In a recent opinion piece of February 6 in the Guardian, Peter McKenna discussed the pros and cons of mandatory voting as a solution to declining participation rates in elections. In the end, he comes down mildly in favour of the concept, although his endorsement seems to be of the “well, we have to try something” variety.
By happenstance, also on February 6, there was a short article in the Globe and Mail describing how mandatory voting was working out in Brazil … apparently, not so well. Recently, Tiriraca, a popular TV clown, was elected to the Brazilian congress, based largely on his name recognition with the uninformed. His slogan: “I don’t know what a congressman does, but vote for me and I’ll tell you.”
There are two big problems with mandatory voting schemes. This first is touched on in Peter McKenna’s article. By forcing uninformed people to vote, we are just decreasing the signal-to-noise ratio and lessening the chance of getting good decisions from the electorate (and increasing the likelihood of electing clowns). The second problem is that mandatory voting is treating a symptom (voter disillusionment and disengagement) while the disease (the problems with our political system which causes the disillusionment and disengagement) goes unchecked.
What is the cause of the disillusionment? Patronage, pancake politics, undue influence of special interests, concentration of power, etc. We have a Representative Democracy, but many have lost faith in their representatives. There is a feeling that many representatives put the interests of their money donors, their party and themselves ahead of the interests of the people they represent.
Representative Democracy really took hold when the technology became available to support it. The invention of the printing press allowed information to be disseminated so people could make informed decisions on their choice of representative. Well, we now have a new information dissemination technology: the Internet. It has revolutionized almost every aspect of society except our system of government, which has remained basically unchanged in structure since the 1800s.
We could use the Internet to implement a relatively inexpensive system for Direct Democracy, where all decisions are put to referenda, but would this be an improvement on Representative Democracy? There is still the concern that many people are ill-informed, have an unrealistic world-view, or just make poor decisions. As Winston Churchill once said, “The best argument against Democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”
What if we could harness the power of the Internet and the new social networking paradigm and develop a new, simpler, and more effective form of government?
I have been thinking about these ideas and some related mathematical ideas for the past while and have a new system of government to propose. I call it Ikanocracy (from the Greek for “government by the competent”). In Ikanocracy, each person has voting shares, and a person can increase their voting shares by making good decisions and decrease their voting shares by making bad decisions. A key instrument in the redistribution of voting shares are the hindsight votes, where society looks back at past decisions and decides whether they were good for society or not. Over time, persons who have a record of making good decisions end up with more influence on future decisions.
In Ikanocracy, there is no mandatory voting. In fact, abstaining would be a conscious choice and in many cases is beneficial for society. If a person is not sure whether a decision is good for society or not, they may not want to risk losing voting share. Abstainers also serve a useful purpose as they are essential in ensuring the hindsight votes are not swayed by the self-interests of the persons who originally voted for or against a decision.
If a reader would like to see the details of how Ikanocracy would work, please read my paper on the subject, at www.probability.ca/ikanocracy.pdf . I also have a blog where I discuss other aspects of Ikanocracy at ikanocracy.blogspot.com.
Instead of tweaking our current system with small adjustments like mandatory voting, we need to think bigger.
Professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistics,
University of Prince Edward Island.