for a penny...
@mosbrooker It's not the continuous approval vote that is the main problem here. It's that the current leader gets to pick the new one. Are there not other methods for this? Like a vote. Even some sort of random pick.
I say that the successor is picked by the predecessor b/c I think there is no other way. I mean no other fair, just, and thus legitimate way to pick the new leader. Let’s say you could pick a successor fairly (random is not fair but, sure, random even). ‘A’ is the leader and B is, somehow, the fairly chosen alternative. ‘A’ will spend a lot of time eyeballing B. The relationship will be contentious at the least and openly hostile at the worse.
And all people who are not A or B would have to suck it up and deal with the result of this fighting. Nothing substantial would get done. The island would spiral into a state of disrepair. They wouldn’t even know what to do if a pandemic hit.
On the other hand, if the leader chooses his best buddy, C, then he can go about leading without worry about leadership opposition. However, he will have to worry about the check and balance of not meeting the people’s needs and getting balanced out of office.
Weirdly enough, dangers of a one-party system are irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the connection between the people and the leader’s “time’s up” clock.
How about this: A judge picked foreman and 12 jurors sequester to deliberate. A juror says, “let’s just say the guy’s guilty and we can go home.” When the foreman says “No, we’ve got to do this right” 3 necklaces go to the peg. When the foreman decides to abolish lunch, 6 necklaces get hung. He doesn’t reinstate lunch; the 7th necklace is placed, and the foreman taps his buddy for the job. His buddy doesn’t want lunch either but kinda wants to keep being the leader. So, he asks if people would be OK with ½ hour lunch. Necklaces go back on bodies, and he leads on.
@mosbrooker all of your examples have been of small groups of people. I already conceded that a system like what you describe is a reasonable solution to delegating executive power and authority in a small tribe, it’s efficient enough and it has historical examples—chiefdoms.
Chiefdoms do not function without oppression when they grow large. The Aztec and Mongolian Empires are sufficient examples. If they aren’t upheld by authoritarian violence, they fragment and crumble, or in any case they generally can’t compete with alternative forms of government without internal violence or oppression. That’s why you don’t see anything like what you describe on a large scale unless you ignore gross oppression. As egalitarian chiefdoms grow larger, they become increasingly unstable.
Also I think the vast majority of people would agree that when fairness of an outcome among alternatives is impossible, an unbiased randomized selection of the alternatives is procedurally fair, and in fact is among the most procedurally fair methods that exist. That’s why coin tosses are used to break two-way ties, neither party can reasonably grumble and say “that’s not fair!” Both had an equal chance, one had to win and the other had to lose. If party #2 wants to flip the table, I don’t think most people would be thrilled to play with them again.
There are ways other than randomness. You could have some contest between the front runners, maybe what, they have a foot race? Wrestling? A game of chess? Fight to the death? It becomes almost just as arbitrary.
I also do not understand how you can consider appointments fair but random selection unfair. Power by appointment is nepotism, bribery and favoritism waiting to happen.
@mosbrooker said in What would a perfect voting system look like?:
‘A’ is the leader and B is, somehow, the fairly chosen alternative. ‘A’ will spend a lot of time eyeballing B. The relationship will be contentious at the least and openly hostile at the worse.
And all people who are not A or B would have to suck it up and deal with the result of this fighting. Nothing substantial would get done. The island would spiral into a state of disrepair. They wouldn’t even know what to do if a pandemic hit.
I don't see why this should happen at all. A leader is ousted and someone replaces him/her. The old leader has lost the support of the masses, so people are free to ignore any "eyeballing" that may or may not take place, and I don't see why it should.
I think that election theorists try to ensure that a leader is good and decent. One might say that winner-take all states, two senators regardless of population, ranked choice, voting holiday, mandatory voting etc. will do the trick. If not, we can try referendums.
I think the focus instead should be on giving Joe Blow (from Kalamazoo, Abuja or Phnom Penh) the ultimate political power: the decision to say WHEN leadership must change. Make it right for the person and the leader will be a good leader by the people.
If this was a board game (Stratego), I would see two phases to make this happen. First is gaining Democracy. Second is the defense of Democracy. Even in a Democracy, someone might stand in Joe’s way of easily voting NO. Maybe someday we will attain the big D but we still need to be vigilant. If even one person, for one moment, can’t vote or if a leader refuses to step down upon simultaneous majority disapproval, then we are right back where we started and fight for D again we will. (Yoda)
Maybe the smoothest way to implement world D is to make it a non-binding “pulse of the people” system. Give every person on the planet a unique ID number (12 digits is more than enough) that they can use to thumbs up/down. (Default is thumbs up). We will see very quickly that impoverished, war town nations are almost unanimously thumbs down as people vote on how things are for them. Imagine a covid-like hotspot world map. Dark red is heavily thumbs down, dark green heavily thumbs up (or neutral).
People do like to know what they are voting on but any seemingly innocuous question like “how are things for you?” can quickly be open for manipulation. So, no qualifier. People will get the idea. At the very least, when Burundi sends out a crimson red SOS from the actual people, it will be duly noted.
