Wednesday, June 28, 2006

One person, One vote

The entire discussion of internal democracy in the Green Party has some aspects that are troubling for me. They are easily stated.

The current organizational structure or the Green Party of Californian (GPCA) allows decisions ato be made by a representative body, either the General Assembly or the Coordinating Committee. We choose rep;resentatives on the basis of the the concept that those representatives have a brain and know how to use. Well, actually we choose representative to the GA on the basis that they have the time, finances and initiative to attend and we hope that they know how to use their brain.

There have been a number of situations in which there have been a claim of disenfranchisement of one group or another. The most recent involves the discussion of whether on County (or local) of the party is entitled to have as many votes as they send delegates, or as many votes as they are alloted delegates. Where one county does not have it's full complement of delegates, the decision was made to limit their votes to the number of delegates in actual attendance, even though these delegates had been entrusted with the power to act for all.

One of the answers to this problem was the suggestion to use electronic voting in a form of direct democracy. This eliminates the problem of self-selection in which outcomes are determined by those with the time and money to travel to meetings around the state. Direct democracy, with a true vote by all members, sort of an extension of the town meeting, would not necessarily disenfranchise anyone other than the disinterested.

In any version of direct democracy where all decisions are made by individuals at the lowest level, there are set of real problems that none of the the proponents of "one person, one vote" have even begun to talk about.

It is my observation that in all political parties there are a significant majority who do not put political activism at the top of their list of personal priorities. They never real the email lists. They don't browse the pertinent web site. In our case, they may never have even looked at the GPCA web site. Still, they are registered Greens and deserve a vote.

But, the best example to use against the implementation of an electronic vote, direct democracy, even in the Green Party internal decision making, is the California initiative process. This is as participatory as it gets. What is better than allowing the people of California to make their own laws, to decide for themselves what should be in the constitution. But the reality is that it concentrates power in the hands of those with money: money to pay signature gatherers, to advertise on appropriate media. It would be one of the unintended (I hope) consequences.

I would also caution against the tyranny of the majority, especially in situations where the power of money can warp public opinion. This concern is not new. De Toqueville wrote:
A majority taken collectively is only an individual, whose opinions, and frequently whose interests, are opposed to those of another individual, who is styled a minority. If it be admitted that a man possessing absolute power may misuse that power by wronging his adversaries, why should not a majority be liable to the same reproach?

Maybe I am a cynic, but one of my observations is that the only immutable law of politics is the Law of Unintended Consequences.
The law of unintended consequences, often cited but rarely defined, is that actions of people—and especially of government—always have effects that are unanticipated or "unintended." Economists and other social scientists have heeded its power for centuries; for just as long, politicians and popular opinion have largely ignored it.
If the GPCA were to go down this path, then we need to have some recognition that there are over-riding considerations that must necessarily thwart the will of the majority. De Toqueville suggests that there is always an appeal from the will of majority to the general will of mankind. In the United States, there is a Constitution that is intended to protect the individual and minorities from the will of the majority. In the Green Party, there are a set of values that belong to us all, but we have no mechanisms to decide whether the will of the majority has violated one of those values. Maybe we should.

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