Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Remind HN: Vote
454 points by DanielBMarkham on Nov 2, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 382 comments
For those of us living in the states who need to vote, I know it can be easy to get your head in the code and forget a lot of things, but today is election day. You're not asked to do a lot of things, but voting is one of them. Please try to find some time to get out and cast your ballot, no matter what your party or preferences. Remember that you don't vote to make a difference, you vote because it's your obligation to do so.

In Australia voting is mandatory. If you're registered to vote and you don't you can get fined. If no one is registered to vote at your address you'll tend to get lots of mail about it (but ultimately, staying off the electoral roll isn't difficult).

I used to think this was a bad idea as it forced people to vote who didn't really care.

In recent years I've come around to the opposite point of view based pretty much entirely on how badly voluntary voting in the US works.

When voting is voluntary there is an incentive with certain groups to dissuade, discourage or simply make it difficult for others to vote. In US elections there have been cases of bribing homeless people to vote with cigarettes or alcohol. Getting into vote can be difficult with long lines.

In Australia pretty much all these problems go away because you have to vote and the AEC (Australian Elecotral Commission) has to provide enough capacity to do so so, unless you go in the first hour or two of the morning, you can typically be in and out in 5-10 minutes tops.

Politicians love an apathetic population. So by all means go out and vote.

I am Yank, Arab and Somali (I hold three passports) and I will soon be an Aussie, via marriage. I have spent a year in Australia. My feeling is that Aussies are not really as political as Americans.

American voting is under-informed and has low turn out, but at least the few percentage of electorate that vote actually care.

Aussies .. I am not sure if they don't care, or if they're just good at hiding their political views. It's far easier to speak to an American and learn about his/her political stances. Aussies are much more opaque, in my experience, and seem to be equally resentful of all politicians.

For all their bureaucracy, Aussies are far more anarchic and egalitarian than any other nation that I am familiar with, except maybe Somalis.

Australians, at least the ones in NSW that I have come to know, consider the government and politicians "a bunch of wankers". They're very pessimistic about the people they elect; which is both nice, and also harmful.

Having said that .. Aussie Aussie Aussie!


People should harden the fuck up and visit Australia; everyone should live there at least once. Just thinking about that place brings a smile to my face. They're a nation of good-natured jokers, thoroughly beautiful I tell ya. But be prepared to be bull-shat left and right; you will have a hard time if you're a self-righteous prick]

Australian's by and large are not very ideological. With the exception of the Green's movement, there isn't really another "issues" political group that gets much attention -- or members.

Politicians are a bunch of wankers. They wouldn't be politicians if they weren't. I don't mean that in a really bad way, I just mean, being a successful politician takes a certain personality type. If you aren't rough as guts, a bit of a prick and full of yourself, you won't survive in Australian politics.

As for compulsory voting, I dig it. You should too.

There are ideological divides but we don't seem to have the hot button issues (eg abortion) that the US does. This is I believe because religion does not pay a big part in the Australian political system and our religious institutions don't tend to be hugely politically active.

The ALP (Australian Labor Party) are out "Democrats" (in the US sense; we had a Democrats party here that was something else and basically imploded 5+ years ago anyway). It has its roots in the union movement. The majority of ALP MPs (Members of Parliament, the House of Representatives, often called the Lower House) earned their stripes in the union movement, even now.

ALP support bears some correlation with being "working class" and lower socioeconomic position. Traditional supporters are deeply suspicious of anything that (allegedly) erodes "worker's rights" and of any conservative government.

On the right we have the Coalition, which is two parties: the Australian Liberal Party (don't mistake this with the US meaning of "liberal", they're conservative) and the National Party, which is much like the Liberals but only field candidates in rural seats and have a very rural focus.

Calling this a blue and white collar divide is largely accurate.

The Greens are very much on the left and, like the environmental movements in all developed nations, is largely supported by a young, discontent middle and upper classes. I say this not as a judgement but rather environmentalism is a luxury, meaning you see it in rich not poor countries.

The Greens are basically the "ALP in waiting" and deeply entrenched in university politics (meaning the kind of people who run in or care about student elections).

Also, the Greens are gaining like crazy right now. Probably for two reasons: One, before about 4 years ago, there was 13 years of Liberal government (once again, they are capital-L Liberals, not lowercase-l liberals). And then the "left" party came into government, and it turns out that hey, they're actually centre-right. I mean they're actually centre-right. They're not left at all, not on the economy (which I'm okay with), and not on moral issues (which I'm less okay with). So the greens are picking up voters that wanted a more progressive government, and whom voted Labor, and whom were then disappointed. The Greens picked up a seat in the Senate, are polling about 15% in Victoria for the State elections. So they're becoming influential at the expense of Labor.

The amusing thing is that in addition to the ideological divide within the Liberal party itself (between true small-L liberals and conservatives), the Liberal and National parties are not obviously ideologically compatible either -- the Nats are basically social conservative agrarian socialists. :-)

With environmental issues the Nats could do well to team up with the Greens in a lot of areas. But it would be a case of "don't mention the war" for the social issues.

> American voting is under-informed and has low turn out, but at least the few percentage of electorate that vote actually care.

I think politics among the US electorate is exactly analogous to bikeshed discussions on a mailing list.

I think its a cultural thing. Most people in the US (In my very uninformed opinion, mostly based on television/movies), are very explicit in their political stand.

In India, its assumed almost sinful to ask for political stance/ "Who are you gonna vote for" in the urban society. (It may be illegal too, not sure)

In the US, asking who someone who they're going to vote for is still taboo (at least in my opinion), they're just more likely to tell you their political stance. Plus, it's pretty easy to determine based on any number of things (do they talk about what they heard on the news last night? how do they view the current administration? government in general?).

Granted, I'm not American, but I think I've been here long enough to qualify for all intents and purposes.

In the US, very infrequently does anyone ask anyone else who they're voting for. In fact, talking about politics can very quickly turn into a nasty argument.

You're also correct about generally being able to tell someone's political leaning.

Another thing is that the 2 parties (republican and democrat) are very clearly opposed and distinct. And every republican I know very strongly identifies with being a republican (and my guess is that they vote republican unquestioningly straight across the ballot). Surmise from that what you will.

Aussies downplay a lot of things, some Aussies anyway. They pretend they don't care, don't know, haven't worked hard on something, aren't affected etc. In some ways this is exactly opposite to Arabs.

Voluntary voting in the US has one strange effect: politicians no 1 goal is to get "their" group to vote. Each side has a relatively fixed (and roughly equal) group of voters. Most of them stay home. The side that gets their group voting, even at the expense of a few defections, wins. That creates weird politics.

However, that is not the case everywhere. In lots of places the paradigm is a fixed group (possibly a minority) of voters who shift alliances more easily. A multiparty system encourages this.

I suspect that most defectors are actual abstainers, not defectors.

I think you'll find that people in NSW wholly consider the state government to be mindless wankers, because they are. State governments all over Australia are completely inept. Most people will have someone in Federal politics that they like, though and I think the view generally of Federal politics is far less cynical, and where true political allegiances come to light.

Side note: While showing up and getting your name marked off on election day is compulsory in Australia, actually voting properly is not. It is perfectly OK (though frowned upon) to get your form and put it straight into the box, which is counted as an "informal" vote, the same as if you had written in the wrong space on the ballot form.

The recent election was a very close race between the two major parties, and also had one of the highest % of informal votes in recent history, which is some measure of the unhappiness of voters with the choices they were given.

Australia is one of my most favourite places on Earth (Canada being the other, particularly Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver). I love Queensland myself. Bris vegas is a beautiful city. The only place I didn't like was Woden in Canberra, and I can see why Aussies are contemptuous of any Politician that lives in Canberra.

I think everyone should go to Australia at some point, visit the beautiful country. I also think everyone should go to Canada. Amazing places at opposite ends of the world.

"you will have a hard time if you're a self-righteous prick"

So how come nobody has told those internet censor wankers that a joke's a joke, they've had their fun, and now it's time to get back in their box before they feel the back of your hand?

Because it's largely inaccurate and Australia is packed with self-righteous pricks, they're just self-righteous about things other than the author originally implied.

The subset of us aussies who actually know about censorship largely have.

The trouble is, there isn't enough of us who care.

Poor bastards in NSW... they've had the same corrupt Labor government for what, fourteen years now? The tragedy is that the opposition don't have to be much better to win, they just have to not fuck a goat on live TV.

I always believed that not voting is also a vote, but you are fined in Australia if you do not show up and cast your ballot.

The only way to say 'none of the above' is by filing an informal vote. This is a de-facto way of saying that you don't like any of the options, and at least in Australia this informal vote is tracked and parties take notice of it.

In the USA if you vote to not vote, Washington bundles you in with everybody else and assumes that you have no interest.

The ideal solution would be

a) Voting is mandatory, but with a formal 'none of the above' option

b) Voting is not mandatory, but representation is allocated based on what portion of total people voted for you, not allocated based on the portion of the total vote. (ie. if in one state all 25M people voted, they should get 5 representatives in congress, while if in another state of 50M people only 5M votes, they should only get 1 seat in congress)

With a quota based system based on proportion of population congress/parliament would then be a true representation. It is the only way to reflect the will of the entire population, meaning that those who choose to stay at home can no longer be ignored.

There is no reason to abstain in Australia because we have a preference system. In the States, when Nader ran against Gore it divided the Democrat vote and Bush won. The same thing doesn't happen in Australia so if you vote for a minor party because you really believe in their policies, although they may still preference a major party that you don't wholly agree with they still get funding based on the number of votes received and if they actually win a seat in parliament (as Adam Bandt did in his recent historic win in the federal seat of Melbourne for the Greens) then those "minor" parties start to have a "major" influence.

All in all I think the preference system and mandatory voting makes for a far healthier democracy.

I have to call BS. This argument that third parties split the vote is nonsense.

Me voting for a third-party candidate is does not imply that I would have voted for any other candidate had they not been on the ballot. Had that candidate not been on the ballot, I would have abstained from that particular position.

It's like the BSA argument that people who steal software (yes it's stealing) would have normally bought the software. No, they wouldn't have.

> Had that candidate not been on the ballot, I would have abstained from that particular position.

Really? If there were three candidates, one who was 95% in agreement with you, one who was 85%, and one who was 30%, and the 95% dropped out of the race, you would just NOT vote for the 85%?

It depends. I would typically vote for a candidate if his positions on other issues were not repulsive to me or if his stance really didn't matter at the federal level.

But I refuse to vote for a candidate because of a single plank or even 2 or 3 planks. I won't compromise on things like marriage equality or abortion rights. Those, while they should have no federal interferance at all, sadly are determined at the federal level. Same goes for economy.

But if the candidate has an opinion on, say, the Department of Education that I'm opposed to I might let it slide.

The point I was making is that is a case by case basis and more times than not, I've refused to vote for any candidate because I didn't want to send a message that I supported them at all.

The only message that not voting for anyone sends is that you're happy with anyone.

If everyone informed chooses not to vote for anyone, all that does is give more power to the uninformed.

But if a third party happens to appeal to a similar demographic to one of the main parties (in this case, the Democrats, and the Gore campaign in particular), then it will split the vote. If you don't believe it, then the Bush campaign (Republicans) sure did, since they worked hard to promote the Green party and get them on as many ballots as they could.

Option B would be pretty interesting, and might provide a decent incentive for people to vote. However, if people aren't likely to vote anyway, why would they care how much representation they have in Congress?

We effectively do have a "none of the above" option: don't select anyone and still cast the ballot. However, it would be better if there was an explicit "No vote" option.

The biggest problem with voting not being mandatory is that a lot of people don't have the opportunity because they can't get off work. If you made voting mandatory (or at least made election day a paid holiday), this impediment might be alleviated.

Why don’t you vote on Sundays like I don’t know how many other nations in the World? It doesn’t make any sense.

It's for historic reasons tied to the US being a farming society:



I point this out to anyone who complains about how archaic some things in the UK or Europe appear to be.

Because we need enough time to travel to town overnight via horse. We vote in November because the harvest is over. I believe this is correct, I've heard it several places, but here is one citation: http://www.whytuesday.org/answer/

It's written in the Constitution as to when voting should occur. Remember, this was written for the late 18th century, so doing anything on Sundays was generally frowned upon. Plus, changing something like this would be far more difficult than just giving everyone the day off.

However, in this country there is a constant struggle between trying to let more people vote versus trying to restrict voting. Hence why a lot of people are up in arms about potential voter fraud. The traditional wisdom is that more voters helps one party, fewer helps another. With this as a factor, you can see how it would be very difficult to change the day of voting to make it more convenient for people.

It’s not in the Constitution as far as I can see. Election day seems to be determined by an ordinary law.

And this is why I'm glad that we don't have to pass a test to vote. I'd fail that question. I blame my third grade social studies teacher. :).

The date is set by an act of Congress from 1845.


I think my other arguments still stand though...

«The biggest problem with voting not being mandatory is that a lot of people don't have the opportunity because they can't get off work. If you made voting mandatory (or at least made election day a paid holiday), this impediment might be alleviated.»

An alternative, as it's done in Spain, is to give everyone the right to leave their jobs in order to vote. To alleviate things for businesses, all elections happen on Sundays.

In Illinois at least employers are required to allow employees to take two paid hours off at the beginning or end of their shift to vote. Also there's "no excuse" absentee vote by mail and early voting available throughout the state.

Another alternative is to have advance voting. In the recent elections in Sweden about one third of the votes cast were cast in advance, IIRC.

In Washington and Oregon (soon California) this is done by mail.

The biggest problem with voting not being mandatory is that a lot of people don't have the opportunity because they can't get off work. If you made voting mandatory (or at least made election day a paid holiday), this impediment might be alleviated.

That just sounds like a lazy excuse to me. I don't know how long it takes to vote in the US, but where I live in Canada, we just finished our municiple elections. It was one of the longest ballots I can remember, yet the entire process, including walking from my house to the polling station and back, took about 20 minutes after work.

I have to say, I just don't understand this voter apathy or this sentiment that if none of the candidates are any good then don't vote. I really do think it is your duty as a citizen.

I have spent 4-5 hours on more than one occasion.

You're kidding. Why does it take so long?

