Should everyone’s vote be equal?

Being a voter means that someone performs that function because he has certain rights. Everyone has the same rights at birth, including an implicit voting right, which he can execute once he becomes an adult. Every vote has the same weight, every vote is equal, and it cannot be increased or decreased by any additional factors. Equality has been the cornerstone of the western democracy for over two centuries. The principle of equality comes straight from the French revolution: liberte, fraternite, égalité. That has served us fairly well and has become the backbone of the Western democracy.

However, equality is not as simple a principle as we are being told. For example, in the UK, both Labour and Conservative governments have been rightly trying to make this principle plain: everyone has to have equal opportunities at birth but not the same equal rights in the share of the national wealth. This should only depend on such factors as ability, education and simply on the kind of work performed over a citizen’s life. That is why people working at different levels of organisations are being paid depending on their contribution to the company’s performance. Not everyone can be a doctor, be elected to the parliament, or be a judge.

Why should an electoral voting system be an exception? Why must each vote have the same weight and impact on matters of governance of a country, irrespective of how capable a voter is of making decisions on complex matters of economy and the state? Is that fair or even is that just? Shouldn’t his voting weight depend on his knowledge, engagement, or contribution to his country rather than the taxes he has paid? After all, his abilities to make a reasonable judgment on complex matters in any sphere of life, depend on his education and experience.

We already apply a kind of a weighted voting by denying children the right to take part in the elections because they would not be able to make a rational judgment. That is certainly a restriction. But there is a good reason for doing this – we do not want people with no idea of what politics is about to have any influence on political decisions. Applying a minimum age to voting rights is an attempt to filter out the ignorant and incompetent from the voting process. However, at the same time, we have evidence that many adults are sometimes even less capable of making a rational judgment than some teenagers. Why should the teenagers be discriminated in the elections and some, uninterested or even illiterate adults, have that right?

In some countries, some politicians question whether it is right to give disproportional voting power to those who have very little understanding of how their country is governed. Others may question whether it is just and fair that those who net beneficiaries are, rather than net contributors to the wealth of a given nation, should have a say on the level of taxation. Without any prejudice but only reviewing the facts, over 1/3 of British adults are at the lowest level of literacy (level 1) [61]. Should such voters’ vote have the same weight as those ones that are far better educated and experienced in ever more complex matters of today’s world? Should their understanding of how wealth is created, and which priorities should be assigned, or material resources allocated, matter as much as that of any other voter? Probably not, but this is how equality is being understood today since at least the time of the ancient Athenian democracy and the French revolution.

Such questions as above need to be asked openly, even if solutions to resolve them may not be easy to accept and implement. People may need to change their views on what is justice and fairness, or what is safe and prudent to do for a nation not just from today’s perspective, but from a long-term point view, which is of course, much more difficult to do. That also includes the voting equality.

Let’s consider what is the desired outcome of the vote cast for the whole population of the country? It is for the country to elect the most capable people who would make decisions in the most rational and effective way blended with compassion when appropriate, for the benefit of all citizens because only then the benefits created will be optimal. To achieve that, the weight of the vote could depend on voter’s engagement in the country’s affairs, his knowledge of how the country is run and its internal and external activities. The current voting system contributes to a large extent to the system of governments that does not reflect the true will of the widest population, allowing that will to be manipulated by populists.

In the end, it is in everyone’s interest to get governments elected more rationally, so that they deliver in the most effective way the decisions that the majority of us want. Therefore, as the world becomes more and more complex, shouldn’t the equal power of a single vote be replaced by a weighted voting system?

Historically, weighted voting has been applied in many countries since at least Roman times. In 19th century it was applied in Sweden, France and in Britain and was mainly based on gender (women could not vote), social or financial position, or taxes paid. Today, such a weighted voting system based on financial contribution would be utterly unacceptable. That should rather be based on other principles such as voter’s capabilities of understanding sometimes complex political decisions that are largely correlated with his education, interest in politics and the matters that are important for the country. Only then can we marginalise populism and implement difficult decisions based on the understanding by the electorate that there is simply no easy way to overcome the problems that a country may have at the time.

Adding some weight to each vote in line with some criteria, such as voter’s education level and contribution to the society or communities they live in, would lead to electing representatives in a more rational and less emotional way (being more immune from the half-truths of many populist politicians). But that would mean that some people would influence the election results more than others. Many voters would say, it should never be done – equality means equality, it is an outrageous idea. Well, we have exactly such a system of weighted voting at the heart of the EU. It was introduced by the EU in the Treaty of Nice for decision making by the European Council. The countries’ voting rights are directly related to their contribution/impact in the EU (mainly the country’s population).

Some people say that one of the solutions to get voters more engaged and not being lured by populist politicians might be a better education. However, in my view, that will not be enough. Traditional education and communication (assuming it will be free of fake news), should be improved, especially adult education. However, that is a long-term solution. We simply have not enough time to change democracy fundamentally by about 2030, as I have argued throughout the book. Therefore, we have to apply other means, which may be more direct and act much faster, as I propose further on in the book.

In summary, I believe the weighted voting system, combined with sortition (explained further on) is probably one of the key measures that need to be taken to significantly improve democracy, so that it works much better for all of us. I agree, almost any system of weighted voting will have some disadvantages, that’s why we need to get wider experience and select a system that would work best for all.