Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Altered voting power: more for terminally ill, none for political donors?

Posted by Dave Bath on 2007-07-28

Extra votes for some?  I’d give them to the terminally ill, probably unswayed by self-interest, thus more directed to the welfare of the society.  Votes for kids?  Maybe, but not by proxy.  Donors with greater influence on the election’s outcome than typical electors?  Disenfrachisement perhaps?

Yes, I’ll veer into the tongue-in-cheek, but I won’t exactly be sure when an idea is valid, or where I’m being silly.

First, let’s decide on the core qualification to vote: it’s a matter of whether the state acknowledges the ability for responsible choice.

If the state grants ability and responsibility for willful decisions to a child that enables consensual sex, a court-imposed punishment, drive a vehicle (even as a learner), or even delegates punishment (such as a suspension from school), then the implication is that the child can make an informed responsible choice and should be enfranchised.

The idea of granting proxy votes to parents without lowering the voting age has a big logical difficulty as it implies that a parent aged 16 (or 15!) should be entitled to a proxy vote, but not to vote as an individual.

And what if a woman goes into labor after getting ticked off the roll, but before placing the papers in the ballot box?  What about an 8-month pregnancy when the parliamentary term is three years?  What if a couple says "we’ve medical records to say ovulation is today, so how about electoral officers watch us make a baby" before we collect the ballot papers?

And what of the incentive for baby-snatching, taking them to or from marginal seats?

The whole concept of proxy voting is anathema to me, but I’ll explore the idea of varying electoral power of individuals from the one-person-one-vote to something that uses other criteria, apart from the old ones of property ownership.

Those with less self-interest are likely to vote according to what they think is best for society in the long term (apart from a few incredibly spiteful types).  Those least likely to have self-interest in the outcome of the election are those close to death.  Terminal illness would obviously qualify for extra votes according to this line of thinking, but extra power to the very old provides the added advantage of using their accumulated wisdom.  How sick or ancient would you have to be to qualify?

If we accept the idea of modifying voting power of individuals, perhaps we should consider decreasing voting power as well as increasing it?

Those who’ve made large (or even moderate) donations to political parties (whether as individuals or via a corporate donation) do this to influence the outcome of elections, and have a larger impact on electoral outcomes than a standard voter.  The same could be said of partisan journalists in the mainstream media with large audiences, and perhaps the large advertisers in those media who can influence editorial policy.  This provides an argument for disenfranchisement.

Even those who volunteer services to political parties probably deserve to lose their vote on the same principle.

If we consider the degree-of-interest in the outcome, (which is the assumption of the extra votes for parents proposal), large corporates (and political donors) obviously have a great interest in the outcome.  In this line of thinking, perhaps they should be given extra voting rights too.

If, on the other hand, we think it is important to make an informed choice, then those with degrees and demonstrable understanding of issues should get extra votes, while those with probable lower-than-average understanding of issues should have voting power decreased.  So parents, especially those with lots of kids, who have much less time to pay attention to current affairs (just ask any parent about the amount of discretionary time they have) should have a proportionally lower enfranchisement.  Giving extra votes for parents actually decreases the amount of consideration given to each vote proportional to the number of children, so the more kids, the lower the voting power should be.

If we accept this idea, the administrivia of determining formulae for modified voting power rests with the governing party: not a good idea.  The costs imposed on the electoral office (e.g. the computers, effort to validate the extra power to each affected individual) would be astronomical, and then we have to audit the extra voting powers granted.

Messy?  You betcha!  At the very least we’d need a huge discussion on political philosophy to figure out the model for modifying voting power, and a referedum or ten to put through any changes.

If only parenthood counts, what do you do when their is shared custody (with two step-parents) of a child that is the result of a sperm donor, an egg donor, and a surrogate who went through the pregnancy?

Evan Thornley should be given an Order-of-Australia gong for services to comedy, or at least ejected from the ALP and forced into either Silly Party, Very Silly Party, or Monster Raving Loony Party.  It’s too ridiculous even for the Slightly Silly Party.


  • An accessible discussion of child enfranchisement was in the "A Good Day" episode from the 6th season of "The West Wing", when a group of middle school children who are part of the Future Leaders for Democracy visit the White House and seek out Toby to discuss the voting age.  It did make me think.
  • Andrew Norton’s "Demo-familism" post (and set of comments) has a good discussion of the history of modified voting power and some interesting statistics.

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