It's quite common for both of the main parties in the USA (Democrats and Republicans) to try to disenfranchise voting districts that vote predominantly for the other party. This can be done by sabotaging voting machines, resulting in long wait times that will discourage people from voting (as mentioned by another comment); or intentionally underestimating voter turnout and delivering too few machines in the first place; or by spreading rumors that it's a landslide and they don't need to vote; or spreading misinformation on how to fill out the ballot, resulting in failed votes; or intentionally putting polling places in the bad part of town to scare away voters; or putting polling places far away from public transit and/or sufficient parking space; or any number of underhanded tactics designed to prevent people from. None of it is ever really proven or investigated, but you tend to get a lot of highly significant p-values on election day, indicating that most of these events are probably intentional, and not accidental.

And don't forget Gerrymandering, in which the party in power redraws the voting district lines to ensure that every district has a majority of their party (though that happens before election day): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering

Edit: I added a few more examples from other replies that represent common methods of intentional sabotage.

The most obvious would be:

  Broken electronic voting machines.
  Higher than expected turn out resulting in a backlog.
  Showing up after work along with a huge group of people doing the same thing.
And I suspect some state level manipulation because my area (Northern VA) does not vote for the same party as the rest of the state. Other polling stations with 1/5th the population have the same number of voting stations.

I'm not mzl, but there are all kinds of reasons why it might be a long project: waiting for public transit (especially if there's more than one connection), waiting in line at the poll (if turnout is much higher than expected), etc.

I've spent an hour and a half before, mainly due to excessive turnout and lack of voting booths.

2 of the 6 machines the precinct received did not verify when turned on. They're an electronic booth with paper printout (yes,what the vote hackers wanted to begin with). However the paper did not agree with the electronic tally, hence machine invalidated.

And they got 4x the turnout they were expecting. Now, usually, it's 20 min in line and 3 min for the vote itself.

Nevada has an explicit "none of the above" on the ballot.

Option (b) would mean that voting for party A can instead reinforce the power of party B.

I think your idea (part b, anyway) is based on the idea that people vote for parties, but that's not the way it works. True, some states allow you to vote a straight party ticket rather than having to vote for each office individually, but not all of them.

In the US each elected official, whether they were a Democrat nominee, a Republican nominee, or a member of one of the other parties chooses who they will caucus with. That's why people like Arlen Specter can change parties freely.

And allocating seats based on the percentage of people who voted in each state ignores those who don't have the right to vote - whether they're children, foreigners, or people in other categories. Once someone is elected, they're supposed to serve their entire constituency, not just those who voted for them.

And finally, the US (and no country that I can think of, really) is not a democracy, it is a democratic republic. The many elect a few to govern, and those elected to govern are supposed to do what is right - and what is right is not always what the majority wants.

Compulsory voting is a needless encroachment on people's freedom to do as they please. People can't be bribed to vote when they're required to vote? :)

It may seem weird, but there are families so destitute that they may have better things to do than vote.

The voter turnout will be just fine without compulsory voting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voter_turnout#International_dif....

Looking at the comments again, tjogin summed it up pretty well.

I'm not against compulsory voting, but I'd just like to add that I don't think it's necessary in order to get a good voter turnout. We have voluntary voting in Sweden, and yet we get about 86% turnout.

In the US, there are a number of problems with the voting procedure, too many to count really, I think facing and addressing those issues would be far better than making voting compulsory.

A few days ago there was a post on HN about how economists solved the problem of having prisoners live that were shipped from the UK to Australia 200 years ago: by giving the right incentive (paying for live prisoners at the other end and not just how many you load on in England).

When voting is voluntary, certain groups are incentivized to encourage or discourage other groups from voting. This manifests itself as bribery, legitimate "get out the vote" efforts, making the process of voting difficult and so on.

Basically you've created an incentive for such practices by making voting voluntary. All of that goes away when voting is compulsory.

I'm reminded of the Spce Shuttle Challenger disaster in 2003. I saw a TV show about the investigation into that. After launch there was concern about the visible debris coming off the shuttle. The investigation afterwards showed that there was significant resistance within NASA to investigating that prior to re-entry. Certain people wanted to use satellite imagery to see if there was any damage to the shuttle. Other groups resisted.

The reason this was contentious was that such practices weren't required. The solution? The investigation resulted in NASA instituting a policy requiring such imagery be taken of all shuttle flights.

Once something is mandatory, all sorts of incentives (and the problems they create) simply go away.

Nit: Space Shuttle Challenger was in 1986; Columbia was 2003.

hm.. "the problem of having prisoners live" doesn't sound right.

this is by design.. obfuscate the process to discourage participation.

I think it is just incompetence. The more you spend time with government, the more you see that, even though we'd imagine they have things under control, they really don't.

I'm 28 and voting is important to me, but I've missed voting in three November elections because I didn't register in time. I've lived at different addresses every single year. The system is set up to dissuade renters from voting. Except in the few states that allow election day registration.

In Estonia you can vote from almost anywhere if you have ID-card and working internet connection.

It's really convenient and people are using this more and more. For example last elections 15.75% of votes were made using internet. Official statistics can be found from http://vvk.ee/voting-methods-in-estonia/engindex

Also there are talks that they want to enable voting with mobile phones (there are already solutions where you can log in to banks and other websites with mobile phones).

In Estonia you can vote from almost anywhere if you have ID-card and working internet connection.

By any chance, is your most recently elected president called "moot"? Is there or has there ever been a legal motion to rename the country to "4chanistan"?

I think I might know what caused your recent problems, and it's not Russia or the EU.

Hehe, luckily it's not that easy to get the ID-card.

You have to prove you are Estonian citizen (or become one) and the system is secure enough that people can trust their money and sign legal documents with this system.

Actually this is one weak point in the system. If some crook gets hold of your ID-card and your PIN codes, he can sign documents that are legally binding. (For example sell your house for a dollar etc.)

> By any chance, is your most recently elected president called "moot"?

Sorry. I don't understand this comment.

Is it trying to say, that electronic voting is by definition a failure? It doesn't seem to criticize any specific aspect of the Estonian e-voting system.

Or is it just calling names?

"moot" is the screenname of the founder of 4chan, who have a tendency to spoil online polls. For example: http://www.buzzfeed.com/reddit/also-the-work-of-4chan-pic

No, you have it all wrong.

Anonymous for President. Name change to /B/stonia

I jest, I jest :) Still, I've heard of some cool governmental tech over there. Voting, as grandparent said, along with cell-phone payment of gasoline, painless e-banking with 2 factor auth, and other cool stuff.

I also remember a pyramid that was built in that area that was on History International... I _think_ it was there, as it talked more about the architecture than the location, other than temps going from 80F to -30F.

Yes, /e/stonia would be an... interesting place.

This is even much better than to penalize. Why isn't there a startup helping the government? :) http://techcrunch.com/2010/10/23/the-goldmine-of-opportuniti...

Sorry, that's completely insane even if it's open source.

I don't think it is. But even so as they live next door to Russia I think it's probably a good thing to try these things out and learn things the hard way.

Plus, we vote on Saturday. Weekday voting is incredibly disenfranchising.

In 1845, the United States was largely an agrarian society. Farmers often needed a full day to travel by horse-drawn vehicles to the county seat to vote. Tuesday was established as election day because it did not interfere with the Biblical Sabbath or with market day, which was on Wednesday in many towns.


That's great, but it's not 1845, and I know that not all Americans are Constitutional fundamentalist nutjobs. :-)

So why not Saturday? That article doesn't mention it.

Neither sabbath nor market day, yet still a weekend day. Or did people back then consider Saturday a regular work/week day too?

Not Saturday because it would, presumably, take that same whole day to get back.

And note that market day tended to be in the same town where you voted, so arriving a day early was much of a hardship.

I voted on Saturday, too. Some of the more enlightened states in the US allow voting by mail.

I have never figured out how voting by mail is possible. The case I'm interested in, a classic, is the husband dictacting to his wife who to vote for.

When you vote by mail in the comfort of your home, how do you guarantee that no such tampering happened?

As an out of state college student, I'm very much so fond of voting by mail.

I voted about three weeks ago.

Generally, you're also allowed to register to vote where you go to college, too.

yes, but I don't particularly care about the politics in the state I'm in.

In fact some States (e.g. WA was like this) only allow voting by mail. Potentially disenfranchising perhaps; how do I vote if I'm homeless?

Pierce county in WA still has polling places. It's Oregon that is entirely vote-by-mail.

Turns out king county (seattle's county) has three in-person voting facilities for people who need accessible accommodations[1]. News to me.

[1] http://kingcounty.gov/elections/voting/accessible.aspx

You'd go to a post office. If a homeless person can't figure that out, then they are uninformed. The US system doesn't work with uninformed voters. So, that's a win IMHO.

"Convinced that the people are the only safe depositories of their own liberty, and that they are not safe unless enlightened to a certain degree, I have looked on our present state of liberty as a short-lived possession unless the mass of the people could be informed to a certain degree." --Thomas Jefferson

It's easier to be informed of candidates' position than the logistics of voting. Free and discarded newspapers are everywhere, and cover the former extensively, but the latter only marginally if at all.

Case in point, at least two HN readers (OP and myself) didn't know homeless people could vote by mail at the US Post Office, but I know at least one of them is very well-informed on the issues.

It need not be.

By law in Canada, employers are required to make sure that every employee has three and half hours during which they can go vote.


In Israel election day is a national holiday and everyone is off from work/school.

EDIT: Spelling

I really doubt that making voting mandatory would make a difference in the US. A large fine for not voting would be unreasonable and universally disliked while a small fine would be ignored. For example, we take the census, a short questionnaire, every 10 years. Filling out the census is mandatory and the government makes a considerable effort to make sure that every household finishes their census form. However, this year there were many people who took it as a point of pride not to fill out the form, even though it is much easier to do than voting and is compulsory.

Politicians also love an ill-informed population. By forcing everyone to vote you also force people who don't have an interest or opinion to vote. I mean sure that makes it more representative but I wonder if it is not better that these people don't vote, especially if they don't exactly appreciate why they are voting or the differences between the parties and policies.

I hate to say it, but mandatory voting == The majority of the voters are clueless and don't really care

Yep. Brazil just had a record abstention in the last election (21.5%) and voting here is mandatory, probably because the voting day overlapped with a extended holiday. Might as well let only the interested ones vote, no?

Australia's system of democracy sounds rather... authoritarian.

And for those who complain about not having the right to abstain, you can get the same effect by turning up and spoiling your ballot paper. You can even make a show of doing it so that everyone can see you're deliberately not casting a valid vote. That makes more of a point that staying home and being invisible.

It might be a similar effect but it's not the same effect. There's a definite difference between wanting to say that you are making the effort to take part in the electoral process but that you don't want to lend your support to any of the candidates; and for whatever reason not correctly filling out the ballot paper. If nothing else it makes for a much more interesting statistic, spoiled ballot papers tell you nothing about the intent of the voter, a 'none of the above' option would help with that.

"You can even make a show of doing it"

Why should I be forced to show up for your voting-day entertainment?

Good point, but of ALL the things we are forced to do in Western societies, compulsory voting would probably be pretty low on the list of things I'd want to see go away.

Thank you, but you respond with no point. You're saying that I should be forced to do something, or else fined or possibly even put in jail for not doing so...but you don't even justify why you're willing to do that to me.

If you support my right to write-in Mickey Mouse or select "None of the Above" or void my vote, then you're saying nothing more than that you like people being punished for not filling out what you acknowledge to be meaningless paperwork.

(Also, last I checked, there's more than one "Western society" that doesn't have compulsory voting.)

This is actually legal in the Netherlands: just turn in a blank ballot.

In Sweden you can vote for whatever you want. It's quite humorous to read the results of these votes after the election, when they are published online. Normally this would be used by new parties who can't afford distributing printed ballots. Being Sweden someone of course had the xkcd-inspired(?) idea to try XSS and SQL-injection.


Great idea! There is a ton of social science about why it is irrational to vote (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rational_ignorance). If one had to pay even a low penalty similar to Australia that may help to convince rational but disappointed, ignorant and hopefully peaceful people to vote..

Voting is to democracy as telescope is to astronomy.

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard."

I vote and believe in voting, but this thread makes me think that most people haven't really thought through the philosophy behind voting. Those who feel that voting is an irrational sham are not going to care about your "obligation," and you come off looking like a laughably naive jerk in condemning them for failing to do their civic duty. Mandatory voting is disagreeable for the same reason mandatory anything is: it uses force to make people do what they don't want to do, which reeks of tyranny. And arguably, society would be better off if only the intelligent and informed voted, so encouraging voting amongst the masses is downright malicious.

If you're being practical and are just trying to get a certain politician elected or ballot measure passed, then requesting that people vote within a demographic that is likely to vote in a predictable way (Democratic on HN, I'm sure) is duplicitous. You pretend you don't care what party people vote for, but anyone can tell that a "Rock the Vote" campaign on MTV is intended to get youth Democrat votes, or that bussing in impoverished people is intended to get Democrat votes. Never is the idea why people should vote actually explained, but that doesn't stop them from shaming those who don't. Republicans tend to be a little more frank as to who you should vote for and why.

Which is why I say, vote Meg Whitman, because the State of California is broke and she is more likely to contain the spending. Vote to legalize marijuana because it's high time people stopped being sent to jail for smoking pot. And if you're thinking of voting otherwise, I encourage you to stay home. Because a vote is not a moral obligation. It's a serious political act that changes the structure of society, and I would rather my preferred changes happen than that they be as democratic as possible.

> Mandatory voting is disagreeable for the same reason mandatory anything is: it uses force to make people do what they don't want to do, which reeks of tyranny.

I very much disagree with this statement, which smacks of hyperbole. A citizen has certain responsibilities. It is not tyranny to expect that citizen to perform their responsibility. One of the responsibilities is jury duty and, I would argue, voting is another.

> I would argue, voting is another [responsibility].

What is your argument?

I think that what people buy has a pretty important effect too, especially in the U.S. considering that corporations fund political parties/interest groups/politicians.

I'm Australian, and we have compulsory voting. We also have compulsory education, as one of the basic requirements for democracy is a body informed voters.