IMHO Democracy works with any size population if everyone is included (thus the definition of Democracy). It will work on an island of 25 if there are no other islands. It will work on a planet if neighboring planets are uninhabited. So, yeah, it will work on Earth but not sure about just one nation. If Spain wanted to do this on its own it would be very tricky because of intrinsic interactions with other nations (trade, travel, collaboration etc.)
But 8 billion people? No harder than 25. OK, a bit harder. A few cray super computers and determination to give every person an ID number would be necessary. If banks can keep track of millions of people’s trillions of dollars, to the penny, every second, we can manage a binary vote from a few billion people.
I will sign off by thanking you from my heart for this correspondence. I have been playing this game theory in my head for a long time. Responding is like breathing to me. For however long it lasts, I am grateful. Beyond.
For argument's sake lets say I'm wrong: It's a bad idea to give everyone a continuous vote, leaders should never pick their successors etc.
How much do we negotiate away Democracy (where all people have an equal say all the time)? Do we give each state 2 senators to throttle the people of the cities? Do we have a toxic "election season" where all money is focused on one single day? Who are these two candidates we choose from? It seems like we have a choice but who made the choice of who we choose between?
The big issue to me is China/India. Let's say it: they have a lot of people. But, they are people before they are citizens of a national syndicate.
A minority not letting all the people have a voice is kind of like apartheid South Africa.
Just typing to myself here...
@mosbrooker Just for future reference it might help to tag us! You can type the "at" symbol and then look for the name of whoever you would like to direct your comments to.
Just to address your comments, I do think there are issues with the way representation is handled in the U.S., but there is also a very thoughtful literature documenting the rationale behind the structure of the federal government. The founders of the U.S. lived in a very different socioeconomic context and, as with anybody, were not capable of predicting all of the challenges that would face the nation in terms of its democratic legitimacy, but they also did consider a lot of important concepts and addressed them in a way that I think would be very difficult to consider anything but extremely successful. After all, the United States has become a globally dominant superpower with a robust economy and an overall incredible standard of living, notwithstanding significant wealth inequality and all the problems that come along with that, among other things (ahem, public education, health care, cough). Surely they did something structurally right. And in fact, they did predict most of the core issues that the nation is struggling with presently.
Don't let me just rant, I want to talk about your senator comment. The United States is a federation composed of individual states with distinct laws. The Senate is meant as a body that represents each state on equal footing, independent of population or economic status. The populace of each state is supposed to obtain representation in the House. You may be right that states should have more than 2 senators each, and we probably also need more representatives in the House, since our population is significantly larger than it ever has been! But that is a different way to address the problem. If we essentially do away with the Senate, we won’t really be a federation anymore. As to why that might be a bad idea, you could look to the Federalist Papers. I have my own individual reasons for very much despising the very concept of a large nation, and also large corporations, for that matter. I think each is the suboptimal result of a prisoner’s dilemma.
More than just arguably, election season is mostly toxic due to the "Choose One" voting system, which fuels the competitive and toxic 2-party system that all but disenfranchises moderate voters. This is exactly the problem most of us here want to address by, hopefully, somehow changing the voting system to something that is effective at producing satisfactory representation, and does not suffer from the flaws that induce significant conflicts of interest in voters. European citizens are intrigued to watch U.S. election season like it is a reality TV show. I think they have their own institutional problems as well, but the contrast is at the very least interesting.
Continuous voting has pros and cons, and it's also obviously sensitive to what is considered a "vote." Generally continuous voting would be more sensitive to changes in public opinion, which makes it intrinsically unstable (I'm repeating myself). Maybe you want the status quo to change, but in theory you might want to change it to something. If the system is not stable, whatever you change it to isn't liable to stick around for very long, either. Because it will be unpredictable, it's not easy to preclude it from devolving into something even worse than what it was initially! (Ex: Bolshevik revolution?)
In the end, I don't think we want a revolution. At least as far as what I would like to see, that would be stable and incremental changes that are constructive rather than destructive. I think tearing down the current infrastructure (1) is totally infeasible and (2) would be extremely wasteful anyway. There are many things about our government that work very well, but corruption and institutional issues have eroded its accountability to the public and general welfare.
Benjamin Franklin purportedly said, when asked what the founders had created, “a republic, if you can keep it.” I think the Achilles’ heel of the Constitution was and is the interstate commerce clause, I’m also not alone in this, nor am I by any means an expert. But I also would contest, at the risk of verging on political ideology territory, that movements toward “pure” democracy have been, in my opinion, detrimental, at least in California. I would say that the proposition system has done very little but empower special interest groups to dupe the masses with fine print, and to strip representatives of responsibility without doing the same to their status and power. Anyway, when the masses vote for public goods but also vote not to pay for them, the state is forced to borrow money, and inevitably gets tangled up in all sorts of nonsense, namely internal corruption and crippling debt. Direct democracy does not come structurally equipped with checks and balances. This apology will terminate my rant: sorry.