Monday, November 22, 2004

The Burden on your Vote

Each person gets a say in government by voting in elections. If one of the candidates represents your views exactly, you get to express your desires exactly. Much more common, though, is the single-issue voter, who votes for the candidate with whom he agrees on the most important issue.

The single-issue voter doesn't get to voice his concerns on other issues; in fact, he ends up implicitly supporting policies he doesn't agree with. This is the "collateral damage" of voting. Libertarians might like Bush's tax cuts, but not the Patriot Act. Liberal hawks might like the War on Terror, but not the social conservatism. Paleocons might be the opposite.

As the federal government expands, the number of issues goes up. Therefore, the ability for the voters to effectively control the government goes down. Each vote cannot possibly convey opinions on defense, education, trade, healthcare, and every other issue while choosing from only two realistic candidates. There are three solutions: increasing the number of votes, decreasing the number of issues, and increasing the number of candidates.

The first solution, increasing the number of votes, is part of direct democracy. Through initiative, referendum, and recall, the voters can vote more often in an effort to control the government more effectively. In practice, however, this can lead to inconsistent policies, as politicians and voters fight it out in the same legislative space.

The second solution, reducing the number of issues, can be achieved in two different ways. The first is for the government to leave more to the private sector. For example, if education were privatized, voters wouldn't have to hear about how every candidate values education. They could vote on other issues, and send their children to a private school of their choice (assuming vouchers for the poor). The second way to reduce the number of issues is move more of the issues down to the state or local level. Of course, this may just be moving the problem.

The third solution, increasing the number of realistic candidates, can only be accomplished with electoral reform. Our current system ensure we only have two choices. With more choices, under a system such as instant runoff voting, voters may find a better match for their own preferences.

The federal government has gotten larger and larger. Our ability to control it has gotten smaller and smaller. Unfortunately, it won't change unless it becomes everyone's single-issue.


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