I think one of the positive effects of it is that it forces everyone to think about it. I know people who I can guarantee would not vote were it not compulsory, but since it is they have looked into both parties and have formed some opinions which they then use to guide their votes. I think that anything that increases the overall political knowledge of the population is a good thing.

Another positive effect is that politicians don't need to spend any time getting people to the polls - this is something I see American politicians and citizens waste an absurd amount of time on.

Anyway, the fines in Australia are pretty small - I missed a state election once (moved and forgot to update the electoral roll) and it was around $20.

Please, do vote if you understand the issues, and where the candidates stand.

But otherwise, please DO NOT VOTE. Just because an idea makes you feel warm and fuzzy doesn't make it right. There are plenty of things in this world that are counter-intuitive, and if you're relying only on your beliefs, there's a good chance you'll get it wrong.

If you've never taken a class or read a book on economics, please don't vote. (I recommend Economics in One Lesson, by Henry Hazlett [1])

If you've never taken a class or read a book on political philosophy, please don't vote. If you don't know the difference between natural law and utilitarianism, please don't vote. (I recommend reading J S Mill [2], or Locke [3], or Mises [4], or Hayek [5])

And if you don't believe me, then you should also read The Myth of the Rational Voter, by Bryan Caplan [6]. He discusses not only why voters do vote irrationally, but also why it's rational for them to do so.

[1] https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Economics_in_...

[2] https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/John_Stuart_M...

[3] https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/John_locke

[4] https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Ludwig_von_Mi...

[5] https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Friedrich_Hay...

[6] https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/The_Myth_of_t...

I understand that your comments are partly in jest (I hope!), but still the basic idea expressed in them is very misguided, dangerous and wrong: Misguided, because one can argue that everyone acts according to their beliefs, even an economics professor. You cannot talk about a clear dichotomy between those who vote on their belief and those who vote on "rational principles".

It's wrong because voting is an inherent citizenship right; it cannot be made contiguous on intellectual (or any other, e.g. socio-economic class) aspects, e.g. knowledge of economics, full understanding of the issues etc. of a voter. If you open the door to voter discrimination by declaring some votes less equal than others, who knows what other ideologies may walk through it.

It is also dangerous because it creates a sense of "right". The one thing that always amazed me in my discussions with liberals in the US is that they argue that their position is, how to put it, "inherently right", i.e. that they are the informed ones, whereas the "others" are the hoi polloi, the uneducated, stupid masses. Years earlier, in the race between Kerry and Bush, when I pointed to these people that Kerry came across as unlovable and stiff, I was met with disbelief: It was Kerry's "right" to be elected because he was "right". The danger of this view, of course, is that it often leads to defeat. In any confrontation, knowing the enemy's full power is crucial and belittling them will not make you win the war.

I understand that your comments are partly in jest

Nope, 100% serious.

It's wrong because voting is an inherent citizenship right; it cannot be made...

I agree completely. In no way do I advocate any sort of qualification. That's a slippery slope the first step of which is incredibly steep.

What I'm advocating is that people self-select. I wish we could each reflect personally, and try to determine whether we really have the knowledge and understanding that's necessary to judge; and then honestly decide whether that the conclusion allows us to impose our thoughts on others.

The government enforces its policies, ultimately, by force and violence. If you're going to threaten someone (by way of the government) with force, you'd better be damned confident that there's a good reason to do so.

You have some nerve. You really do. Has it occurred to you that the mere act of participation in and exercising your right to vote is an act of "...knowledge and understanding..." in it's own right?

I find the totality of your comments in this thread incredibly offensive. To suggest that citizens abdicate their right to vote is incredulous. I am of the opinion that every citizen should be encouraged to vote by any and all legal means. If for no other reason then to educate people as to the mechanics of democracy let alone exercise a right that generations of people have died to ensure.

I'm sorry that you're offended. However, stating that you are offended, and then re-asserting your belief in voting really doesn't do anything to show my where the error is in my argument.

I'd have an easier time understanding where I've gone astray if you could address my two questions:

1. Is it immoral to vote by dice?

2. In what ways does an ignorant voter, reacting emotionally to propaganda, differ from voting by dice?

Seriously, I thought you were being tongue in cheek in your comments. If you're serious, then your idea of rating people according to some measure (you advocate some hazy notion of informedness, but it's not important what it is) and denying people who score low is outrageous. In fact, in principle, this is no different than saying blacks, or women, or gays, etc. should not vote!

Let me state it simply: Voting is a right given to a citizen who meets certain definitions (i.e. inmates cannot vote). It's not up to you, or me, or the government to dictate or judge what they will do with their vote. They can roll a dice, use Tarot cards, be influenced by O'Reilly, whatever. It's their right to use however they see fit.

Ideas like yours do great damage because they provide fuel to idiotic movements like the Tea Party.

Whilst I don't necessarily agree with limiting voting by knowledge or intelligence, I do think people are too quick to shun it without thought. If it's so wrong, explain why, rationally, not with an appeal to morality. Otherwise it reeks of 'What you can't say' [1].

Would you want an uninformed, unintelligent leader? If not, would you want uninformed, unintelligent people to choose a leader?

Of course, I do agree that there are issues with the proposal - self-selection would be a bad choice thanks to Dunning-Kruger [2] - and I do agree that any kind of 'you must have an IQ this high to vote' would be a bad idea, due to those entrenched in power setting the requirements.

Personally, I would prefer a solution based on better political and economic education, but that's such a difficult problem.

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/say.html [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

I totally agree with you, nothing should be removed off the table without a rational discussion about possible merits. My philosophy is: everything should be discussed, nothing should be off-limits due to PC, or hurting a group's sensibilities. In this regard, controversial subjects such as gay marriage rights, right of Islam women to cover their heads in Europe (not much of an issue in the US), the injustice of affirmative action should be throughly discussed with a cool head. And likewise for eugenics, the mathematical ability difference between men and women, etc.

Problem is, rarely I find myself in a setting where these interesting topics can be discussed in a rational setting. But that's the subject of another post.

My rational argument against CWuestefeld's suggestions is simple (based on entropy minimization): Do not make any complex issue even more complicated by your actions.

Let me explain: In its essence CWuestefeld suggestion rests on the notion that some voters' votes are off less value. If we accept this, then the question becomes, how do we determine the value: who should be allowed to vote. He says that it should be contingent on "knowledge of economics, full understanding of the issues etc.". I might counter with a different definition, e.g. "Most politics is dominated by men, so men should know better" or the somewhat better "without knowing the reality of a factory worker, how can you vote on issues that affect us". This leads to murky, philosophical debate that makes the issue even more complex and intractable than the one it's trying to solve.

Thanks for the measured response.

how do we determine the value: who should be allowed to vote

To be clear, I believe that everyone should be allowed to vote. I'd go so far as to say that even felons should be allowed to, for fear that the legal system could otherwise be used as a tool to stifle electoral dissent.

My suggestion that some people not cast a vote is intended to be entirely personal, as a matter of conscience and reflection. If anyone honestly believes that his ideas are the product of rational thought applied to an understanding of the situation, then by all means, cast that vote.

I don't think that your murky water criticism can apply, because I'm not asking -- nor trusting -- anyone else to judge. I'm asking for a person's own, honest, self-evaluation. No one else need know if you exercised this option or not, and it's none of their business.

Moreover, this doesn't relate to a single person monolithically. A person might have very well informed ideas about one topic, yet be ignorant about another. The decision ought to be made on a vote-by-vote basis. For example, this morning I did not cast a vote for County Freeholder. Although I know who the incumbent is, and don't have anything in particular against him, I don't know enough about county-level politics, nor the candidates, to make an informed decision, so I abstained. Yet I did cast a vote for US Representative, County Sheriff, etc.

I'm also sympathetic to the criticism that Dunning-Kruger might make this backfire.

A voluntary system would not be viable precisely because of your caveat. It would likely not prevent any truly poorly informed from voting: at worst, some moderately-to-highly informed folks would make the wrong decision and abstain instead, further skewing representation.

If you're serious, then your idea of rating people according to some measure and denying people who score low is outrageous.

Why would you so blatantly misrepresent what someone said? All CWuestefeld said is that if you don't know that much about politics, don't vote. Or does that somehow equate to denying someone the right to vote in your mind?

  > Voting is a right given to a citizen who meets
  > certain definitions (i.e. inmates cannot vote).
The European Union has declared that preventing inmates from voting is an infringment of their human rights.


This is an interesting link, thanks. Although I think the ruling was a against a "blanket ban" on inmate voting and doesn't say that all inmates can vote. Need to have a better look, though.

I got curious, so rather than going lunch, did some Wikipedia reading here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_rights_in_the_United_Sta.... Turns out the right to vote cannot be denied based on :

* Religion (in Constitution is found in Article VI, section 3. * "Race, color, or previous condition of servitude" (15th Amendment, 1870) * "On account of sex" (19th Amendment, 1920) * "By reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax" (24th Amendment, 1964)

Conversely, this means that the right can be denied based on other factors, just not one of the above.

It also says: "As of July 2007, fourteen states, eleven of them in the South, ban anyone with a felony conviction from voting for life." This is outrageous, and should be considered a cruel and unusual punishment! When someone servers their term, they should be given their citizenship rights back.

fourteen states, eleven of them in the South, ban anyone with a felony conviction from voting for life

I agree that this is heinous. Through this means, the political process can hijack the judicial system to eliminate dissent. This means, for example that anyone who had been convicted of sodomy (back when that was still a crime, and if it had been a felony) would be barred from participating in the democratic process, e.g., for pursuing gay marriage.

When someone servers their term, they should be given their citizenship rights back.

But: are you willing to also return to them their 2nd Amendment right to keep & bear arms? (for the record, I am)

Considering both the disenfranchisement and disarmament of felons (as well as forced prisoner labor sold off to various business interests) were part of Jim Crow, I am.

1. No, it is not immoral to vote by dice.

2. Imho, the act of voting in and of itself encompass a conscious decision to act. To act requires thought. Who are we to judge the beliefs or thought process that leads a citizen to vote?

Even if the voter was "reacting emotionally to propaganda", so what? I find it interesting that you use three very loaded words within a span of four.

Reacting. You paint this voter as reptilian. Incapable of thought and merely reacting to various primal instincts.

Emotionally. You impugn this voters ability to remain uncompromised and imply a certain level of deficit.

Propaganda. You concern yourself with the message the citizen receives and pass judgment as to whether or not it meets your standards of information.

[edit] Allow me to elaborate on your first question. You either have the right to vote or you do not. If I chose to vote based on which side of the bed I woke up on then so be it. To say otherwise is to assert your opinion over my right.  

You, Sir, are emotionally compromised on this issue.

A large number of voters voting by dice would have no effect on elections in which a plurality is required to win...

Perhaps in an ideal world some people should self-select out of voting; I haven't thought enough about that ideal world to say. But HN in general, and this page in particular, is the wrong forum to push for such self-selection. I would be willing to bet that the average HN reader is better informed, and better qualified to understand that information, than the general population.

HN readers, please vote today.

The problem with uninformed voters self-selecting to not vote is that the people who decide not to vote because they are not sufficiently informed tend to be in the middle range of informedness. There are many more people who are even less well-informed and have put less thought into their voting decisions who will vote.

Seth Godin disagrees with you: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2010/11/voting-misun...

Additionally, "if you understand the issues" is a vague, relative parameter. I know in the state of wisconsin I don't know 100% of the issues (and probably not even 50%, sadly. Been a busy year), but I know enough of what I like and dislike about the Governor and Senate battles to vote with confidence.

I think your argument is a mute point. It's either damned if we do, damned if we don't.

Well, hopefully you're voting for Feingold. That guy's been one of the best senators of the last 20 years, honest, doesn't take any lobbyist money and a fiscal conservative, too, but he's in danger of losing to a guy who's entire platform is "I'm not a socialist" (Feingold isn't either).

I live in a different state, but I wouldn't be caught dead voting for Feingold. I know none of your local issues, but I know that he's co-author of the McCain-Feingold Incumbency Protection Act, which gags those interested in the issues from educating the rest of the electorate. Apparently Sen. Feingold believes that it's better to have an ill-informed electorate, and that we shouldn't be able to use our 1st Amendment rights to put a voice to our ideas, if it has anything to do with politics.

IMHO, this is precisely what the 1st Amendment was designed to give us, and Feingold's disavowal of it overrides virtually anything else he may or may not have done.

Sorry that you've been brainwashhed.

"Apparently Sen. Feingold believes that it's better to have an ill-informed electorate, and that we shouldn't be able to use our 1st Amendment rights to put a voice to our ideas, "

Let me get you on the record here -- you actually think the various "Americans for American Americans" groups are contributing to the debate? You think these groups deserve a voice? Let me re-enact a little play for you in 3 lines:

Lobbyist: I've got 5 million to spend, Senator. I can spend it with you or against you. We need our subsidies.

Senator: I'm going to do the right thing, not the corrupt thing.

Americans for American Americans: "Senator X supports wasteful government spending and death panels"

(Note that the lobbyist who was asking for money is now running ads accusing the senator of spending too much. That's ok, because it works.)

That's both a red herring and a straw man.

It's a straw man because not only does McCain-Feingold forbid behavior like you illustrate, but also perfectly reasonable advocacy. So the NRA can't say "don't vote for Mr. X because he's against the 2nd Amendment". Pro-choice people can't say "don't vote for Mr. Z because he's voted for blah blah". These are precisely the types of speech that the 1st Amendment was intended (in part) to protect, and McCain-Feingold eviscerates it.

It's a red herring, because it's attacking something that's not wrong anyway (and fails to attack what I believe you thing is wrong).

It fails to address the implied corruption, bribery, and lobbying. McCain-Feingold has nothing to do with that stuff, yet it's the central evil in your little play.

And the last line of your play: Americans for American Americans: "Senator X supports wasteful government spending and death panels" is not wrong. Every person has the right to put up a sign on his front door, or put up a web site, describing his own political views, and advocating for or against specific candidates. Every one of us also has the right to associate with who we wish, and in so doing, pool our funds to make that web site even spiffier, or buy a TV ad. I believe that your objection to this is completely content-based: you dislike the kinds of messages that are being commnunicated; you think they're dangerous, and want to stop them.

