How to do Constitutional Reform Totally Wrong

According to ITV:

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee has unanimously agreed to recommend:

    Online voting (including on smart phones)
    Quicker ways of registering to vote (including on the day of an election)
    A huge programme of devolution as well as mandatory voting
    Extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds

Where to begin with the wrongness?
I’m more-or-less in favour of giving sixteen and seventeen year-olds the vote. I don’t really care one way or another, but fine,

Huge programme of devolution — show me the details. I don’t like the “DevoManc” stitch-up, but I’m entirely in favour of proper devolution.

But there are two big, HUGE, problems here for me — two problems so massive that I am actually angry and wanting to punch something.

The first is compulsory voting. I am absolutely, utterly, in favour of everyone who has the ability to vote using their vote. You won’t find a bigger supporter of the democratic process than me anywhere in the world. But I am utterly in favour of people CHOOSING to use their vote. It is utterly abhorrent to force anyone to take part in the process. There are many people with strongly-held convictions that stop them from participating in elections, whether because they believe the system to be illegitimate and that their participation adds a veneer of legitimacy, or because they hold religious beliefs that forbid them from taking part in secular government. To force them to take part in something that goes against their conscience is something no civilised society should do.

There are also, though, those who just can’t be bothered — surely they should be compelled to vote?
Firstly, because of the harm principle — “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” (sorry for the sexist language — quoting John Stuart Mill). Refusing to vote causes no-one any harm, so no power should be exercised to force people to do it. That, to me, is an absolute.
But also because from a purely pragmatic point of view, people who can’t be bothered to vote will tend to have uninformed opinions, and to vote frivolously, because they don’t think their vote matters — if they thought it mattered, they’d vote.

So compulsory voting forces people to go against their deepest convictions, weakens the democratic process, and does so for no actual gain.

I have voted in every election since I turned eighteen — every council election, every EU election, every stupid local referendum about mayors or speed cameras that gets ignored anyway, all of them. I believe exercising my democratic rights to be hugely important. But should this rule be brought in, I would consider it my duty as a liberal and a democrat to take part in peaceful civil disobedience and refuse to vote. I’m a liberal, and I’m against this sort of thing.

But I wouldn’t even need to refuse to vote, it turns out, because the committee plans to take my vote away from me, by making it trivially easy to steal, or for someone to coerce me into voting for a candidate I don’t support. The introduction of online voting would be an utter disaster — as Dave Page puts it, “verifiable, anonymous, online — pick two”. Read his post — he made all the points I would have made about online voting a month ago. Basically, if you want to have online voting, you either give up the secret ballot, give up ever being able to check that the vote you think you cast actually went to the person you wanted to vote for, or (most likely) both.

This cretinous, foetid, outrage of a plan is what you get when you have a constitutional committee consisting of nine Labservative MPs, an SDLP member who might as well be Labour, and Jeremy Browne, the single most authoritarian Lib Dem MP in Parliament. Please God let these proposals be shredded, because as it is if they get accepted we might as well give up any hope of ever having a functioning democracy in this country.

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21 Responses to How to do Constitutional Reform Totally Wrong

  1. “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” That’s an excellent idea that I wish WAS an absolute.
    Anyway, I don’t know how you folks do it across the pond, but here in the US where democracy has all but failed, we vote on Tuesday’s when everybody has to work, early-voting is being limited, and Sunday, the one day of the week nobody has jack shit to do, is also closed to voting.
    Simple solution: MAKE VOTING-TUESDAY A HOLIDAY! Screw all the other holidays, have the day off, get drunk with your friends arguing about politics and the role of government, and march your drunk asses in a frenzied excited mob to the poll booths and be actually EXCITED TO VOTE. God. We really should. Imagine if everybody got as hopped up over Vote Day as they did Independence Day or Christmas?

    • po8crg says:

      One small amendment: move it to Wednesday. That way people can’t take a day of their annual leave and make it a four-day weekend and go away and be unable to vote.

  2. Nick says:

    The one good thing is that these are apparently draft recommendations from the committee that they’ve put out for public consultation ahead of their final report (according to Paul Tyler’s cheerleading for it on LDV this morning, anyway). So there is an opportunity for people to put in some countering views, especially on the ‘woo! online voting will be magically free of any of the security implications that trouble the rest of the internet!’ guff.

