Intelligent voting system for a better future
Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. Sounds familiar? This quote, attributed to the seasoned politician Sir Churchill, sounds true today more than ever, given that there are more states on the planet at this age that call themselves democratic. And yet one must be blind not to notice huge problems in almost any single one of them. Is there a common denominator here at play?
From Venezuela to Russia via United States and Spain, India and Egypt, France and even the motherland of modern parliamentary system, Britain, we see very strange trends. Populists win elections by making exaggerated, but all so sweet promises, which are demonstratively unachievable for anyone who cares to research the subject. Unfortunately, the majority of the electorate is either too lazy, too busy or, to say it bluntly, too dumb, to do the legwork and to check the claims of the candidates. In short, the present system of universal suffrage is flawed. One person one vote clearly leads to stupid decisions and therefore it must go.
Of course, this observation is not original. Throughout the history different filters were applied to the franchise. Property ownership, racial pedigree, membership in particular organizations and specific set of reproductive organs are just a few examples. And we have seen the often disastrous results to which such limits on voting participation lead their societies eventually. It is time to propose a new, practical and just system, that will combine good aspects of the current one, while introducing some reasonable limits, checks and balances.
The essence of my proposal is simple. The universal suffrage system remains in place, that is, everyone above certain age potentially has the right to vote. However, this right is not automatic, but conditional. It doesn't depend on one's wealth or social status, but rather on his/her knowledge of the system and the issues he/she is going to vote on. I.e. in order to cast a vote, the citizen will have to prove that he/she actually understands what are the issues at stake and what are possible consequences. To do that, one will have to pass an exam prior to elections on knowledge of the programs of the participating parties. It important to stress - the exam will check how familiar the person is with the parties' platforms, but not whether he/she agrees with them. Upon passing the exam, the person then is free to vote however his/her heart, or, more appropriately, brain, tells him/her to. The result - better informed voters will make better decisions.
There are lots of technical questions here. For example, who will write the questions and how exactly to conduct such exams? The logistics will be non-trivial. It is clear, that such exams will be only feasible in countries with developed infrastructure and with relatively low levels of corruption to begin with, because otherwise the system will be either unreliable or will become abused very quickly.
Another question - what do we do when there are many participating organizations with different platforms. I am told that in Germany 20–40 parties taking part in a single election is not an unheard of scenario. In Israel, a country with the total population less than that of London, there are probably 30 parties in the current parliament, thanks to low electoral barrier. It is unrealistic to expect that a person will be able to study such volumes of information, especially when some of the parties in such elections are created purely for the sake of political hooliganism. I am confident, that this issue and many others could resolved pragmatically and democratically.
It is clear, that number of voters in elections running under such a system will fall. Some will not be able to pass the exam, being either illiterate or having extremely short attention span. Some won't be bothered to take it, because they don’t care. Yet others will be too busy to educate themselves. One thing in common among all these groups - they will have had very little knowledge of the problems at hand when going to vote, so it is not a bad thing that they are excluded. And their removal from the voting public is not based on some financial predicament or social/racial/gender prejudice, it is a clear consequence of their inability or lack of desire to learn about the things they are to vote on. It is only natural, actually, that they shouldn't be allowed to vote. And they can become enfranchised at any moment, by learning about the issues, passing the exam and becoming eligible voters once more.
This suggestion, by the way, makes the issue of young voters much more palatable. During the recent referendum for independence in Scotland 16 and 17 years old citizens were allowed to vote as well, although the usual minimal eligible age for voting in the UK is 18. This was controversial, because many would argue that at such age young people might not be very responsible. If, however, we allow the examination prior to voting, the responsible and serious sections of the younger voters will have a chance to prove their worth and proudly will be able to take part in elections.
To some up, below are some cons and pros of the proposed system:
* The universal suffrage is retained. Everyone has, potentially, the right to vote, regardless of sex, religion, age (above certain minimum), race, sexual orientation, social status, financial standing
* Quality of political discussion will increase - it will be in the candidates' own interest to make their message as clear as possible, because their potential supporters will be asked about it
* Voter, that actually take part in elections, will be much better informed about what they are voting for. They will also be more attentive to how the politicians fulfil their promises once elected, because, well, they studied these promises in advance and compared them to those made by other candidates
* Irresponsible people, those who have a passive social position, who don't care about the future of the society, will be automatically excluded from voting, because they won't be able to pass the exam or won't have any desire to do so. But they will always have the chance to change their approach and take part in the process
* Such system requires a relatively well developed society with good logistics, low levels of corruption and high levels of literacy. It is not suitable for every country
* Examination system will inevitably cause higher expenses. I think that by itself it is not a problem, since better governance will repay this money many times over
* Higher load on the voters themselves, because they will have to prepare and then take these exams. This is inherent in the system, so there is no way around it. However, in our digital world most of the preparation and, possibly, examination, can be done remotely via Internet. Of course, voters that invest more money into understanding the issues at stake and learning about different political platforms will feel more involved which once again will lead to better government