But even if I'm wrong, your argument otherwise serves to bolster my original point ("don't vote unless you know the issues"). We all have the responsibility to understand what's going on. We're supposed to be adults with a conscience and the ability to weigh and judge the merits. If you don't do so, you've got no business voting.

My objection is not content-based, the content is irrelevant, as long as it has some grainy black and white footage and zero regard for the truth.

As a volunteer in a grass roots campaign in the 2007 primaries, Mr. Feingold's unAmerican anti-free speech law was a major pain in our asses as we tried to fight the more established political interests. I am so happy to see that man go. He should retire or get an honest job.

Campaign finance laws make it so that candidates supported by passionate minorities cannot be heard. If you are not 1) personally rich or 2) a mainstream candidate in a mainstream party you have no opportunity to speak. This is ironic considering such laws are usually passed as a way to fight "entrenched interests", but they do exactly the opposite.

>"Sorry that you've been brainwashhed."

That tone is a little overboard for this website community.

I would love to hear how McCain-Feingold hurt you when it came to "fighting more established political interests".

The inability to throw millions of soft money into the race made it harder to fight the established political interest? Or made it harder to harness established lobbyist interest?

Under McCain-Feingold, candidates can self-fund for any amount, and donations are limited to $2300/head, that's $4600 for married couples. If you can't find 1000 people to support you, you shouldn't be in politics. If you can't find 1000 people to support you but have one guy cutting 10 million dollar checks, you DEFINITELY shouldn't be in politics.

You should read John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty". It makes all my arguments for free political speech for me and in a much more elegant manner.

It is self-evident that if you limit the amount of money that people can spend on advertising their political views that niche candidates and less popular ideas will be hurt the most. Unions can compel donations from their millions of members, your Clintons, Obamas, and McCains of the world get the full support and advertising of the major parties. But offbeat candidates will have their speech capped by McCain-Feingold, unless they are personally rich (Ross Perot).

We had many outside projects (independent advertisements and the like) that couldn't get cash because so many of us had donated our max amount to the campaign (even though few of us were personally rich). There's something weird about being an American and not being allowed to support a candidate because it is against the law. I would much rather have a rough and tumble, wide-open contest in the finest democratic tradition than Democrats and Republicans writing laws about who is allowed to speak.

You seem to want to outlaw outside advertisements because they don't meet your standards for quality. Cool man, cool. I just want you to consider how that position fits within the American liberal tradition.

>" If you can't find 1000 people to support you, you shouldn't be in politics. "

That sounds like an incumbent protection act to me.

We had a few hundred thousand supporters, ended up getting a few million votes! Even found a loophole in McCain-Feingold and set up one venture as a for-profit enterprise (you ever see the "Hillary 2008" t-shirts at airports? Same loophole).

We did okay, considering. But man, I just want my freedom back.

I'm about done here but can you really not see any potential conflicts of interest when you allow those who have the most money to flood the zone with hundred-million dollar ad buys? That doesn't offend any small-d democratic principles that you hold?

I want to re-regulate outside advertisements because they are almost always the product of shady dealings. Citizens United happened this year and we're setting records for the amount of money spent, during a frickin midterm. And guys like you complain about corruption in DC. No sense of irony?

As much as I would like to eliminate the biggest political spenders from the public discourse - the public sector unions who spend hundreds of millions of dollars to elect their own bosses - I believe even they deserve the right to speak.

No one has brought up socialism in this campaign at all. Ron Johnson has run a specific, issue oriented campaign. His major focus is stopping the run away spending of the Obama agenda. He entered the race when Obamacare passed, because he felt that was the last straw.

Feingold on the other hand is standing by his vote for Obamacare. I haven't forgotten the disdainful smirk on his face when he addressed his enraged constituents at last years' health care town hall meetings, and I don't think my fellow Wisconsinites have either.

This election is all about consequences for those who ignored the will of the people, and Russ Feingold is chief among them.

Where were you guys when Medicare Part D passed?

It's way worse for the deficit, and was a way bigger spending bill.

Oh, wait, that was a Republican.. I get it..

This is how Rome fell - if beating your domestic enemies is more important to you than improving the country, you are hurting the country.

Where were you guys when Medicare Part D passed?

Libertarians were loudly protesting. To no effect of course, because Republicans were behind their guy and Democrats were primarily complaining that it wasn't expensive enough.

if beating your domestic enemies is more important to you than improving the country, you are hurting the country.

I agree completely. Please mention that to the President if you run into him: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE69929420101101

No, democrats were primarily complaining that it was outrageously expensive, budget busting, and didn't even do any good because all of the money went straight to the drug companies (see my above comments on lobbyists).

RE: Obama, you must be kidding. The man is a born compromiser, the problem is that Republicans haven't been willing to compromise on anything. They voted against their own deficit commission, for crying out loud, after Obama decided to support it.

Blaming the Republicans doesn't make any sense. Democrats have the votes to do whatever they want to do, which is why it's so easy this year to hold incumbents accountable.

No, they don't? The Republicans have used filibuster as a threat at an unprecedented level. The Senate has only nominally been in the Democrats' control.

EDIT: Punctuation

Until Scott Brown's election last year, the Democrats could have ended any filibuster attempt immediately. Democrats had a free run for a year. For the a year and a half now, the public has been screaming for them to stop. Brown's election was the first shot across the bow, but the Democrats paid no heed.

It's been a traditional courtsey in the Senate for the party in power not to shove through votes often, in respect that in the future they would eventually be the minority party, and occasionally need to filibuster as well. The possibility of removing the ability to filibuster has been discussed, but not undertaken for this reason.

By filibustering so often, the Republicans are showing that this is no longer the custom. Which is fine; I think it's a silly custom, and we'd benefit as a nation if blocking legislation like that were impossible. But it is absolutely a break from common procedure.

I think your memory is fuzzy. For example, under GWB, the Democrat's use of the filibuster was also frequent and controversial. There were judicial appointments that went unfilled for years because the Dem's refused to discuss them.

(as much as it pains me to defend the GOP)

i've never felt politicians were particularly courageous if they were afraid of the possibility that someone might talk for awhile. if something is so important, at least give it a shot. worst case you have to listen to somebody read his grocery list to you. (and he ends up looking like an idiot on national tv. the news will ensure that.)

This isn't the issue in a filibuster; the cowardice is on the part of the senator who refuses to give up the floor. The whole point is that you talk until the bill expires, and so cannot be voted on.

Filibustering senators are declaring that they are unwilling to allow the issue to be voted on, not that they think their voice hasn't been heard enough.

uh, yeah, i know what a filibuster is. try reading again in light of that fact.

He didn't ignore my will, and I'm a people and a fellow Wisconsinite. Please don't act like you speak for me, or any more than 50±10% of the Wisconsin public.

Unfortunately Nate Silver puts Feingold at a 3% chance of winning. [1]

That means his only chance of victory is a high turnout...so I hope that parent (kgosser) can take some time to vote today. Feingold is truly one of the most important Senators of the last few decades.

[1] http://elections.nytimes.com/2010/senate/wisconsin

High turnout will ensure his defeat. He's not listening to the Wisconsin electorate and they noticed.

In fact, in CA not understanding a proposition is grounds for voting "No", because a No vote keeps the status quo. If the people framing the debate haven't done a good enough job, then they deserve the No vote.

>If you've never taken a class or read a book on economics, please don't vote. ... If you've never taken a class or read a book on political philosophy, please don't vote.

If you're an elitist academic that thinks knowledge about how the world works can only be garnered via institutionalized knowledge, please don't vote.

If you're willing to recommend that lower classes, made up predominantly of marginalized races, opt out of a say in their future, please don't vote.

Suppose that I go into the voting booth with a pair of dice, and use them to decide who to vote for. Am I morally correct in this approach?

If a voter is reacting emotionally to propaganda, without taking the time to understand the real story, is this much different from rolling dice?

>If a voter is reacting emotionally to propaganda, without taking the time to understand the real story, is this much different from rolling dice?

To understand the "real story", I'd trust someone who had paid attention to what the parties have done over decades, reading news and analysis, over someone who merely read a book on political philosophy at some point.

My list wasn't meant to be exhaustive. Of course you're right, that an understanding of history and who the actors are is important as well.

However, to prefer that point of view is to exclude other possibilities outside of the status quo.

For example, the Republicans were pretty new back in the mid-1800's, with Abraham Lincoln being the first Republican elected president. If my vote were based on past performance of the parties, I'd only have considered Democrats and Whigs.

And if you're following along, you'll notice that the President credited with freeing the slaves was a Republican. How did that happen? Over time, the positions of the American parties have changed quite drastically. In the early 1900s, it was the Democrats who were backing big business. but the civil rights movement shuffled things significantly. Similarly, the (American) definition of "liberal" has changed significantly since the late 1800s. Back then, a liberal's ideas would correspond more closely to today's Libertarians or perhaps a small-government Republican.

My point here is that history can only have limited utility. First, by definition, it excludes new ideas. Second, the parts of the players shift so that long-term comparisons become problematic.

A person reacting to emotional propaganda is much worse then someone voting by dice.

A large group of people voting by dice do not effect the out of the election. A group of people reacting to emotional propaganda may very well vote all the same way and effect the election for irrational reasons.

The group of people who decide to self select themselves out of the voting process by ignorance are allowing the group swayed by propaganda to have a larger control of the vote.

Therefore do to the above mentioned effect and the Dunning-Kruger effect it is only rational not to vote if have evidence that your vote will do more damage then a random vote.

Yeah, reading books is terribly elitist.

That's not what was stated. Suggesting one is ignorant of how politics works, and shouldn't vote, unless one has read a book on political philosophy is, absolutely, elitist.

By virtue of suggesting the very specific texts that you have suggested you have in essence suggested voting for a candidate of a specific set of characteristics. I could very well in turn suggest another list of texts, to reach a differing conclusion.

Seems much like a Catch-22 game.

Therefore, please just vote. From your life experiences, what you believe in, what sounds good to you, or by whatever text is of your liking.

They were suggestions only. Feel free to suggest your own. I tried to pick a varied set (Mill, Locke, and Mises should each give you a somewhat different philosophy of government).

I'm not saying that you've got to have the same values as me. I'm saying that whatever your values are, you should (a) be able to support an argument about them; and (b) you should understand how the candidates relate to those issues.

I'm not saying whether Hayek or Keynes is right about the economy. I'm saying that if you don't know the difference between the two, you've got no business voting an opinion about how the economy should be handled.

By your own logic, your post is flawed. Those who are more likely to heed it (i.e. those who know what they don't know) are presumably more well-versed on the issues than those who will not heed your advice (i.e. those who don't know what they don't know). Your post will do more harm than good by increasing the relative number of willfully ignorant voters, and by your own logic you should delete it.

P.S. The fact that it is reaching the limited audience of HN only strengthens my case, since HN readership tends to be more informed.

P.P.S. You also missed the possibility that elite voters have a different set of priorities than uninformed voters and would therefore misrepresent the majority of the populace.

Why that specific set of economists? Wouldn’t a Econ 101 handbook suffice? Anyone can go further if they wish to do that, it’s of no use plunging them in the middle of views which are at least sometimes controversial.

Do people who have taken political philosophy 101 vote significantly differently than the rest of the population? I highly doubt it.

That's either a very encouraging statement about the population at large, or a seriously scary statement about how much useful stuff people actually learn from political philosophy 101.

Do you know that in NYC (at least) you are not required to show your ID when voting? Due principally to undue burden on the voter, as I understand. And here you are suggesting that if you do not have a particular level of knowledge on certain subjects then you should not vote.

"...if you're relying only on your beliefs..."

Of course, I would argue the exact opposite. Between any number of subjective opinions, is it not ones beliefs that enable you to make a decision?

"If you've never taken a class or read a book on economics, please don't vote."

Perhaps you should not vote because i believe that you, Sir, are out of your mind.

While I support the idea of people educating themselves (and I would also recommend the reading list you provided), who can guarantee 100% that they are free from propaganda or brainwashing? Especially given the vast amount of information everyone is confronted with every day. We are emotional creatures, each susceptible to misdirection by those who intended it (or perhaps even worse, by those we trust who don't intend it).

Advocating that people take themselves out of the pool because they may not understand the entire situation would eliminate every possible voter.

Advocating that people take themselves out of the pool because they may not understand the entire situation would eliminate every possible voter.

It'd eliminate all of the candidates, too...

Feature, not bug.

I'm surprised this opinion has so much uptake. Ideally, we would all be highly informed. The reality however is that most of the voting public will not be, and your informed vote has no more weight than an uninformed one.

I don't like voting based on party, and I think the two-party system we have is inadequate, but the parties are there for a reason. I know that I'm voting for a platform if I vote for a Democrat or Republican or Libertarian, and that the candidate is going to represent that platform at least to some extent. In most cases, candidates' platforms are drawn directly from the party platforms, and you're not likely to find out much more about them until they've been in office for a while. Even then, what is knowable about a candidate is mostly in aggregate.

As to actual issues, these can be much less straightforward, but often it comes down to something as simple as, "do I want gambling at the mall?" (a current issue in my district). There are a lot of implications behind this - money coming in from out of state to protect other gambling interests, developers who want to build, etc. - but I still think it's valid for someone to vote for or against it for their own personal reasons. It is an expression of culture not just reason.

I'm voting for a platform if I vote for a Democrat or Republican or Libertarian

That's true to a certain extent. But it's only one side of the equation. Even if you can take party as a proxy for the candidate, it tells you nothing about the issues.

So, let's say that your biggest concern at the moment is the economy. Without knowing something about economics, how do you decide which party to support? If you can't tell the difference between Keynes and Hayek, everything else is just demagoguery. You're just judging the propaganda.

What if you're concern is healthcare? I know plenty of people who say "vote out the damn Democrats, and put in somebody who's smart enough to enact tort reform to fix the problem". These ill-informed views might make them feel superior, but giving people power to create policy based on them isn't going to help anything.

I think you should vote, even if you don't seem to understand what representation[1] means. You also seem to only refer to liberals, but at the same time you say people shouldn't vote? I thought individual freedom and equal rights was a core principle in liberalism, but I guess you are only counting positive freedom.

If you really believe that people shouldn't have a say in elections based on your criteria, you should at least ask them to actively do so by casting a blank vote. Otherwise your motives might be misinterpreted as trying to demoralize people who don't share your views from voting.

