How to make an efficient democracy Part 1

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According to pretty much everyone, dictatorships are bad. Monarchies are often criticized too for various reasons. In the modern world, pretty much every country has put in place some sort of democracy, and the people are allowed to vote. The premise is that the citizens should have the power.

But can we really agree with that premise? Even if we don’t take intelligence into account, since it’s pretty much impossible to accurately and objectively compare intelligence, Some people don’t care about some issues, and therefore won’t try to educate themselves about them. Can you really give as much power to a random person who has no idea who the candidates are and what the issues are about than you give to a very interested person who has read most of the available information about everything related to signficant issues? I would even think that there are way more people who have incomplete information, either because they don’t care or don’t have time to learn about it, than people who have an accurate picture of the situation. If this is true, democracy is doomed to, if not make bad decisions every time, at least leave it up to luck most of the time.

differences

I’ve heard several ideas that would, in theory, solve this problem.

Some people would suggest only giving the right to vote to people who can get a certain score on IQ tests. Even if we ignore the obvious problems with the idea of an IQ test, there are several problems with this idea. In order to prevent riots and such, you’d need to either make the minimum requirement low enough so that at least 75% of the population would pass, otherwise a significant portion of the voters would get angry, and they would have the strength to fight the rest. You could also simply hide the results. Everyone does the test, then votes, but only the “good enough” scores would get counted. In that case, considering that pretty much everyone is convinced to be at least of average intelligence, usually even better, if you tell people that 50% of the votes are counted (it doesn’t matter if this is true or not), mostly everyone will be satisfied. In that case, a major problem arises. This is literally a huge conspiracy created by the elites. When you give the elites the power to literally ignore anyone’s votes based on an arbitrary criteria, this is one hell of a slippery slope. Furthermore, without transparency, people would have trouble trusting the system, even if they believe they got a good score.

The next idea is to allow people to vote if they can get a certain score on a strictly verifiable test about political facts. For example, ask questions about the candidates’ official positions on issues and general politically-relevant knowledge. As long as the test is not opinion-based, it should be a pretty good way to grade every vote. This can either be used with a fixed passing grade, or every single vote is worth only as much as the voter’s knowledge. This means that if you get 100% on the test, your vote is worth 1, but if you get only 60% of the points, your vote is worth 0.6. On the long run, this would make informed votes more valuable, therefore improving democracy. There are still several corruption flaws, because the people making the test could easily skew it in favor of a candidate using lots of tricks, but to be fair the media can already change our perception of anyone if they want to, so that part would probably not change much.

The next idea is to get rid of representative democracy entirely. A couple hundred years ago, it made sense to elect people to make decisions for us. Even sending a letter could take weeks, and was extremely vulnerable to unforeseen problems. Nobody wanted to vote on every issue, because that was too much trouble. People then voted once every few years to choose important leaders, the politicians, who had one job: Make decisions for the people. Nowadays, with the internet and its lightning fast planet-wide communication, this is no longer needed. People could literally vote on every single issue from their home in a few seconds, and they would probably waste less of their time doing this a couple times a week than they do by driving to the voting booth once every 4 years. The main problem is that the people currently in power would be very likely to lose their job or lose a big part of their power if the rules changed, so they won’t change the rules. They will simply continue brainwashing people into not trusting technology so that our archaic methods stay in place.

Now some people will tell me that someone could hack the system and cheat, and we don’t want that. I usually answer with: “Do you think that today, it is totally impossible for one of the hundreds of people counting votes to purposely forget about some of the votes they don’t like?” Then the conversation usually move towards to other person attempting to educate me on the numerous protocols and security measures in place to prevent this kind of cheating. Then, when my turn to talk comes back, I can explain to them that there will also be tons of security protocols and software to prevent hacking. Usually, after this point, the conversation moves towards how different those two things are, and we then both walk away thinking that we have proven our point. The thing is, a 10-person secret cheat in one voting location, purposely ignoring 30% of a candidate’s votes and turning a blind eye to each other, is incredibly easier to pull off than hacking a government secured database. And even if people do pull it off, in a computer, everything is logged. This means that, as opposed to the hundred shredded ballots in the recycling bin of one of Connecticut’s primary schools, people can track and find the problem then correct it at any point in after it happened. Also, we have to keep in mind that you are already trusting the internet with pretty much all of your money and most of your assets, and even the stuff you didn’t entrust to computers (actual physical money) could become worthless overnight if specific (very) unlikely digital events happened, therefore should be as vulnerable to “hackers” as the political systems. Furthermore, hacking in real life is nothing like TV hacking. There is an important thing that people who never studied computers usually don’t know. It is exponentially harder to hack a system to “write” in it, therefore change, add or remove some information on the server, than it is to “read” in it, which only means to get access to the information and download it. In this specific case, “read” hacks would be completely and utterly useless, except maybe to look for problems or traces of other hacks if you don’t trust the government’s safeguards, therefore actually making the system more secure. Just be careful not to become another Snowden.

