A Truly Revolutionary Proposal to Make Democracy Responsive and Responsible Radical Bleeding Heart image

It's About Voting for Folks You Really Know

A Good Word for the Electoral College. Actually it is nearly impossible to say anything good about the Electoral College as it presently exists, but we can find a word or two in favor of what the Electoral College was originally meant to do. The fuss over the EC is indicative of the degree to which we are besotted by our ridiculous assumption that all democracy needs to work properly is direct elections of our officials.

What Is Wrong with Direct Elections? Believe it or not, representative democracy does not require direct elections of the top officials. You will not find very much about this, but a fellow by the name of Dave Volek has written a book on the subject of what he calls “tiered democracy” which he has posted on his web site. It is intelligent, thoughtful, and well-researched, and will probably be largely ignored, but it is well worth a careful examination. You should check it out.

He starts with a critique of what he sees as the fatal flaws of representative democracy (specifically, the North American variety, as he is a citizen of Canada). The problem is political parties. (In the United States we are limited to just two; Canadians have a bit more to choose from—he does not see that as a great advantage.) Political parties control the process; one cannot be elected to office except through them. Volek describes what he calls the “limitations of democracy” but are more properly the limitation of political parties. He details twelve of these limitations, but they all boil down to this: parties are devoted solely to the business of winning elections, not the business of responsible and intelligent governance, and the two have very little to do with each other. The system, in other words, rewards smarmy, lying, glad-handing politicians, not responsible, intelligent, thoughtful, and far-thinking statesmen. An so smarm is what you get.

Tiered Democracy. His solution is “tiered democracy.” The present system, controlled by parties, gives voters very little choice, limits those choices by rewarding smarm, and works to keep the voters uninformed rather than the reverse. We need a system in which voters know who is responsible and skilled and those are the people who are promoted, from below, to positions of responsibility.

His system is tiered in that it works like a pyramid. A city of 100,000 citizens, for example, may be divided into 500 neighborhoods, which are in turn grouped into districts. These districts are part of five city quadrants. The citizens elect neighborhood representatives, who in turn elect someone from among themselves to the next level, and so on to the highest level. The idea is that each group, from the citizens in the neighborhoods to the highest level, knows the people they are voting for, and has an idea of how effective and responsible they are. So voters know what they are voting for and the officials are judged for their effectiveness in doing a job, not for how well they campaign.

This nutshell description does not do justice to Mr. Volek's proposal, which is worth reading in its entirety. The devil is in the details, and he attempts to provide many specifics as to how the system would work as well as to answer anticipated criticisms.

The most important thing to be said for his idea is that he correctly identifies a major problem with representative democracy as it presently exists, and he offers a concrete and well-thought-out plan to correct it. The most important problems with it stem from the simple fact that it is a very long way from here to there. It would be extremely difficult to get there. In the U.S. (Volek is Canadian) it would take a Constitutional amendment, and a complex one at that. Even more importantly, because it is so different from anything we know (similar systems have been tried, with varying degrees of success, as Volek points out, but not within our experience) we cannot anticipate all of the problems. There would surely be unintended consequences, possibly fatal in nature.

But his major point is one that we must recognize and confront: the present system does not reward responsibility and competence in governance and it does not make elected officias genuinely responsive to the actual long-term needs of the people. Any reforms must attempt to address those flaws.

One proposed reform is proportional representation.