And as someone once said: "It ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It’s the things we know that just ain’t so"

Not necessarily true just because someone said so, but I do agree with the point being made.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Representation_(politics)

You also seem to only refer to liberals,... I thought individual freedom and equal rights was a core principle in liberalism, but I guess you are only counting positive freedom.

Huh? I mentioned JS Mill and Locke, Mises and Hayek. The first two were classical liberals. That's a very different thing than what we label "Liberal" (with a capital "L") today. You'll find individual freedom at the core of their work (e.g., Mill's advocacy for women's suffrage).

Mises and Hayek would, I imagine, also consider themselves as classical liberals, but by their time the definition (in America) of "liberal" was changing (which is why I drew the capital-L distinction above). Both of them wrote extensively about the primacy of the individual.

You reference positive freedom, but the idea itself wasn't coined until the mid-1900s, long after Mill and Locke were dead, and with much of Hayek's career behind him. But I feel safe in saying that none of them would find much of value in the concept of positive freedom.

But my advocacy that you understand something is not the same thing as saying that you must agree with something. Indeed, in order to disagree with an idea, you must first understand what that idea is -- know your enemy, right?

As I've said elsewhere in this thread, the government backs up its policies with force and violence, ultimately. Thus, advocating a policy is, in the end, a threat of violence against those who disagree. If you're going to do that, you better be damned sure that your ideas are correct.

You must understand that other people don't necessarily share your idea of what's important. To me it seems you are saying that people shouldn't vote unless they know these subjects from this particular viewpoint and in extension therefor also share your view of what's important.

If you made the argument that no one should vote because no one can fully understand all different viewpoints and you yourself won't be voting, then I would at least understand the argument. But I don't think that is what you are saying.

Having people disenfranchise themselves based on whether or not they feel they have an adequate grasp on the real issues would not end as you'd hope. Are you familiar with the Dunning-Kruger effect? If people took your advice to heart, the likely result would actually be a less-informed electorate: the only people who would actually disqualify themselves would be the only ones thoughtful and self-critical enough to countenance the possibility that they weren't qualified.

There is no principled way to distinguish between a vote based on propaganda from a vote based on knowledge that doesn't actively disenfranchise voters. So why even try? Just vote your say, and rather than expending your energy trying to keep people out of the ballot box, expend it on educating them.

As others have mentioned, there is an epistemological issue with your point. You should not be so confident in your ability to judge whether others are making decisions based on their "beliefs" or informed rationality, nor in your own ability to choose rationally.

I guess not many people get to vote, using this system...

Or read Marx.

If you have an obligation to vote, then it's an obligation to make an informed vote. If you haven't attempted to evaluate your decision carefully and can't make an informed vote, please don't vote.

Informed voting > not voting > uninformed voting

Greg Mankiw has a column on this: http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/2006/11/election-day-approach...

In competitive races I agree, but there are odd cases where voting uninformedly might be better than not voting, though you can always leave particular parts of the ballot blank. If your vote doesn't actually sway the race, then in effect you're only voting for your demographic to be taken more seriously in the next election's "likely voter" screen that pollsters use, which is probably in your interests to do (this is one reason the elderly get disproportionate weight in politics, because they vote at high rates).

>"Informed voting > not voting > uninformed voting"

The idea that "the uninformed" should not vote is contrary to universal suffrage and has a long history of use for disenfranchisement. "Uninformed voting" is in the eye of the beholder (working definition: uninformed voters are those who both disagree with me and are outside my social group).

One person's criteria for being informed may be awareness of specific proposals for complex policies, while another's might be the candidate's up or down stance on a single issue, and for another it might be party affiliation (noted on the ballot in most US jurisdictions).

Conversely, a person can be highly informed and vote in a way which damages the community at large, e.g. a person may vote to reduce educational funding thereby lowering their taxes with the intent of using the savings to fund the production of child pornography.

Today, vote as well as you are able.

The argument is not that the uninformed should be disenfranchised or in any way prohibited from voting. They should be allowed to vote.

But, if someone has enough self-knowledge to recognize that they are relatively uninformed, on a single issue or the ballot as a whole, they should abstain from voting on those portions of the ballot. By doing so, they delegate the decision to more-informed people.

The option to vote if they are later agitated or informed remains important -- but it doesn't have to exercised every time to serve its purpose of defending their interests.

People moved to vote at the last minute by a speech about their 'obligation', and deciding based on a few fleeting impressions from the last wave of rhetoric, make the process more random and superficial. They are the people most affected by negative ads, or simpleminded sloganeering.

The idea of a government based on delegation of authority to the most informed has its roots in antiquity. And although HN may be the first community to actually governed by a philosopher-king, its ability to scale has not been successfully demonstrated.

The problem as I see it, is that believing oneself to be "relatively uninformed" does not make a person relatively uninformed (it may in fact lead them to actively acquire more information - i.e why Severs believes he is below average). Conversely, believing oneself to be well informed does not make one well informed, and may alas lead a person to stop seeking relevant information.

Indeed it would not surprise me if the people most affected by "simpleminded sloganeering" tend to believe they are well informed.

The problem with "people should" in a political context is that it can quickly become "people must" backed with the force of government, and any implementation of: "Informed voting > not voting > uninformed voting" requires disenfranchisement.

Well, as the chance that the vote one casts is actually making a difference is so miniscule and the cost of informing yourself about the poltical agenda of parties rather high it is rational and utility maximising not to vote and to stay ignorant.

The "curse" of rational ignorance http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rational_ignorance

I'm not surprised he makes that argument. A higher voter turnout generally benefits the left, as the poor are less frequent voters. Everyone has the right to vote, informed or not, and I don't think anyone should undermine that right. There's always going to be someone making the argument that they are more informed.

Also, the only acceptable way to show that you don't want to vote is to go and cast a blank or invalid vote.

This column was originally written in Oct 2000. I wonder if he still holds the same opinion. I think that the problem with assuming that the uninformed shouldn't vote is that you assume that all of the uninformed don't vote, or that the distribution is uniform. This is far from the case.

It might be the case that we should encourage everyone to vote, so that all of the uninformed votes might cancel each other out.

Bryan Caplan argues that in his field (economics), uninformed votes don't cancel each other out. The average opinions of the uninformed (non-economist laymen) differ consistently from the average opinions of the informed (professional economists): http://www.cato-unbound.org/2006/11/06/bryan-caplan/the-myth...

I wouldn't be surprised if the same were true of other skills useful to high-quality voting, such as military strategy, education, criminology and history.

I'm curious as to how an economics field alters perception (I know votes are scarce, economists study individual choice, etc... But votes technically hold no value). I'd be more interested in a polisci / pollster / statistician perspective.

I'm also a little leery of anything coming out of the Cato Institute. If this was a published study, that would be different. Given that the author is a professor, I'm willing to give him a little slack, but I'd rather see the opinion peer-reviewed. I don't follow economics well enough to know of any contrarian points of view.

The author's main point seems to be that just because some people can vote, doesn't mean that they should vote. What he doesn't address is why the noise from the uninformed doesn't cancel out. Or more accurately, why wouldn't more noise be better noise? He states that the errors compound, but he never really give a good reason why (at least in my skimming).

I still maintain that the current distribution of uninformed voters isn't uniform. There was a study a while ago (but I can't remember the citation) that said that an increate in even uninformed opinions strengthened predictive power. So in this case more idiots were better idiots. I wish I remember what field this was in though...

> I'm also a little leery of anything coming out of the Cato Institute.

The link is to Cato Unbound, where they host an essay and discussion by outsiders to the Cato Institute. The participants aren't just libertarians; Matthew Yglesias had an essay not too long ago.

> I'd rather see the opinion peer-reviewed.

It isn't formal peer review, but there are reaction essays here: http://www.cato-unbound.org/archives/november-2006/

> The author's main point seems to be that just because some people can vote, doesn't mean that they should vote. What he doesn't address is why the noise from the uninformed doesn't cancel out...(at least in my skimming).

Caplan addresses it in the last three paragraphs under How Misconceptions Are Possible, but he's pressed for space in that essay. He wrote about book about this. You can also find his argument here (PDF link): http://mercatus.org/sites/default/files/publication/Straight...

FWIW, Bryan Caplan is a very libertarian economist.

Ideally, sure, but in practice a little knowledge is often a dangerous thing, and people who think they know what they're talking about might have a seriously flawed understanding of the issues and their possible solutions. There are entire fake "think tanks" based on providing this flawed reasoning to those who don't question it enough. How to distinguish between "informed voter" and "brainwashed voter"?

If you don't vote, you have no right to complain about the next set of assholes.

Here in the UK, the British National Party (a far-right fringe party) got two seats in the last European Parliament elections simply because turnout had fallen so low for the main parties. A lot of people are rightly ashamed at not bothering to vote. The only people who benefit from apathy are extremists and demagogues who can reliably rally support. A moderate political environment depends upon people motivating themselves to vote for boring candidates.

No action removes your right to complain. Many people may have their own legitimate reasons not to vote.

That said, those who don't must understand the implications of their actions (like the example you give).

David Foster Wallace said better than I: "If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don't bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychological reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don't bullshit yourself that you're not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard's vote."

Eloquent and wrong. Voting for anything other than one of the two entrenched parties is usually a waste of time and gasoline. There is no cabal of evil masterminds responsible for cynicism and apathy - it's an emergent property of the rules of the game.

If you can join forces with like-minded citizens in support an idea that you believe in, as part of a movement that could change national policies for the better, then please do so. If you believe doing so has a reasonable chance of making the world a better place, then maybe you even have a moral obligation to do so. But just voting out of some misplaced sense of civic duty is stupid.

> join forces with like-minded citizens in support an idea that you believe in

That looks like the definition of a political party to me. Saying that creating more parties is a solution to the current 2-party situation (which, I agree, is bad) doesn't seem right to me. I don't really have a solution, though.

Voting for someone outside of those 2 parties is only a waste of time because so many people are doing such a good job of convincing everyone that it is. If the >50% of the population that never votes all went out and voted third party, even if they were different third parties, then maybe some of them would qualify for government $, and then maybe one of them could get even more supporters in the next election with that money.

By not voting you're taking away your .000001% influence on the outcome. By not voting and telling everyone it doesn't make sense to vote, you're taking away the influence of everyone you convince not to vote, and making it that much harder for anyone trying to create the kind of movements you suggest.

One thing I don't like about the moral «obligation» to vote is that to many people, casting a ballot is all the political action they can consider. Politics seems reduced to elect one of the two big parties. It seems that the alternative is, either to vote or to not make any political action.

The truth is that many people are politically active independently of wether they vote or not.

One thing I don't like about the moral «obligation» to vote is that to many people, casting a ballot is all the political action they can consider. Politics seems reduced to elect one of the two big parties. It seems that the alternative is, either to vote or to not make any political action.

While others believe in voting, I believe in entrepreneurship for the sake of eroding politics.

I have deep philosophical problems with governments and politics in general. That's not likely to change.

However, I am not a cynical person. I believe I could change and undermine the influences of governments and introduce voluntary and non-coercive form of organizations.

As much as I disdain their movement, the Tea Partiers are proving you wrong. It's no coincidence that 75% of this group are 45 years or older. As we all know, the elder demographic votes in large and reliable numbers. This is how they're realizing such success tonight. By voting -- not by rallying or organizing.

What I'm hearing is that you do not vote because you resent some perceived obligation do so. Seriously?

The opportunity to cast one's vote is a distinct privilege.

Huh? The Tea Party is a good example of how to unify people behind ideas - exactly what I was talking about. And I never said I didn't vote. What I find stupid is the idea that you have some kind of obligation to vote just to voice your opinion. In particular, voting for 3rd party candidates that are not well known enough to possibly win is stupid. There may be exceptions if a respectable showing is part of a strategy.

According to wikipedia, nearly of americans didn't vote.

It doesn't seem to make sense to say that voting for a 3rd party is a waste of time if half of the population who agree with you...

And many more people are just ambivalent; and it is those that really lose any right for people to listen to their complaints (which I think is a reasonable difference).

> If you don't vote, you have no right to complain about the next set of assholes.


I'm not sure how the UK system works, but in the US it's based on the state. (this is only re: presidential election) I live in NY, and democrats always taken NY state in presidential election just because they're democrats. Same with California. And in Texas, Republican candidate always wins because he's a Republican. There may be some exceptions to the rule, but very few.

So my vote didn't really count in the last election, because no matter how I voted, Obama would still win NY.

This is a product of a broken two party system that doesn't allow any non-asshole candidate to get elected. It's always a choice between a giant douche and turd sandwich.

Having said that, I still voted - for the third party, even though they had no chance. Maybe if one day a third party candidate gets enough voted something will change.

I think I'm gonna go vote for Jimmy McMillan now: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rent_Is_Too_Damn_High_Party

Then vote in local elections for candidates that will support preference voting and push the issue up the chain.

Further: there are more races on the ballot than the headline-grabbers; those smaller races have a lot more impact on your day-to-day life and you have a lot more impact over the outcome.

If anyone lacks the right to complain about "the next set of assholes", it's the people who actually voted them in, no matter what they put on their ballots.

Also, as a rather different brand of political fringe sort from members of the BNP, I admire your bold frankness in exhorting people to vote so that any ideas outside of the most mainstream are safely kept out of public debate.

Who the fuck are you to tell me what my rights are? I can complain all I want, regardless of my voting activities.

I don't know how laws and culture are in the USA, but in my country (Italy) vote is not an obligation. Vote is a right, and a hard earned one. It is also considered a civil duty. But never an obligation.

The choice not to vote is also an expression of one's idea: that he does not believe in any of the politicians, or in the system as a whole. Lack of votes is also a measure on how much people believe in politicians. Italy has never been so corrupted in the past (transversally, in every party) as it is now, and this is reflected in the fact that the percentage of people who did not vote at the last elections was the highest one.

"Never an obligation" is imprecise. Voting in Italy was obligatory until 1993. Also see article 48 of the italian constitution, where the exercise of the vote is defined "a civic duty".

> Italy has never been so corrupted in the past (transversally, in every party) as it is now

Are you sure? Did you forget the fall of all the "traditional" political parties 15 years ago or so, and the first rise of Berlusconi?