I didn’t really explain how this last idea solves the uninformed voters problem. It’s actually very simple. If you vote separately for every issue, it is a lot easier to ignore the issues you don’t care about. Let’s say I don’t care about abortion, while Obama is for abortion and Romney is against it. I won’t give up my right to vote in November even though I don’t care about this specific issue. I’ll still vote for one of these two for other reasons, therefore contributing to either pro-choice baby-killers or pro-life sexist rape apologists, depending on which one you hate. If, on the other hand, I voted on issues a couple times a week, then I could just skip the abortion vote.

Let’s imagine the current situation with numbers: 40% of the country is like me, but 30% of those would vote Romney for other reasons, while 10% would vote Obama, and in the remaining 60%, 35% would vote for Obama because of abortion and 25% would vote for Romney because of it.

democracygraph2

In this fictional situation in our current system, Romney would get elected with 55% of the popular vote, and abortion would be banned, even though only 25% are against abortion, while 35% are pro-choice, and the rest doesn’t care. With the new idea, abortion would still be allowed, because the people who wouldn’t care wouldn’t vote, and would only vote on the other issues they care about.

Considering the fact that the more someone cares about an issue, the more likely they are to at least try to learn about it (cognitive dissonance and the backfire effect are a problem here, but its gonna be a problem either way), so the uninformed voter problem would at least get better.

Elon Musk seems to agree with that idea, and wants this kind of system to be put in place on Mars.

The more I think about it, the more I think that the only downside to this idea is people’s reluctance to accept it and trust it, no matter how much evidence there is that it is good. Obviously, if a hacker is good enough, nobody will realise he hacked anything, and that way of thinking makes the evidence that this kind of system is fairly safe irrelevant.

I am still a computer guy, and I’d definitely trust a computer system way more than a politically biased person counting my vote, so I’d have to say I agree with this idea. It’s not perfect, but I usually don’t get perfect ideas. Better than what we have at the moment would still be a pretty good step forward. I also think that we won’t see this better alternative on Earth until it has proved effective for decades somewhere else (probably Mars), and the elites run out of excuses to prevent it from being tried here.

What are your ideas?

Part 2 will be about ways to make representative democracy better, and how to avoid situations where a country gives the highest office to one the two most despised candidates in history.

 

  • I’m a strong supporter of representative democracy, for all it’s faults, simply because I can’t see anything better. As Churchill said: democracy is the worst system of government… except for all the others. I see no distinction between “least worst” and “best”: the least worst pragmatic solution is the best solution! Periodically electing representatives, who are smarter than average in most cases, and leaving them to **take the time** to debate issues and think hard about them, seems the best thing to do – as long as you trust them to do the job fairly, which is why trust is so important.

    I think internet-based direct democracy is a terrible idea, because it allows all the worst ill informed opinions to float up to the surface, based on superficial thoughts, prejudices, instant reactions, etc. Various dystopian scifi episodes over the years (most obviously Dr Who) have explored the likely outcomes of giving direct control to the public on a day to day basis, usually with leaders no longer “leading” but simply trying to manipulate the population into doing what they think is necessary, or (even worse) pandering to the worst instincts of the mob. For that matter, even the Romans knew the dangers of the unleashed mob (Cicero, for example). The obvious example is capital punishment: I know that’s legal in many States, but in the UK and other countries parliament decided to ban capital punishment about 50 years ago despite the fact that a majority of the British population still wanted to keep capital punishment at the time. That’s called leadership – persuading the public that they’re wrong and you’re right!

    On the wider questions of trying to constrain who can/should vote, by intelligence or interest in an issue or whatever, I don’t think any of them are good ideas, either. It’s taken us a really long time to get the principle of universal suffrage established, and that principle is really important IMO, even if it does allow some real idiots to vote too. I’d not want to see any government deciding which subset of the people should have the right to vote in future – that’s very dangerous.

    I’m fully aware that my opinions can be seen as elitist, btw, and don’t care:-)

    • Kaito Kid

      In that case, there is a good chance that you will agree more with the part two post coming soon 🙂

      Out of curiosity, what are your opinions on the computer part of the idea? Would you be for or against using software to vote, and to count the votes after, even in a representative democracy?

      • On the computer part, the single most important aspect of voting is anonymity (hence the term SECRET ballot): noone must be able to identify who voted for which party/candidate, to prevent intimidation. As long as a computer system can guarantee to preserve voter anonymity – and of course also guarantee to count the votes up fairly and accurately – I have no problem with the idea. I’ve not thought about it massively deeply, but I do remember reading an analysis a few years ago that of the N desirable properties of an electronic voting system, you couldn’t in fact achieve more than N-1 properties in any given system. Almost a Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle kind of deal..

        I should stay that there are also significant advantages that an electronic voting system could potentially deliver – increased trust in the system, for example by being to track that every vote has been counted properly, and stronger authentication for voters, and of course greater speed of processing. That could open up the possibility of allowing advisory votes – local referendums, say – to be held when desirable. Having said all that, I don’t think electronically counting votes in is any way necessary – just a potential convenience, and with it’s own advantages and disadvantages. Even postal voting has potential vulnerabilities, when all the counters see is a completed ballot that came through the post, who knows who filled that ballot in?