  3. Mike Taylor says:

    “Refusing to vote causes no-one any harm.”

    I don’t find that to be obviously true.

    (To be clear, I am not in favour of mandatory voting; but as a reductio ad absurdum, we can all see that if everyone except UKIPpers decided not to vote at the next election, a great deal of harm would be caused.)

    • I suspect that the people who are most likely to be apathetic about voting are also those who would be most likely to vote for populist parties like UKIP — certainly a lot of their support in polls comes from people who didn’t vote in 2010.

      That said, “If no-one did this the world would be a bad place, therefore everyone should be compelled to do it” doesn’t really work for me as an argument. If nobody at all had children, the human race would (barring the invention of an immortality pill or somesuch) become extinct relatively quickly. On the other hand, I would be a terrible parent, and so it would be a very bad idea to compel me to have children.

      • Mike Taylor says:

        “I would be a terrible parent, and so it would be a very bad idea to compel me to have children.”

        A worse idea that letting the human race die out?

        • But we currently have a situation where the human race is not going to die out, because other people who *do* wish to have children are having them.
          In the same way, people who *do* want to vote do vote in elections.

          • Mike Taylor says:

            (This is very academic, since we agree anyway that voting shouldn’t be compulsory, but just for the sake of pursuing the argument to its end …)

            The situations are not parallel, because you think that if you don’t breed, other people will not only do it anyway, but do it better than you. So your position on this may be rational (though for what it’s worth nothing I know about you suggests you wouldn’t be a good parent).

            But in the case of voting, the idea that we shouldn’t compel people to vote because their not doing so harms no-one falls down in the case where the other people who will vote anyway will do a worse job (e.g. voting for UKIP or the BNP or the National Front).

            • I think in most cases though, the people who will vote will do a “better” job — and would do a still better job if we had a fair voting system (and in fact more people would vote if they thought their vote made a difference, which a fair voting system will do). I also think it’s a self-correcting problem, in that people in areas where extremism is on the rise will generally make more of an effort to vote.

  4. jimw says:

    Good stuff Andrew, well said. I agree 100% on online voting for much the same reasons, but interestingly I agree on compulsory voting from exactly the opposite position – I’ve never voted in anything and have no intention to change, so this proposal would directly criminalize me!

    My position on this has always been that as long as there’s an option to spoil one’s ballot, compulsory voting isn’t a serious threat to liberty. What’s your take on that?

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Jim! Long time no comment!
      No, even with the option to spoil the ballot, I still consider it an intolerable imposition, myself. If you genuinely have no opinion, why should you be forced to go to a church hall and say so?
      I don’t believe in a minimal state, or even a small state necessarily, but what I do believe is that if the state is going to require anything of the people, it should have a clear aim in mind which would be to the public good, and some sort of evidence that the aim will be achieved or furthered by the action it requires. No matter how apparently small an imposition, if it fails that most basic test then the government has no business doing it.

      • jimw says:

        Indeed, good to be back!

        You’re quite right about it being an intolerable imposition, but I suppose I see a lot of what gov’t does in that way. Being forced to go to the proverbial church hall (is that really where voting happens?) to cast a pointless ballot doesn’t seem any worse than being forced to pay taxes to fill the hon membs troughs!

        Having said that, I wouldn’t be at all happy about it – if they brought in compulsory voting I’d take the fine if I could afford it, on principle. Hmmm… that pretty much sums up politics, doesn’t it? I’ll take a stand on principle, if funds permit…

        • Oh, I’d refuse to pay the fine. Proper civil disobedience.

          And yes, church halls are (one of) the places you vote — churches, schools, bowling clubs… basically anywhere that people are likely to know, and where there’s a room that’s large enough that the people working at the polling station can sit far enough away from the little stands where you go to vote that they can’t see your vote.

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  6. Mike Drew says:

    The advantage of compulsory voting is that candidates/parties would be required to try to convince voters to vote for them rather than concentrating on identifying those who would probably vote for them and getting only those to vote.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Rather the opposite, as the parties wouldn’t even have to do their own get out the vote work, as the government would be doing it for them. At least currently they have to motivate their armchair supporters to turn out and actually vote.

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