I do not forget it. There could be a political debate on how Berlusconi went into politics just to perpetuate the previous system, but this is not the right place.

Looking at the Transparency International chart you can find Italy at the 67th place, under highly corrupted african countries:


Looking at the historical data you can see Italy going down the chart, from position 29 in 2001 to 67 today:


I hadn't thought of it that way, but you're right. If you make a conscious decision not to vote, that is a valid way of expressing your opinion. But I doubt many non-voters are making that choice. Apathy or the belief that their vote won't make a difference are the biggest reasons people don't vote (at least based on the people I know who don't vote), and that is a problem.

I would rather people care enough to vote, no matter who they vote for - even if it means more crazy people in politics.

No, choosing to not vote is choosing to not express your idea.

(If you don't believe in the system at all, do not make use of it at all -- and we don't see many people actually doing that.)

You're right. Personally in the case where I don't want to vote for anyone (most of the time) I go down to the booth and 'ruin' my ballot. The number of ruined ballots is sometimes counted and sometimes not, but at least the effort is made and it's harder for someone to argue that you're just too lazy to vote.

I once heard a story. It may be a cliche, it may be an old, tired, worn-out tale, but it marked my thinking.

A village was planning a feast. All of the residents were asked to bring a bottle of wine, each of which would be mixed together in a large vat for everyone to partake of. One of the residents reasoned that a single bottle wouldn't make a difference, and so brought a bottle of water instead. When it came time to distribute from the vat of wine at the feast, it turned out the vat was entirely full of water, as all of the residents had come to the same conclusion.

For nearly every practical purpose in our United States general elections, a single vote does indeed not make a difference. But a thousand votes might make a difference, and if those thousand people were all persuaded that their single vote wouldn't make a difference, and then didn't vote, then the difference would not be made.

People forget that local elections are often decided by one or two votes. These elections have a great effect on your life (e.g. property taxes and local spending) or that of your children (e.g. book banning at the local school).

Find an election for a significant, contested office that gets no votes, and we can worry about this parable.

It doesn't have to be an election with no votes. Just an election whose outcome could be changed by the votes of people who believe their votes don't matter. An election with 5500 votes for A and 5000 for B could be turned with 1000 more votes for B.

waves goodbye to the goalposts as they fly off

Why would those 1000 votes all be for B? They could be for A. They could be evenly split between them. Most likely, they'd be proportionally split similarly to the original vote.

You're looking at partisans' rhetoric used to motivate their supporters and mistaking it for logic.

If they are all for A, or split evenly between them, or proportionally split similar to the original vote, then these additional votes would change nothing. If they all (or enough of them) are for B, then they could change the outcome.

Knowing nothing else, there's really no way to say for sure what would happen, but if they don't vote, then they certainly will not change the outcome.

And you can always hold out faith that they'll vote the way you want them to.

Which is what you can see in the comments of this thread: hope that if more people voted, things would shift more left-wing, more right-wing, more centrist, etc.

Pure wishful thinking, nothing more.

(And the opposite side of the coin is shown by people bridling at suggestions that fewer people should vote and identifying such arguments as covert attempts to undermine their preferred political team...)

I guess I don't understand what you're claiming. In the above example discussion, I was claiming that if an extra 1000 people who wouldn't have voted went ahead and did vote, then, depending on how they voted, either their extra votes would make a difference, or they would not make a difference. There is a possibility either way (even if the possibility of making a difference is smaller).

On those grounds, I do not see voting as a pointless, worthless activity; your vote added to the votes of others might be the deciding factor in who gets elected.

The bigger picture is, does it matter who gets elected? As you bring out in another thread, most of the major candidates "opposing" each other are actually very similar in what they stand for. Voting one in or the other probably won't make a huge difference. I guess if you want to claim that no matter if we vote or not, the government isn't going to be much different, that's probably fair.

To make more of an impact than voting, citizens may need to get involved as candidates and really try to change things, but in order for that to work, people would need to vote for them, which means, people would need to vote, rather than not vote.

So I guess, to be clear, I claim that your vote, along with the votes of others, can effect the outcome of the election. The outcome of the election may or may not effect the outcome of the government, but that's another matter entirely.

I for one am open to hearing suggestions on what we can do to improve the government beyond voting, or running for office (success at which requires people to vote).

I'm open to such suggestions, too.

> Remember that you don't vote to make a difference, you vote because it's your obligation to do so.

Really? Its my obligation to help the rest of the people pretend we live in a democracy?

If more people voted, if fewer people like you held an attitude like that, then you wouldn't have to pretend.

As long as you can give money to the politicians, as long as the gerryman as much as they want, as long as there is only two parties that are likely to get elected, your vote doesn't matter.

If 100% of eligible people voted, it still wouldn't be a pure democracy. It's not how the system is designed.

Our system is built on the assumption that most people don't have the time or capacity to understand all the issues, so we elect people to do the understanding for us.

I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. It seems like you're saying that to be a democracy it must be that everyone has a say/vote in every decision made about every issue. Is that right?

I'm saying that more people voting won't change the choice of representatives. If people are voting for the same ineffectual or destructive candidates, it makes no difference whether turnout is 300 million or 100 million.

The solution isn't to get more people voting. It's to run better candidates.

Technically that is correct. According to my fourth grade social studies teacher a true or "direct" democracy is one in which each eligible voter votes on each issue. What we have is a representative democracy or a Republic where we vote on representatives that we assume will then vote on the issues in our best interests.

If more people genuflected to the civic religion and thought the right thoughts, a miracle would happen.


(Not really.)

> pretend we live in a democracy?

This is why I don't vote. I am firmly convinced that America is not a democracy, it is a plutocracy that masquerades as a democracy. The interests of the hyper-rich and powerful are served at the expense of the general public. Politicians are simply the people who craft the message (either conservative or liberal) to get enough votes to be put in a position where they can assure that their campaign contributors are served. For me, the recent supreme court decision to allow unlimited corporate expenditures on campaigns was the death of any semblance of democracy in the United States.

I won't be voting. I am a libertarian so my vote doesn't matter anyway. Plus I feel that not voting sends a stronger signal about how I feel about our system of government. If more people don't vote it will be harder for them to pretend they have a mandate to raise taxes, give money to the banks, and start wars. The government is long beyond saving.

If you vote you take some responsibility for the next war, the next bombing, the next threat to Iran, etc. I want no part in putting more blood on my hands.

I realize most of you think it matters but think about this: when does your one vote ever matter? Has your vote ever decided anything? Have you ever been proud of all the actions of who you voted for?

Instead of voting you are better off creating value in society by doing what many of you do already: create something that improves someone's life.

If you are a Libertarian, you should find and write-in your candidates, not stay home. If there is no known candidate, you should write in "Libertarian", if there is a space to do so. And if there is no Libertarian on the ballot, you should learn as much as you can about the candidates and vote for the ones that best match your set of values. Odds are that you lean either more towards the liberal social values side or the conservative fiscal values side, so there may be a Democrat, Independent, or Republican that leans similarly here and there that you could vote for.

I consider what you're describing to the equivalent of not voting anyway. There isn't a candidate in my state who I could feel good about voting for. I consider not voting to be a louder act of protest than voting for someone I half or quarter like.

How can your non-vote be a louder act of protest if it can't be distinguished from an apathetic non-vote?

I consider those "apathetic" non-votes to be louder than voting as well. I don't mind being lumped in with those people who just can't be bothered to care. I sympathize with them.

"If you are a Libertarian, you should find and write-in your candidates, not stay home"

Actually, the LP is very good at getting on ballots, so write-ins are usually unnecessary for those who want to vote for them.

However, can you put together a cogent argument why he should go to all that trouble just so you can skim over the section in the results showing that the Libertarian Party candidate for Congress got a handful of votes?

With 2% of the vote, you can get out of some of Iowa's arcane ballot access-restrictions. Fair enough - that's cogent.

Then you're left with the 98% of the public who wants nothing to do with your ideas. Hmm.

> If more people don't vote it will be harder for them to pretend they have a mandate to raise taxes, give money to the banks, and start wars.

No it won't, they'll just say people who didn't vote were apathetic.

I'm hoping that if enough people refuse to pay attention they'll just go away on their own.

You may want to rethink this strategy, because this is not what's going to happen.

Can you really say that voting has made things better?

Hold on. What happened to your original claim that, by not voting, you were sending a stronger signal of your libertarian views than you would by showing up and voting for libertarian candidates? Did you concede that point, or are you still holding onto it, or what?

Please pardon me if this seems obsessive-compulsive, but there's an interesting pathological form of "debate" where someone keeps throwing arguments out, ignoring any refutations, then declares victory. Of course I'm not accusing you of this -- such an accusation would be very flimsy -- but it's always something to watch out for.

Not sure I conceded it at all. I think that voting is futile and a waste of time. I also think that not voting communicates dissatisfaction with the current regime.

Not voting communicates acceptance of the current regime. Voting for third-party/write-in candidates communicates dissatisfaction with the current regime, as it is a (symbolic) attempt to change it.

The belief that an attempt that cannot work and somehow creates an effect through symbolism is a belief in magic.

As is believing that politicians would interpret a low voter turnout as anything but a net gain - it just means they can expend less effort required to shift the balance in their favour.

"Politicians" collectively win no matter what. Particular politicians and interest groups have varying strategies for high and low voter turnout and various vote compositions.

I fail to see what is magical about not bothering to make a move when they win either way.

Way to correlate!

I have to say, this type of attitude makes me suspicious. One of the parties in US elections gains a lot by discouraging people in general not to vote, because it tilts the results in their favour. This might not apply to you, but I always wonder if these kinds of comments aren't just in support of that strategy.

One of the parties in US elections gains a lot by discouraging people in general not to vote, because it tilts the results in their favour.

This implies that you believe that the other party (from whichever one you were thinking of) would always win if voting were mandatory. This seems like a result of interacting almost entirely with those of the party you favor, like people in 2004 who asserted that since no one they knew had voted for Bush, he must have won by fraud.

From bad correlation to a false conclusion and a straw man argument. You're a pro.

There is plenty of room in the setup of US elections for one party to have an advantage when turnout is low but still have varied results from year to year and region to region even when voting is mandated. But more importantly, even when you can get 60% of the popular vote in a 100% turnout election, lower turnout can still increase this percentage if the low turnout meant proportionally more of the winning party voters turned out, resulting in more than 60% majority.

if the low turnout meant proportionally more of the winning party voters turned out

But you did say "people in general", not "people likely to vote for party X", so your statement only makes sense if you think people in general vote for party X, which is the same as saying that party X would certainly win if everyone voted.

Maybe you misstated what you really meant to say, but I think the inference from what you actually did say was reasonable.

I almost didn't read any further when you began accusing me of making up straw men and being a professional (troll, I assume?). That certainly was a neat trick. :)

Blanket discouragements against voting will not have the same effect on different groups, especially if the favoured group received more directed encouragement separately.

The whole bit you wrote about Bush and fraud and hanging only with your own was the straw man. I can see how maybe my initial statement was incomplete, but this stuff is not exactly news in US politics.

Way to have a defeatist attitude. Keep hoping.

Of 16,000 congressional elections over the last 100 years only one was decided by a single vote. So in some sense your vote doesn't matter, in that if you didn't vote the result would likely be the same.

But one way every vote contributes is increasing voter turnout. Although your contribution is small, it always counts, no matter who you vote for. Mid-term elections have been averaging 37% voter turnout. As turnout gets smaller election results can drift arbitrarily far away from what the whole population wants, because only a subset is deciding. Corruption and manipulation become easier. High voter turnout is really really important to making the the election a legitimate process.

I wrote about this recently: http://www.kmeme.com/2010/10/why-you-should-vote.html

A thread with other suggestions why voting might be rational: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/2z6/why_should_you_vote...

> High voter turnout is really really important to making the the election a legitimate process.

This is exactly why I am not voting; I'd rather not contribute to the illusion of legitimacy.

To say that most elections aren't decided by a single vote, and thus your vote doesn't matter; is like saying that no one goes bankrupt over a single dollar, so single dollars don't matter.

If you agree that single dollars don't matter, send your extra ones to me please....

Anyone who could possibly trot out the "a single vote doesn't matter, so whatevs" argument is either ignorant or hasn't been paying attention to the numerous high-profile extremely close elections in the last several years (2000 presidential election, 2008 Minnesota Senate race).

In reality, those are considered remarkable because elections that are so close are extremely rare.

Many local elections can be very close.

Regardless, if you don't want to vote, that's fine. That just gives my vote more weight.

So, the national elections you cited were not honest examples, gotcha.

But yes, that it does give you "more weight". You can vote for Team Red or Team Blue and convince yourself either that the centrists who get elected are awesome and terribly supportive of the things you want - or that the remarkably similar centrists who got elected are crazy extremists who will destroy America.

Remember that you don't vote to make a difference, you vote because it's your obligation to do so.

That's crap. Why should I feel obligated to do something that has no affect on anything?

(I'm not saying that's definitively the case, but your statement implies that you should vote even if your vote doesn't matter. Why?)

I'm not saying that's definitively the case

It is definitely the case. In the rare instance when the vote is decided by one, rest assured a judge, and not the one, will settle the actual result. Voting is an absolutely pointless pyschological approval of two candidates, neither of whom was chosen democratically.

If anyone is actually interested in influencing policy, which is the whole point, get out your checkbook. Or, if you have a lot of time, get involved in the machinery of politics.

Local elections are very democratic. It's winner take all. None of this electoral college non-sense. The best opportunity an individual has to influence elections is to vote in the primaries but few people bother to show up. You'll have the choice of a dozen candidates or more -- most of whom have a very legitimate shot at getting the nomination. It's common for primaries to be decided by only a couple hundred votes because so few people show up to vote. For the general election you have less choices but, at the local level, it's still winner takes all democracy. There are always third parties and/or write-ins if you don't want to vote for the two major parties. In many places we have referendums or propositions on the ballot which offer the most direct form of democracy

The argument people make about their votes 'not counting' is like an individual choosing not to join the basketball team because they might not hit the winning shot. Every point counts. I don't understand the extreme egotism that people would opt not to participate unless they get to cast the deciding vote. Talk about un-democratic? Some people want their votes to be more than equal apparently. It goes back to people complaining about the two party system and doing absolutely nothing to help third parties.

