Restoring Representative Democracy with A Weighted Voting System

There’s some discussion on the world wide web on the subject of weighted voting and academics have looked at the topic too. Some, for example, suggest that voting weights could be tied to taxes paid, and others believe that a system similar to that used in listed companies could be employed in that the more shares you own, the greater the number of votes you hold.

Typically, when electing national or local government though, the tendency is for everyone’s vote to carry the same weight – universal suffrage. This appears on paper to be highly democratic, except it is not. What happens is that the views of the ill-informed may well outweigh those of the better informed. Political parties target their electoral promises as the largest voter segments who are, generally, the least well informed citizens of nations. Populism, which feeds off the votes of the ill-informed, is growing at an alarming rate. Some voters have simply stopped voting.

Mass marketing acquires votes and with enough funding, governments who promise the world end up in power. Then, of course, they do not deliver although they are compensated by taxpayers regardless of performance. This situation is becoming repetitive and occurs often nowadays – look at Italy. The quality those in government and its institutions, at least in the perception of the public, is not high. That’s not an unfounded statement, polls carried out by Gallup in the United States do show that generally around 50% of voters really believe their elected representatives at a national level are up to the job.

In Italy, the situation is much worse, as Eurispes research appears to demonstrate. In 2013, for example, a 82.8% of those surveyed in Italy stated they had little trust in Italy’s government. 89.7% indicated they did not trust Italy’s parliament, and yet Italians continue to vote for people they do not trust. Why? Primarily because politicians choose politicians in Italy; voters merely rubber-stamp party recommendations. The net result is poor governmental quality. How could this be overcome?

By weighting votes, in other words by giving certain individuals more votes than others. Italy’s government already has all the information to do this seeing as all Italian voters carry identification cards and these cards state date of birth and work status or profession.

Here are some suggestions as to how a vote-weighted democracy could work. Unless specifically mentioned, assume I’m talking about Italy though this system could potentially be implemented in any nation.

How Could the Vote Weighting Work?

One thing which could be done is to give those under 30 more votes than those over, for example, 70. This would be done to give young people more say in their futures than older people.

Weighting, based on assigning different number of votes to each voter, could also be tied to professional qualifications, employment status (information which Italy’s taxman holds) or to levels of educational attainment, or even a combination of all three. The higher ones level of education, employment status or professional qualifications, the greater the weight ones vote would have. The theory behind this is that intelligent, or at least more experienced, people are more likely to make better informed choices. The vote weighting for the under 30s would be similar to those who are older but possess professional qualifications, or have attained a certain employment level status or level of educational attainment.

The weighing from the ages of 55 to 75 would gradually reduce to reflect the importance of the future for these individuals. The weighting would be modified either upwards or downwards on the basis of changes in educational attainment, employment status, or professional qualifications.

To enable others who do not possess the requisite ‘qualifications’, perhaps, a kind of ‘political awareness’ qualification could be awarded to those who take a course and pass an exam. The exams could be repeated every few years to ensure levels of political awareness stay high. Those who fail the exam would lose a portion of their voting weight.

A system such as this would ensure that the votes of the informed count for more than those of the ill-informed. Democracy would still exist because everyone would still have the right to vote but democracy would be much more representative.

How Votes Would be Awarded?

Everyone would start with one single vote to which votes would be added for each status level. High school graduates would receive two votes, university graduates three, with one extra for those five year degrees and one more for those holding doctorates, and an extra two votes would be added once professional qualifications have been obtained. Skilled tradesmen would also receive an extra three votes.

Anyone under 30 would also receive an extra two votes as well as the votes they are awarded for different levels of educational and professional or skill-based qualifications. Different managerial grades would also receive extra votes: one for a lower level manager and one or two more for senior management. Regardless of status, the number of votes would decrease by one once voters reach 55, 65 and 75. The minimum would always be one vote.

Examples:

  • School leavers who reach the age of majority would receive a total of 3 votes – the basic vote plus two extra for being under 30. The number of votes would fall back to 1 once the individuals are over 30. However, additional qualifications could boost the overall number of votes to 4 – the base vote plus 3 more for becoming skilled tradesmen.

At the higher end:

  • A 40 year old university graduate would hold 5 votes – 2 for being a high school graduate and another 3 for obtaining a Bachelors degree. Assuming this person was also a middle level manager, he or she may hold a total of 6 votes.

Thus, the vote of the 40 year old would carry more weight than that of someone who left school at a young age.

No Vote for Criminals

Those convicted of serious civil or criminal offences would be forbidden from voting until their punishment periods have come to an end.

Informed Voters Help Build Better Governments

With a weighted voting system, people who are better informed and who have worked harder, and gained qualifications and experience will carry greater voting weight during elections. As a consequence, political parties would be forced into presenting more realistic policies, and more palatable candidates, this, in turn, I feel, would lead to better quality government and democracy which is more representative.

How could this system be implemented at election time?

Relatively easily via the use of colour coded voting slips which could be the same colour as voter identification forms.

Disadvantages?

The system would be complex to work out an implement initially. A fixed number of voter categories may have to be set. The number of votes assigned and on what basis would need further thought.

Monitoring for changes in voter status could be troublesome too, though some changes could be automatic and based on national registers of educational attainment and employment status. Age-related changes would also be automatic. Employment status information is already held by Italy’s tax authorities.

Social unrest could, if the system does not function well, result from jealousies amongst those groups with lower voting leverage.

Today’s politicians would resist such a system as it would force them to rethink how they approach politics, though it may encourage a breed of new, more responsible, and competent, politicians to emerge. This is something I feel the world could do with. From my interactions with others, I know I am far from alone in thinking this.

Advantages?

Democracy would be more representative and the opinions of the better-informed would carry more weight. This would lead to the adoption of more realistic policies. Note that this system is not tied to income. Those with low levels of educational attainment and the poor would not lose out because, as well as their own votes, the votes of the better-informed should that ensure their interests are adequately represented.

Government would become more competent and, with a little luck, more efficient too. Election campaigns would become much more targeted as it would be much harder to sell impractical, unrealistic, manifestos to the ill-informed masses. Political parties would also be forced into considering the future seeing as younger voters would carry more voting weight.

A collateral effect may be to encourage more people to raise their levels of educational attainment in order to be able to have a greater say at election time. This would help create better informed voters who could choose more convincing politicians. Mass marketing style political campaigns designed simply to gain as many votes from ill-informed voters would cease to exist simply because they would not work.

Election results would also allow political parties to gauge the effectiveness of their manifestos. As has always been the case, political parties which do not perform would lose votes as election time.

The net result, though, would be better government because democracy would be much more representative and effective.

A Problem

In Italy, some Italians carry the status of ‘entrepreneurs’ on their identity cards. Assigning votes to reflect the value of these individuals would require extra thought.

Experiment Time!

This weighted voting system could be tried at local level, in two or three of Italy’s regions, for example, where it would be employed to select regional governments. The performance of these governments would be monitored in terms of GDP growth or, and perhaps better, using something known as GPI, the Genuine Progress Indicator – which some states in the USA have adopted.

If all works out as planned, the weighted voting system could be spread to other regions and then to national government. Or it could simply be implemented at both national and local levels.

Italy would then be able to realise its full potential!

I’d welcome any thoughts you may have – whatever they may be.

Source: European Commision – Post European elections 2004 survey  – voter turnout levels drop from 1979 t0 2004.

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