Voting Influence

Decades ago, the late science fiction writer Mack Reynolds wrote a novel depicting a future United States in which citizens received one “basic” vote, and then could “earn” additional votes for various accomplishments, such as earning advanced degrees, completing a period of military and/or public service, etc.  At the time of the book, Reynolds received a great deal of flak for that concept, and I suspect, were anyone to advance such an idea today, the outcry would likely be even greater.

But why?  In point of fact, those with great sums of money already exert a disproportionate amount of influence over the electoral process, especially in the United States now that the U.S. Supreme Court has granted corporations and wealthy individuals access to the media that is only limited by the amount of their resources, in effect granting such entities the impact of millions of votes. The rationale for the court decision, which has in effect been legally sustained, is that restriction on the use of money for advertising one’s political views and goals is in effect a restriction on first amendment freedom of speech rights.  The practical problem with this decision is that, in a culture dominated by pervasive mass media, the result is to multiply the effect of exercising freedom-of-speech rights manifold for those who have large amounts of wealth.  Since, given the costs of effectively using mass media, only the top one or two tenths of one percent of the population can exercise such media-enhanced rights, the result of the decision is to give disproportionate influence to a tiny fraction of the population.  Moreover, as a result of the decision, in most cases, donors to groups and corporations availing themselves of this “right” do not even have to disclose their donations/spending.

The Court’s decision essentially grants greater weight in determining who governs us strictly on the basis of income and wealth.  Are not other qualities and accomplishments also of equal or greater value to civilization?  And if so, why should they not be granted greater weight as well? That was really the question Reynolds was addressing in postulating such a change in American society, and it’s a good question.

Before you dismiss the idea out of hand, consider the fact that the way in which our current system operates grants greater governmental influence to a small group of people whose principal talent is making money.  It does not grant such influence to those who teach, who create, or who perform unheralded and often dangerous military and public service, and as the revelations about Iraq have showed, at times such money-making operations have in fact been based on taking advantage of American soldiers deployed abroad, so that those with great sums of money not only gained electoral influence, but did so at the expense of those who served their country… and many of whom died doing so.

Then… tell me again why we don’t need an electoral or regulatory counterbalance to unbridled use of wealth in trying to influence elections.

8 thoughts on “Voting Influence”

  1. Gordon Long says:

    You have my vote. This is a country where people have no idea of how much they don’t know, are afraid of intellect and celebrate mediocre leaders and disdain what they call Egg Heads. I really don’t like the mental picture I get of Sara Palin interacting with economists and generals. The media manipulators must love her though.

  2. hob says:

    Because like it or not America is operating a one world currency empire and militarily fighting against those who wish to make parallel currency models. The combined effect of which gives Americans more time and resources to accomplish their goals then any other society on the planet.
    If importance is put on anything but money/currency, something which a lot of American effort has gone in to defining and controlling, there is a risk of parallel systems developing abroad–the impact of which would reduce American influence to a greater and more significant extent than any political/media created impression of reduced American power–something which, in my opinion, the facts on the ground do not support. American military bases are situated on nearly all major trade routes,(the current additions of Iraq, Afghanistan and Haiti implying a greater effort in the future judging by historic trends). These Bases pose serious economic deterrents to those who would be forced to wage only high cost wars in the inevitable blockades/sanctions being placed in such scenarios.

    A better question to ask–is the American democratic system failing to accord equal rights to its citizens regarding the direction their nation is heading, or are people concerning themselves with sabotaging the type of transportation the nation is using to get to said direction because they don’t like the changes of scenery?

  3. Everything L.E. said is true. Those with the money influence the policy. Alas, any serious attempt to “level” the field will directly violate a foundational freedom as designated in the Constitution. So which evil is the lesser? I have to grudgingly conclude that our current evil is the lesser of the two, because once you let government begin deciding decide which kinds of content can be printed or broadcast — based on whether it’s “political” or “campaign” in nature — we’ll be opening a pandora’s box of exploitation, abuse, and problems.