It's the "extreme egotism" that involves not being interested in giving your team points just because you keep barking at me that I'm "obligated" to do so.

Your vote rarely matter from an individual perspective, but there are still reasons for voting.

1. You vote out of solidarity to the people in a similar situation as you are and to represent that perspective on issues. If you feel strongly about something you would want others with the same perspective to also take part.

2. You vote as a role model for your friends and family and to give them a fair chance to cast their vote. If you don't set a good example for others, e.g. your kids, they're not going to have a fair chance to choose if they want to vote or not.

3. You vote to show support for a system where people have the right to vote, even if it's flawed. It's also out of respect to those who fought and those who continue to fight for the right to vote.

4. You vote to consistently show that you cannot be manipulated to not express your opinion. For instance moving election dates, changing locations of polling stations, saying that you shouldn't vote if you not informed etc.

5. You vote to question your own motives not to vote. If you have the conviction not to vote, then there shouldn't be a reason not to go through the voting process and casting either a blank/invalid vote or choosing not to vote at the absolute last moment. If you can't do this it's more likely that you are abstaining from voting out of convenience, not conviction.

What I find strange is that people generally don't seem to have a problem with offering their opinion outside of elections, not least on the Internet. I guess it has to do with having higher expectations when it comes to elections.

Democracy is based on people stepping up, coming together and making their voice heard. Voting was never meant to reflect the opinions of an individual, but rather the opinions of a movement.

1. You vote out of solidarity to the group of people who share your situation, faith, occupation etc. If you felt strongly about something you would want others who agreed to also take part.

Please don't do that. If you're going to vote, do it about things you care about after having considered all sides, and without first checking whether it's the way everybody around you is voting.

I clarified a bit what I meant in my post before I realized you had replied. I'm not talking about asking your friends what they want, but representing your perspective based on your situation, education, background etc. As an example, most people here have a unique perspective on technology based on those factors. I'm not very familiar with how elections work in the US, but if possible I would rather people here voted for someone technology friendly than not at all.

I think we're clear on what you're saying. And I still think it's a bad thing.

Vote on a case-by-case basis, without bias from your group or political party. Or please don't vote.

I'm sorry but I frankly don't get what you are saying. Democracies are generally based on representation, where you elect someone to represent your values and what's important to you. I don't know how you would do this without taking your previous experiences into account. I also don't get where you got bias from group or political party from. The group I referred to wasn't an actual group, but a representation of people with similar experiences. I'm not saying these people will come to the same conclusion based on those experience, but they still represent a shared part of what is going on in society.

I would understand if you said that people should stay informed, but asking people not to vote seems undemocratic to me. Democracies are still supposed to be a reflection of the people. Not a reflection of those who had the opportunity to evaluate every issue without consideration of previous experiences. It seems to me you're blaming voters for something that is the responsibility of politicians. As a voter you have the right to vote even if you're wrong. I can't really make my point any clearer than this without seeming condescending, so this will be my last post in this exchange.

personally I don't vote for 3 reasons:

1. my vote doesn't matter. I live in a 100% blue state, it'll go Democrat no matter what. So whether I decide to vote democrat or republican or green, my vote really won't matter. + the redestricting is always aimed at propping up small states. Why does California and Delaware both get 2 senators?

2. the system is broken, there are no good politicians. There is no incentive for them to tell the truth or stick to campaign promises, so they don't.

3. it's too much of a hassle. If we can have a day off for Columbus day, I don't see why we can't have a day off for something as important as voting. And why does it have to be a day? Make it a 3 day weekend, so everyone gets a chance to vote. And voting should be easier, I don't see why I can't vote online...sure there might be some fraud, but surely it's possible to limit that, using a centralized voting website.

> Why does California and Delaware both get 2 senators?

Slightly off topic, but I'll bite: Because democracy is much more about protecting minorities than ensuring the majority is in charge. If Delaware and other small states were only ever represented on the federal level in proportion to their population, only issues that Texas and California cares about would ever be taken up.

the problem I have is that it's never a single state getting proportion. They always band together. So California with millions of voters become insignificant, when 10 states with combined total of 500,000 voters band together.

That's why we have more subsidies for corn production than science research.

I'm sorry, but 10 states in the boonies with no people, should not be able to dictate policy to California. Crap like that is exactly why California ends up subsidizing half the red states, who then turn around and vilify it every chance they get.

Well, as a resident of one of the red states that has our budget under control (ND - surplus), I don't think California's problems are of our doing. Unions in California shouldn't dictate policy to other states (and it looks like the other states are going to foot CA's bill).

If we didn't have the current system, only about 20 cities would be campaigned in for the Presidency. Also, given the bill a NY Rep tried to pass a couple of years ago, we wouldn't be growing any crops in this country (eco bill - massive urban support). The House is where population matters and is the origin of every budget. The House is where the population is considered and the Senate is for state considerations.

Funny you should say that since North Dakota is the second biggest leech in this country.

You guys get $2.03 for every dollar you send. (2nd highest in the nation after DC)

California could balance it's budgets too, if it got double what it paid in federal taxes every year.

Your source? If you count defense spending (CA didn't want the ICBM silos), 2 air force bases, and interstate highway, yeah. We are on the border, have a low population, and are a truck route (I94 and Hwy2). Having 600,000 people will skew a lot of stats. Counting the reservations in that number might be a little deceptive. Also, do we count the ongoing flooding? If the gov would clear an outlet or just let us move a couple of towns, we could probably cut the bill pretty nicely.


shows it to not be #2 but close to the top.

And I think the point is still valid that CA could balance their budget if we had that nice ratio.

That source doesn't have figures after 2005 and doesn't break it down by area. The skew is the population figure versus infrastructure and defense. I would imagine that the continued flooding will change the figure also.

California needs to get ahold of its pensions, no one can fix that but themselves.

I agree about the pensions. 100%. My point was about the comparison between ND and CA.

My point is the comparison based on this one stat is pretty invalid due to population differences and basic moneys allocated to infrastructure and military by the federal government (I also bet they count the 4 reservations in the ND number which adds to the skew).

Federal money spent within a state (especially military) doesn't usually interact with the State budget. It's like saying you just can't be in debt - your employer is making a profit.

That's what just gets me about people exhorting everyone to vote when even such a supposedly well-informed group as HN has only the vaguest idea of how this country actually works.

This is why the federal government should take a smaller role on most issues. This kind of interstate bullying only happens because states' rights have eroded. No state should dictate policy to any other unless it's truly an interstate issue.

Finally, someone after my own heart. I don't vote, not because I feel my vote is worthless, but because I resent the claim that there is a choice to be made. Democrats and Republicans talk like they hate each other, but once elected they pretty much pass the same sorts of policies.

It's in these politicians' best interest for people to get out and vote because it confers a veneer of legitimacy. But if a dictator holds an election in which he is the only candidate allowed to run, I would consider it a moral obligation to boycott the election. Similarly when there are two candidates who are, for all intents and purposes, equally undesirable, I refuse to vote for either.

Of course, if I were less lazy, I would investigate independent parties. But I don't feel these parties are fairly represented. For instance, the Democratic Party commonly sues to keep the Green Party off the ballot in a number of states. If everyone ignores this injustice and votes anyway, it appears as though the election was won fair and square.

Someone else on this thread pointed out that not voting is a vote. I feel the same. People attribute the low voting rate among Americans to an apathetic citizenry, but I think it can be better attributed to a broken system. I will not evaluate two poisons to elect the most nutritious. I won't do it.

California and Delaware both get two senators because the United States is a federation of states, and when the Constitution was written many of the Framers argued that each state, being sovereign, should have equal representation. This has nothing to do with redistricting.

That's why there are TWO chambers. House gives you representation based on population while Senate give you equal representation. Checks and balances.

The older I get, the more I think humans really have little common sense. It's clearly not necessary for the modern world we live in, because it is used so seldom.

You've constructed reasons not to vote, but you've left out the most important one in your reasoning: if everyone thought like you, we'd be giving absolute control to a small group of people. How do you think that would work out?

Every day I watch people make bad decisions for seemingly very good reasons. They are still bad decisions, though, and the key flaw is they either massively elevated an unimportant factor in the decision, or just didn't even consider the important factors.

What's strange, though, when this is pointed out to most people, they ignore the advice, sure in themselves that their process was correct. After the fact, they still have justifications about their decision, even if the prior stated flaws in their process turned out to be correct.

It just amazes me.

I think that voting for third party candidates is a great way to move a cause forward if you live in a state (or district) that is locked into one of the parties. If you care about the environment, vote for the green party. You won't change the outcome of the election but what you will change is the issues that the parties run on in the next election. For instance, if the Republicans lose your state by 5% but they see that the Green party won 2% of the vote, they will try to get that 2%. They will do this by adopting the Green Party's platform (third parties are usually very narrow so one of the big two can co-opt their entire platform). Now, you have a major party that is pushing for your agenda and you did it by voting in an election where "you vote doesn't count."

1: Point taken.

2: Really? So what about the ones that promote causes you care about? E.g. I care about net neutrality. There are politicians who care about these things and try to advance legislation aligning with these things. Saying all politicians are bad is just simplistic.

3: It takes like... one hour (if at all) out of the day. You can also mail your vote in. I'll agree that I'd prefer online voting, but it's one action in two years.

Who you vote for is less important than the fact you vote. EX: Medicare is a direct result of a high percentage of older people voting. Even if you think Medicare is a bad idea, it’s really hard to get elected if you piss off the elderly.

voting is pointless until we get run off elections. 3rd parties that would have long ago become prominent in U.S. with runoff elections are still stuck with less than 1% of vote, because the public isn't voting for their best interests, but are instead forced to vote to stop the other guy from getting power.

the democrats of today, are the republicans of just 10 years ago...and they get called socialists by the current crop of GOP. Why the shift to the right? Because they know they'll always have the Democrat vote, so they ignore them and shift to the right in order to get a few more independents.

In our system voting is less about picking the winner than scaring the winner into considering your opinion. Democrats in Red states are aften more conservative than Republicans in Red states.

Starship Troopers: "No. Something given has no basis in value. When you vote, you are exercising political authority, you're using force. And force my friends is violence. The supreme authority from which all other authorities are derived."

Voting is so badass.

What struck me as funny in that line is that it's essentially a re-purposed bit of anarchist rhetoric...

If you vote for a losing candidate, then you can complain that your voice has not been heard.

If you vote for a winning candidate, then you can complain when they break their promises.

If you don't vote, you have nothing to complain about but your own laziness.

What if you disagree with the system of giving everyone a vote being a valid way to decide things?

Go and build your own country. With blackjack! And hookers!

Sounds like Nevada.

In fact, forget the country!

What's the alternative? I can't think of one that is morally acceptable.

Funny, I can't bring myself to vote because I can't find participating and legitimizing this morally acceptable.

I think that's a weird and very popular position.

So you don't vote allowing OTHERS to decide the process for you.

Other people who say, elect leaders who nominate Conservative Supreme Court Judges, who then side with the FEC allowing corporations to fund political advertisements. This was quite preventable.

I mean good on you for standing to your principles but with a whole collective of intelligent people abstaining, it's making it much easier for powerful people who want certain laws to happen... well happen.

You're taking a single-issue view of this. No matter who I vote for, I will not be happy with the outcome. And it's roughly equal, all around. So the distinction is irrelevant. I am powerless to effect any kind of meaningful change.

Asking me to vote is like asking me "Do you still beat your wife?" in some sense. There's no good way out. The best option is to not reply.

That's not even getting into my philosophical issues with government in the first place.

Personally I would prefer a monarchy, or some merit based voting system - eg You get a vote if you can demonstrate you have the understanding to make informed decisions.

Monarchy?! Sure, you might be lucky and get a good monarch – but their son could be a total douchebag (like Wilhelm II, the gaffe-emperor who led Germany into World War I). I think that on the whole, elections are less random and more merit based than monarchies.

The difference isn't that great really though.

If you look at the dynasties that win elections in the US - Bush, Kennedy, etc They may as well be a monarchy.

Democracy typically only gives you 2 choices, and if they are both from dynastial families, it's pretty much a monarchy with the illusion of democracy anyway.

> "Monarchy?! Sure, you might be lucky and get a good monarch – but their son could be a total douchebag (like Wilhelm II, the gaffe-emperor who led Germany into World War I)."

Sounds like Bush Sr and Bush Jr to me,

You know what we should do? Determine officials by lot! That’s an age-old democratic instrument first (and only, I guess) employed by the ancient Athenians [+]. Now that I think of it, randomness actually lives on with the jury duty.

[+] As always with ancient democratic Athens several caveats apply, e.g. you had to be rather rich to be eligible for that.

But when monarchies work, they work so well! The richest (per capita) country in the world, Liechtenstein, is a monarchy. I think Qatar, also a monarchy, is second-richest, though that doesn't really count because it has so much oil.

A monarchy, when you have a good monarch isn't bad. However, you tend to end up with these bloody conflicts every now and again over who gets to be the monarch.

Merit might work, but it has the capability to discriminate against certain classes (even those who might otherwise make informed decisions).

I might be able to accept a system where you have to perform some level of service to the state in order to gain a vote. Something like military service, peace corp, teaching, being an EMT, etc... But then that starts to seem to Starship Troopers to me.

How would it discriminate against people who might make informed decisions? The only qualification is that you have the understanding required to do so.

These tests have been used to discriminate against various minority groups throughout the years. For example, you may have a perfectly good grasp of the issues and who best represents your point of view, but you suck at math. No votes for you. Or, you can't read. etc... that's why these tests have been been illegal for quite a while.

"you may have a perfectly good grasp of the issues and who best represents your point of view"

Yes, and this is all you need to prove - an example of such a test would be the ability to match up policy statements to candidates. No need for a maths test.

Regarding the inability to read - If blind people can currently vote in your country, then the problem does not exist.

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. -Churchill

The latter is how democracy was supposed to work (in the ideal world).

Because, like it or not, that is the system and you can only change the system from within.

"I disagree with the system" is intellectually lazy and in my experience merely a cover story for apathy.

How will voting change the system if the system doesn't produce a candidate who can or will change it?

Lack of imagination is another symptom of apathy. Doing nothing will not change the system, but it will perpetuate it.

