The value of a vote

In all democracies it is universally assumed that “one man, one vote” is sacrosanct. The “vote” is not earned in any way. Just being born and then being of the minimum age is sufficient to be bestowed with “one vote”. The value of a vote has no connection to merit.

In Scandinavia and most of Europe proportional representation means that one votes for political parties rather than for individuals as representatives of a constituency. The number of seats won by a party is then generally proportional to the total number of votes cast and this leads to an over-representation of minority parties but an under-representation of minorities defined in other ways (gender, ethnicity, age). But the party lists from which the “elected officials” are chosen are produced by the members of the party and the names on the list may or may not have been chosen democratically. The value of the vote of a member of a party is something more than one since that vote also has a say in choosing the party list.

In “first past the post” systems as in the UK, every constituency has an identified representative. In spite of party affiliation, in theory, the elected member represents the entire constituency including its minorities. Of course the elected member then mostly behaves as his party dictates. In the recent UK election the number of votes needed to win a seat in parliament varied from just 25,000 for those supporting the SNP to almost 4 million for a UKIP voter. An SNP vote had a weight 160 times greater than than that of a Ukip voter and 12 times greater than that of a Lib Dem voter.

The Telegraph:

UK votes per seat

UK votes per seat

But it seems to me that in both systems (PR or first-past-the-post), it is irrational that the value of a vote is not graduated and somehow proportional to the value or the merit of the voter.  It seems illogical that a “vote bought” is equal to a “vote freely given” or that a “fool” has the same vote as a “wise man” (however those are defined).

(It is) mere existence as an individual that suffices to have an “equal vote”. And if everyone has the vote it is assumed that “democracy” has been attained – as if it were some sort of state of grace.  The only real criterion is that of age, even if some countries still have some other criteria in force. The merit of the individual is irrelevant. Votes can and are bought by promises or by free meals or by money or by a bus-ride. A “bought” or coerced vote weighs as heavy as one that is freely given. (There is nothing wrong in buying or selling votes – the flaw lies in that the seller has a vote equal to that of free elector). A fool has the same vote as a wise man. A large tax contributor is equated to a small tax contributor. Government servants paid for by taxes have the same weight of vote as the tax payers. Priests and politicians have the vote. The behaviour of an individual does not affect his vote. Experience, intelligence, wisdom, competence or criminality are all considered equally irrelevant. …..  One hundred and one idiots take precedence over one hundred wiser men. 

Of course, measuring “merit” is no easy thing and to get agreement would be extremely difficult – but not impossible.

There is no good reason why all votes should be equal. If there is such a thing as a “good” citizen, or if you accept – as I do – that individuals are not equal in ability and competence and their contribution to a society, then constraining everybody to the same value of vote is itself unjust. Votes must be given weight, I think, according to the “goodness” of the voter. It should not be beyond the wit of man to see to it that an individual had a way of “earning” extra value for his vote by those aspects of his performance or achievements which had value to society. We might then get closer to a “true democracy”. Of course that would also imply that other “anti-social” behaviour or lack of competence could get penalised by having some value of a vote taken away. I can imagine that a “good” citizen or an accomplished citizen could perhaps have a vote with a value enhanced from a base value of one to be – say – 1.5 or 1.8, while a “bad citizen” might have it reduced to – say – 0,5.  A murderer or a fraud serving time could perhaps have their vote value reduced to – say – 0.5. Instead of just being endowed with a vote on reaching the age of 18, an 18-year old could perhaps have 0.2 of a vote increasing to the base value of 1.0 on reaching 23 (when his brain is fully developed).

Such a system is not practical – for the moment. But I would prefer if the right to vote was “earned” in some way and that the value of an individual’s vote had some connection to merit.

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