Mike Epstein
Mikhail Epstein
Published in
5 min readOct 30, 2018

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Fractional voting — a radical change to national election systems

All modern election systems rely on the basic principle of “one person — one vote.” And this one vote is cast entirely for one candidate or party.

But does this principle reflect the actual preferences of the voter? While some people are completely loyal to only one party or candidate, many others are not so one-sided in their thinking. For example, I may like the Green Party’s focus on protecting the environment and sympathize with the Libertarian view that the government should drastically limit its police power over individual citizens. But I may disagree with both of those parties’ specific policies on taxation and government spending, preferring instead a more moderate approach. I may agree with the traditional Republican emphasis on fiscal responsibility, but dislike the idea of interfering with social safety-net programs. So, when choosing a political leader, I would like my one vote to take account of these inter-partisan preferences (which are not, by the way, inconsistent). Sure, I can disagree with the more radical views of small parties, but why not let them have at least a tenth of my vote to help them advance to the forefront of big politics?

Modern technology makes it easy to divide each vote and apportion it precisely between different candidates. In fact, this is not much different from the stock market and other financial investment mechanisms. I don’t invest all my savings into one company, even if I deem it the most trustworthy and profitable. Rather, I distribute my money between different funds or stocks; in other words, I diversify my portfolio. Why can’t I use the same investment strategy in politics — a strategy that determines not just monetary profit, but the entire societal well-being of our country? My one vote is 100% of my political capital, and I should be able to distribute it as I see fit.

People are internally heterogeneous, as is the society to which they belong. Rarely are there zealots or fanatics who selflessly give 100% of their loyalty to only one political platform — who are deaf to the voices of other positions and perspectives.

Alexander Schmemann wrote in his diary: “How psychologically easy must it be for those who always know, with such extraordinary simplicity, who they are for and against. Sometimes it seems to me that, in my whole life, I have never been entirely on any one side, or in any one camp. I’ve felt aversion to this “one-hundred-percent-edness.””

Our current voting system leads people to a monolithic mindset that is psychologically alien to them. In all other areas of life, we are allowed to combine different tastes, attitudes, aspirations; to love realism and romanticism, Plato and Aristotle; to get involved in Tolstoy and Kafka, Mozart and Stravinsky; to invest in oil giants and start-up tech companies. Only the political voting system forces us to absolute one-sidedness: 100% for one batch and 0% for all others.

Even in the most democratic societies, political freedom is limited by the principle of “monophony,” or one voice per person. But the next stage in the development of democracy is “polyphony” — many voices in one. Democracy frees society from one-party rule; the next step is to free individual citizens from it.

What are the advantages of such a voting system, where each voter has not just one indivisible vote comprising his entire political capital, but a hundred fractions of it?

First, the voting process would encourage more analysis. You would compare the positions of different parties, evaluate the candidates’ programs, and rationally distribute your vote — your political capital — among them. This is a thoughtful, responsible approach to exercising your voting rights.

Second, small parties that were previously largely ignored would gain a much greater voice in society; they would earn significant fractions of votes from those who previously voted (as they had to) entirely for a major national party. This would enhance the pluralism in any political system, especially in systems — like Russia’s — that are dominated by a single party.

Third, a fractional voting system, combined with electronic data analysis, would create a higher-resolution image of people’s political views and desires. Imagine a statistic, for example, that shows that 60% of voters who cast a majority of their vote for a Republican candidate also cast between 20% and 30% of their vote for a Democrat. This would surely incentivize the Republican leadership to conduct further research into the views of their base, to reassess their positions on at least some issues, and to better engage with Democratic voters.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly in our current political climate, fractional voting would create much more open and trusting relationships between citizens, as they would be able to express their views through partial agreement and disagreement, rather than total disagreement. In our current monophonic system, the voter is wholly affiliated with one candidate who opposes the other. Because the voter can choose only one candidate, that voter may feel pressured to adopt, at least superficially, the entirety of that candidate’s views and policy proposals, regardless of how distasteful they might seem otherwise. With a polyphonic system, citizens on opposite political spectrums might be more agreeable with each other, as they would not be bound to only one candidate or one party. One person may be 80% Republican, and another — 80% Democrat. But they will find real agreement on 20% of the issues, and this friendly overlap would carry concrete political weight. The road to political dialogue would be that much smoother.

Instead of inviting separation between parties and groups, leading to social antagonism, the voting process can become a collaborative investment project, where every citizen invests her political capital in different versions of the future. The interests of citizens would complement each other. In the financial market, for example, a person’s power to decide creates no friction, no fight-inducing drama. One need not choose Apple over Google, Walmart over Amazon, or Ford over Tesla. The investor’s financial capital can be spread between different business projects, and the success of one does not mean a total defeat of the other. This is inclusive, not exclusive thinking. Likewise, a fractional voting system means a reasonable diversification of political investment, and not a zero-sum struggle of classes or parties. Thanks to the divisibility of each voice, a truly pluralistic structure emerges — not only a formal, but also a cognitive and emotional democracy. We learn to hear different voices in ourselves and to find reasonable compromises between them. Each voter becomes a microcosm of the entire political cosmos.

Mikhail Epstein, Dmitry Epstein

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Mike Epstein
Mikhail Epstein

Mikhail Epstein is Professor of Cultural Theory and Russian Literature, Emory University (USA). Authored 33 books and many articles, translated in 23 languages.