Monday, April 18, 2011

Voting Incentives

I vividly remember a conversation I had with a large "L" Liberal years ago wherein he postulated that the average person in Canada shouldn't be allowed to vote because they weren't intelligent enough.  (And I'm sure there are those in the ruling class of other democracies who hold a similar bias.)  I of course castigated him for his thinly-veiled inference that only the less intelligent vote conservatively.  It has always seemed to me that liberals in general are elitists, yet the democratic principle I recall from grade school is one person, one vote, regardless.  Liberal bias thus exposed, the question arises: how do we as a society get more people out to vote?  Australia and dozens of lesser jurisdictions have compulsory voting, which I'm not sure is the best route.  People dragged to the polling booth under threat of some negative consequence are more likely I would think to spoil their ballot or (worse) vote for aliens from outer space.  (Wiki: "About 5% of enrolled voters fail to vote at most elections [in Australia].  People in this situation are asked to explain their failure to vote. If no satisfactory reason is provided (for example, illness or religious prohibition), a relatively small fine is imposed ($20), and failure to pay the fine may result in a court hearing.)  My friend Cookee has suggested that perhaps a tax credit for voting is a better idea, and I agree.  I've always found positive incentives work better than negative ones.  I think the rich would then have to come out to vote to offset the poor who obviously would exercise their franchise, and the beleaguered middle class would vote in greater numbers too.  Another concept my elitist liberal friend no doubt contemplates with trepidation is the prospect of direct democracy via referendum in these days of electronic connectedness.  Why not decide policy matters by referenda rather than let the Ottawa intelligentsia do it for us?  That would, of course, sabotage my liberal friend's proposition completely!  As we used to say in the sixties: power to the people!