Mill and public voting

One part of democracy involves adding up numbers. More people on my side means my policy gets enacted. This is a good way to resolve disputes because it makes the most people happy and is predictable, easily enforceable, along with treating everyone equally.

However, this is no the whole story. Democracy is more than just numbers ; it also involves the claims of reasons. J.S. Mill proposed that people should give their reasons for voting publicly before casting their ballot so that badly reasoned decisions could be heckled and shamed.

The reason this is a bad procedure is that employers could see for example who was voting for pro-union laws, and then could single out the socially less powerful for retribution. Other examples abound. The general point is that if certain groups know about votes cast against their interest, they can go after them.

However, what about a system in which one had to write a down a reason for voting on the ballot, and then read this system of reasons behind a screen. No one would know who was behind the screen, but the ridicule could still be directed at them. Or, more technologically, people’s voting rationales could be put on the internet, anonymously of course. This would let our society know what sort of things people were focusing on and possibly, get ridicule directed at bad or reasonless decision-making.


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