    I’d much rather we take a more practical step, like imposing term limits on Senators and Congressmen. Also, rule preventing “job hopping” so that nobody — and I do mean nobody — can go to Washington D.C. for life, or as a career. You get 8 years, and you’re done. Because right now people not only get to go to D.C. for life, they’re often coming away rich for their efforts. Nobody should go to D.C. to get rich, but they do all the time. Kick them out after 8 years maximum. Whatever loss we might have — because we think experience counts — would be more than made up for in cutting down on corruption.

    Besides, Obama is proof that experience doesn’t count anyway. Our most powerful elected leader has zero experience qualifying him to do the job that he is in fact doing. Another double-edged sword of democracy.

  4. Wine Guy says:

    How very ‘Heinlein-ian.’

    Personally, I think that people should NOT receive the right to vote until they show some responsibility towards the country – a realpolitik quid pro quo. Military service, volunteerism that is not related to religious organizations, reliable and significant tax-paying (i.e.: actually paying income taxes rather than not having to pay them for lack of income or weaselling out of them), loss of the right to vote due to repeated misdemeanors or a felony.

    At this point, I’d be happy with requiring a high school diploma or GED and a basic reading comprehension test (since the first two don’t automatically mean the person will pass the last).

    I am intensely disappointed with the ‘lowest common denominator’ politics of the era in which I live. I don’t think it’s been all that different throughout history, but I hold out hope.

  5. Brad W. says:

    I’ve spent my career working with lawyers, economists and various individuals with advanced degrees. I’d have to say that the majority of these folks had no more greater common sense than ordinary citizens. In many cases they have less common sense because they have lost grasp with the real world and are insulated in their acedemically or legalistically constructed theoretical world.

    An excellent example is current and past members of Congress and the Presidents (exception Bill Clinton). These highly educated indiviudals and their staffers have developed foolish program after foolish program and spent money profligately brining our country to a very precarious position.

    I value the vote of an ordinary citizen just as much as our highly educated bretheren.

  6. AMos says:

    @Wine Guy: you mention one of the “tests” before being allowed to vote should be “actually paying income taxes rather than not having to pay them for lack of income.” In effect, this privileges those with money over those who lack it, which is precisely the problem Mr. Modesitt describes above. Except at least in our broken system poor people get one vote.

    I think a much better measure of competency should be a basic civics test, structured around a 6th grade social studies level, as well as a few very simple questions about current events and a candidate’s platform. Really easy stuff that anyone with an iota of attention should be able to answer — because, unfortunately, many of the people who vote lack even that.

    Talking about requiring tests before voting brings up too many bad memories for southerners, which is one reason why it would never be passed; but it’s also a reason why if it were implemented, the tests should be very easy and simple. Then the only way one would not be able to vote is if one were completely ignorant of everything at stake in said election (which, again, is far too many voters).

    1. Wine Guy says:

      I don’t disagree with you when you say that the taxation test privileges those with money over those who lack it. Thus, I propose we do away with our current tax situation and impose a flat rate income tax and a VAT tax on goods and services over and above subsisence items.

      And I welcome the basic civics test and the current events/platforms -> as long as those same candidates would publish coherent platforms.

      My observation re: southerners: I lived in the south for a long time -> 15+ years. The south is no different from any part of the United States. The difference there is that the bigotry and racism are more open and more apparent, even in this day and age.

  7. AMos says:

    @Brad W. – I don’t buy into the notion of the wisdom of common men, either. People with educations can be clueless, it is true, but one of the purposes of education is [read: should be] to train critical thinkers–in other words, people not so easily duped by the political spin and hype. The necessary degree of rhetorical maturity required to wade through all the nonsense out there today is not necessarily limited to the educated, but it is more likely to be acquired by them.

    Part of the problem is that the narrative in America has shifted: we’ve gone from respecting educated people [every one of our founding fathers] to mistrusting them and assuming they are out of touch. In my opinion, it isn’t the educated who are most out of touch with regular Americans, it’s the wealthy. The educational gap is largely unchanged, at least when compared to the income disparity. And it is precisely these economic elite, not the intellectual elite, who decide what gets aired on TV and printed in newspapers. We should be placing a greater emphasis on teachers who can help arm us against the overwhelming influence of media.

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