How will voting change the system if no candidate is willing to change it? And just to be clear, I didn't say I'm not voting or that I think the system is broken. I'm asking you to explain your position.

Change requires willingness to change, and action. If no candidate is willing or able to change the system then you are indeed stuck with it.

Another view is that perhaps no one wants to change the system because it is, all things considered, better than the alternatives.

> How will voting change the system if no candidate is willing to change it?

You make the assumption enough people want to change it. They don't. At least, not yet. Candidates aren't some otherworldly beast, they are citizens. If people really wanted to enact change, they could.

You can't make a change alone. If enough people want to make the change, they can vote to make it happen. It's a really simple concept.

That's a silly argument.

You're saying that if a majority of people wanted change then they could vote for it, and it would happen.

But the change we've been discussing is the fact that 'majority want X' isn't a fair system in some peoples view.

If you believe, like I do, that "1 vote per person" is a flawed system and not good for the common good, there isn't really that much you can do.

The majority will vote for silly things that may well not be in their long term best interests. You can't trust the majority with anything.

I'm not making that assumption. I think most people are fine with the system. The only thing we're lacking in is voter education (both fundamentally and on issues). Fix that, and the system works perfectly.

The populace is so poorly educated that researching candidates and issues is an enormous strain on them, and most people can't make themselves do it. Asking someone who got a poor education to read through a bill or look through a voting record is asking a lot.

> I'm not making that assumption.

Yes, you are (at least for the question), here:

> How will voting change the system if no candidate is willing to change it?

You have to make the assumption that people are willing to make the change for that question to be valid, otherwise, it reads like thsi:

"How will voting change the system if no candidate is willing to change it and voters aren't willing to change it?"

So yes, you do assume, for the question, that the voters want change. And if the majority of voters want that change, it can be made to happen. They simply vote for it.

It should be enough for me to say "I'm not making that assumption." Rather than call me a liar, you could assume that either you misunderstood, or I misspoke and decided correcting it wasn't worth spending text on.

Maybe I just assume too much of people. Was this little diversion really necessary?

> It should be enough for me to say "I'm not making that assumption."

But you were.

> Rather than call me a liar,

I didn't.

> you could assume that either you misunderstood,

I didn't. You said what you said. If you didn't mean what you said, fine. But then clarify it.

> or I misspoke and decided correcting it wasn't worth spending text on.

Then maybe you should avoid commenting on things you don't feel are worth your time, especially when you can't be bothered to say what you mean.

> Maybe I just assume too much of people.

I make the assumption people say what they mean. As you've demonstrated,

> Was this little diversion really necessary?

Apparently you found it necessary. Rather than simply correct what you wrote, you decided to disregard what I said and then comment on things completely unimportant to the discussion.

You asked a question, and I answered. If you aren't interested in a discussion, don't post here. If you are, at least have the courtesy to be clear about what you write. Being lazy and uncaring about quality aren't respected here.

I guess you could move to another country, or you could try and overthrow the government and change popular opinion, but that's a pretty big ask. The vast majority of people believe that one person per vote is 'fair'. Probably because it's simple for them to understand, and they've been taught that everyone should be 'equal'.

So if you disagree with that premise (That one person per vote is fair), what should you do? throw your useless vote in the box with all the people who voted because they like the candidates hair?

FWIW I vote anyway since it's the lesser of 2 evils.

It's not so much the people you describe voting for candidates for reasons as silly as their hair, it's the candidates attempting to appeal to these people which I feel is the biggest issue.

In the recent Australian election by election day each party had summarized there policies/ attacks into a few dot points which they had talked about over and over again hoping I guess to impart at least a few dot points on people before they vote.

If you don't vote and have a good reason for it, you have every right to complain.

I would dare say that most people in the US who don't vote do not have good reasons for not doing so.

But then to say people who don't vote don't get to complain, someone has to decide what constitutes a good reason.

I'd say the same for those who vote.

True - I didn't vote in one election because I was unavoidably away from home, and the postal voting form didn't arrive until after I'd left. It didn't stop me complaining.

This is wrong. One shouldn't have to vote to be left alone. Reality is different, I know, but it isn't one's laziness that is to blame. (PS: I vote.)

I agree (more or less) with the parent: If you don't vote, you lose the privilege of complaining.

But just because your candidate loses doesn't mean that your voice hasn't been heard. It's just that more people who voted disagree with you than agree with you.

I thought voting was "to make my voice heard" in the first place.

Alternative: If you don't vote, you fail to validate the enthusiasm of people who support one mostly-interchangeable political team or the other largely out of simple social identification.


There are no close races where I care about the outcome in my district. There are no initiatives I care to support or oppose.

I have fairly equal and tremendous disgust for both of the majority parties. On the issues I care about, I've bashed my head against reality enough to learn that the parties are indistinguishable in practice. I'm not going to trot down to the polls to give anyone a little thrill of excitement that they've gotten another vote for their preferred team.

Nor am I going to throw one of a handful of symbolic votes for a minority-party candidate for any office. The mainstream takes no notice of or interest in "third party" results, and any other interpretation of the supposed value of a symbolic vote is essentially an argument for magic.

I am not superstitious.

As for mandatory voting: Fuck you. I am not your mule; carry your own damn partisan water.

I'm not going to vote. It's not rational. It's a lot of effort and my vote is proportionately very small and therefore can have no effect.

EDIT: Whoever downvoted this, YOU are the reason that HN is going to pot. You may not like that I am not voting, but instead why don't you instead respond telling me why I'm wrong?

Rational Choice Theory says you are right, but it can't explain why people vote nonetheless, even though the perceived cost is so high for the small actual gain.

Some people seem to get value out of voting itself, regardless of the outcome, which is bad news for a rational choice theory only looking at the value of the outcomes and not the inherent value of the choice itself.

Is there anything particularly worth voting for in this election?

I tend to not bother voting for issues that don't concern me. And frankly, the vast majority of issues that people get all excited about don't bother me one way or another.

I'm happy to pay a little more or a little less tax on various things, see schools built in one area and prisons not built in another. Go nuts with it all, and if it really effects your happiness I'm fine with letting you make little changes to the world around me.

Until you come up with something I find important, I'd prefer not to concern myself with it.

You're not just voting on issues, you're voting for a representative. If the party you agree with doesn't have the votes in Congress, whatever ends up happening in the next 2-6 years will be less likely to be resolved the way you like (or at all). And in fact things may get worse from your point of view.

It's not a referendum. You're imparting political power on the party you vote for, relevant to anything that comes up in Congress in the next 2-6 years.

So you claim that there is nothing of interest in the topics that are voted on. How do you know that if you don't concern yourself with them?

You can either be ignorant or informed. Not both at the same time. Claiming that everything is boring by way of being ignorant of everything is dishonest.

I am not saying that current affairs are interesting, but I would prefer people to be honestly ignorant to simply being arrogant.

How about this: Of the topics being voted on that people have gone out of their way to promote, or that the media have covered, none of them struck my curiosity to the point where I feel compelled to dig further into them.

I asked here, on the off chance that somebody has one that they think the HN audience might care about.

Congress votes on the budget, and all new laws or modifications to existing laws. You don't care if any of that gets effed up in ways you don't agree with?


The delusion that anyone is actually voting between "person who won't eff things up" and "person who will eff things up" is not useful, though.

For those of you looking to do some last minute research before voting today, my web app provides candidate information along with information on the positions each candidate supports or opposes: http://elect.io

Cool and easy to use. We actually worked on something similar where we ask your position on causes and show the grades according to policies: http://www.votereports.org

I saw your site mentioned on HN a few weeks ago and checked it out then.. I think it's great.. the design and user experience is especially well done!

Very nice!

Sadly, it just reminded me who my options were...

Don't vote, it only encourages them.

Doesn't sound smart to me.

Let's get meta and go by the votes...

Uneducated voters who vote just because people tell them to piss me off more than people who just plain don't vote.

Politicians in our country are worse than salesmen. That's why we have such little voter turnout, not because people don't feel obligated.

In a perfect system, I would like to see voting require a license. People require a driver's license because uneducated drivers can harm others. Uneducated voters can cause similar harm to others.

Taken to the extreme, you could have a direct democracy where individuals vote directly for proposed bills, bypassing the (usually vested) middleman. Voters would have to pass some competency exam on the subject of the bill before being allowed to cast a vote. In other words, you can't vote on internet regulation if you don't know how to access a web page.

The reason there will never be a license to vote is because you transfer an immense about of power to those who create the exams. Influence the exams and you decide the election. In addition, by putting up barriers towards voting, you decrease overall participation in the election, possibly alienating the general population.

Perhaps a better, more realistic option is to move towards direct democracy while simultaneously improving as much as possible education.

The current system already has a licensing scheme.

Instead of it being based on education though it is based on wealth. The wealthy, behind closed doors, agree to a large extent on plausible policies for the country.

Then they present a limited set of alternatives and let the masses indicate which alternative makes them happiest.

The purpose of democracy is not to DECIDE anything. It is to give the illusion that the masses are in control. Without this illusion, they would turn violent.

Rest assured, the only policies the masses have control over are things that are emotionally potent but irrelevant: gay marriage, pledge of allegiance, etc. Distractions.

we had this system in the past; it was incredibly racist.

read some history, chap.

rrc didn't deserve your condescending reply. Many policies were once implemented in a racist way. That isn't an argument against implementing them in a non-racist way. If you want to argue that the next implementation of voter tests will also be racist, you have not made the case.

I'm sorry you consider my reply to be condescending, as that is not my intention. I however find it discouraging when people refuse to learn from history's lessons.

But, rrc has a point about voters requiring something to identify them, even if the reason for the license was problematic. The current system allows fraud which could affect close elections. I don't like the idea of a national ID, nor mark on the head or hand, but maybe just a picture of a registered voter and a date of the picture taken.

I reread rrc's comment, which seems could be interpreted as both ways; either to advocate requirement of positive identification to vote, or to require voters to take an exam to be licensed as a voter, which is what I believe what was meant.

regardless, literacy tests were done before, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literacy_test and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Crow_laws for a background of our (shameful) past.

A direct democracy is like two wolves and a lamb deciding what to have for dinner. You can't trust the masses to make decisions like this.

Direct democracy is best left at an extremely local level. Otherwise it's glorified mob rule -- Tyranny of the Majority.

Instead, we have a system where the wolves elect a representative to determine who his supporters will have for dinner.

In this case, I have no dogs in the race. I'm registered in a different county from where I now live and it is too late to register in this one. I am not interested in any of the local issues in the other county and I am uninterested in any of the statewide candidates. For me, in this circumstance, a vote would be like a ritual selection of the best sounding name or the most obscure ballot or something. That is not the sort of voting that is good for anyone.

When I used to work on campaigns for a third party, the most annoying thing was the fact that there is a lot of inertia from people who have no idea who any of the candidates are ritually voting a party line. In NY, where I lived, there was even a special lever that marked the whole party row, to enable reduced thinking.

Another comment here says that politicians love an apathetic population. More correctly, they like apathetic populations that vote consistently.

I moved back to my native USA from Australia about a year ago, after living there for 6 years. I also spent two years in the UK in the 90s. Some contrasts were interesting.

Majority rules in Australia and the UK. In the parlimentary system, the potential for gridlock is far less (Yes, the Aussie Senate does slow some things down.) However, the major candidates do have to say some specific things in order to get elected--because they then go and pass them into law. Look at what the UK is doing to their budget. Couldn't happen here. In the US, gridlock is so endemic elections are much more about personality and/or voter disgust.

Mandatory voting in Australia. A good thing I think. A lot of American politics seems to be about convincing you to stay home because your candidate is a louse. In the USA, you could have Ghandi running against Mandela and there would still be mudslinging and scandal mongering.

I just don't think telling everyone to vote does any service to our/a country. Tell people to learn about the issues. Tell people to research the candidates. Then they will vote, and it won't be for the person on the sign they saw while driving to the polling place.

I decided not to post this to HN as a topic, even though it is non-partisan and I support the message. But since there is already this "vote" thread, I offer your this perspective and perhaps motivation:

[2008] Craig Ferguson: If you don't vote, you're a moron


The above link "cuts to the chase"; however, the entire monologue is worth watching (more commentary on the campaigning, including its hypocrisy).

Here in Denmark the participation of the electorate in general elections normally lies above 85%.

You receive your voting voucher thing by mail 2-3 weeks before the election.

Yes on 19 in Cali!!

This, I would vote for.

I'm not in CA, though.

If the US truly believes that voting is important, why don't they make election day a national holiday so the voters don't have to worry about possibly conflicting work schedules keeping them from the polls? It's only 1 day, and it happens once every 2 years. Employers can't spare that?

> ...no matter what your party or preferences.

I think this should be something all people hold true, no matter how corrupt our politicians have or will become.

I am not old enough to vote yet, but I did spend 15 hours today as an election judge. While I felt that there was a decent turnout for our precinct, I did not see as many young people as I expected. There were a lot of elderly people that showed up, including some that had so much trouble completing the ballot that they may have been better off with an absentee ballot. I saw a few first-time/young voters, but I just don't think many of them feel this election is important because it is not a presidential election.

Get out there and vote next time, kids.

Google has a really good tool out right now to find your polling place:


it's an obligation and it's a right, isn't it?

"Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote." - George Nathan

Far, far more bad officials were elected by good citizens who did vote.

I'm pretty sure all of them were, in fact...

I'm sure a lot of bad politicians were elected by stupid or evil voters (i.e. bad citizens).

Prove it.

Wait, you can't - you can't even identify the "stupid" or "evil" voters except by circularly defining them as "people who voted for bad politicians". For that matter, you can't identify the "good" ones except for "the ones who voted for good politicians".

I'm not making a circular definition at all. I'm just saying that bad politicians can be elected by good people (who are naive or deceived), but they can also be elected by bad people (who agree with the bad politician's bad aims, for instance).

Good citizens can be lied to. (For example.)

I love being from a "contended" state. My proud state of Virginia, home sweet home!

What's so great about that, anyway?

Here in California you get a free Starbucks coffee for voting.

[insert witty comment about down-voting at the polls here.]

Related thread: Ask HN: Election Day tomorrow, what do geeks think of the Tea Party?


Applications are open for YC Summer 2018

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact