Of the many facets that shape the perception of freedom in the technological west, democracy has remained unaltered save for tinkering around the edges of access to it. The right to vote for how one is governed is so totemic, so indispensable to the notion of a right to personal freedom, that it has been maintained with little thought to whether it is fit for purpose in the modern age. To challenge the permanence of democratic mechanisms evokes discomfort and mistrust, such is it’s perceived constitutional and foundational strength. One instinctively feels democracy’s hallowed and aged institutional resilience, no matter how unexpectedly society might veer against its own best interest. There is an assumed purity in democratic processes. The function of one vote for one person suggests an implacable simplification of the complexities and contradictions in political discourse and comforts the individual with a sense of distillation, resolved to a simple mark on paper in a wooden booth on a certain day. For many, election day is as familiar as digging out the Christmas decorations. It’s rhythms are ingrained. Democracy is defended by tradition, not efficacy.
At a time of political extremes in public discourse, one is privy to a great distortion – that of a marked electoral skewing according to demographic. Domestic policies that repeatedly benefit one group at the expense of another has created a feedback loop of the advantaged electorally favouring the same parties who reward loyal voters by tailoring policy only to appeal to the needs of what soon becomes labelled their ‘core vote’ or ‘base’. Mismanagement by successive governments unwilling or ideologically unable to accommodate those who do not vote for them effectively amplifies this feedback loop to the extent that major disparities manifest – not simply within wealth distribution, but also social cohesion across age, gender, race and sexuality. In post-imperial western democracies carrying the twin burdens of tradition and nativism, failure to modernise have manifested tensions. Compounded mismanagement results in governments not only unlikely to meet the challenges of fast-paced change but unable to influence public attitudes that have become stunted and mis-educated by information sources caught in similar feedback loops with core consumers. The disturbing advent of Big Data manipulation and marketed policy initiatives renders the electorate enfeebled and irrational.
The speed of perceived social change within this digital age has exacerbated this demographic divide. It is worth noting that today’s youth will likely experience living with increasingly complex synthetic intelligences whereas the last generation never to handle email is still alive today. News outlets unable to compete with multiple information sources and declining print sales desperately cater to ageing readership with fevered anti-change rhetoric and simpler-times wishful thinking. Society’s apparent form is shaped for one age group through the touch-screen of a smart-phone – the other receives bigotry in print, fomenting alienation and alleviating anxiety with soothing bygone values. To the older voter, seemingly unable to exert influence against a world speeding from recognition, the ritual of the ballot box helps reclaim some of that sense of influence.
The older voter is more accustomed to the cyclic rhythm of elections; a repetition supposed to provide the means for governments to change course and adapt to reflect the shifting desires of the population. Despite this changing of the guard, wealth, power and familiar outdated policies remain entrenched through the inertia of constitutional anachronism, the denial of proportional representation, unelected representatives and elite pathways from education to permanent office, all of which remain wedded to the mythical projection of immovable monarchic stability and its attendant aristocracy. More accustomed to a religiously-tuned imperialist education, the older voter unconsciously accepts the core of this structure is that divinity has chosen human representation on earth through the crown and all subsequent authority ultimately derives from that holy approval. For a contemporary society straining to meet the complex new demands of a crowded and multi-cultural world, this kind of magical thinking is detrimental in the extreme. Not only is the bedrock fallacious, manipulative and despicable, it legitimises an electoral system that bestows an apparent privilege of fairness so totemic and immovable that it becomes taboo to consider the necessity of amendment. Such continuity is a self-reinforcing comfort to the older voter, one that does not welcome analysis or revision. Election day becomes not only a process, but additionally a time in which the state congratulates it’s population for acting against its own best interests. Democracy is portrayed in absolutist terms; as the near perfect means of selecting rulers, not the least bad one.
Mortality and the illusion of agency.
It may seem obscure to challenge this democracy as something cloaked or redundant; a monarchic quasi-spiritual reckoning for the masses. Indeed, the current voting system may not appear as an arbiter of injustice in itself, but it does expose the bizarre artefact of a portion of the electorate voting for circumstances they will not live to experience. Simply put – those closer to the end of their lives are voting for a future unwanted by those who actually have to live through it. Voting power is imbalanced against experiential capital. For those nearing the end of their lives, voting may be comforting. It may appeal as a means to exert influence when all others have waned. In the case of the religious, the hobbled reasoning of the faith mentality may use the vote as a means to shape the world from beyond the grave. Irrespective of faith, the voting population is divided in an electoral ritual where youth votes for reality and age votes for peace of mind or fanciful satisfaction. Youth votes for consequence where age votes for memory. The vote of the young is hopeful where the vote of the old is indulgent.
Amendment to Democracy
The marked divergence of electoral preference according to age is not reason enough to change the mechanics of democracy, however expedient. It is, however, important to recognise this trend as symptomatic of an unacceptable distortion in the body politic. Accordingly, the power of one’s vote should be weighted according to the influence it wields throughout the individual’s life.
The current democratic system can be amended through the application of points by the individual voter to their chosen candidate and that those points are limited according to the age of the voter. The assignment of influence according to age begins with youth. At the age of sixteen, the voter enjoys a period of a decade in which they may apply ten points at every electoral event. Equity through simplicity is still satisfied through placing one cross in one box. In their second decade (age 26-35) the voter wields nine points. Within their third (36-45) they wield eight points, and so on. In the case of general elections, candidates with the maximum points against their name win. In council elections, the distribution of points may select primary, secondary and tertiary candidates. In the case of referenda, the maximum number of points, not voters, is the deciding factor.
A central criticism of this amendment to democracy is concerned with the dynamic presenting the individual’s portion of life yet to be lived versus their proximity to death. Perceived difficulties lie within this boundary that are so contingent to the amendment’s utility. Currently, a population conditioned into assumptions of socio-economic grievance according to age will likely resist democratic revision, perceiving discrimination to those that personally identify within age boundary or special interest groups, many of which are defined by or even founded on combating inequality. Rightly, no demographic group would submit to an overnight loss of voter agency. Accordingly, the introduction of this revision could only emerge in tandem with the first new generation to reach voting age. The full spectrum of numerical tiers within this amendment would only be reached within eight to ten decades of introduction. No one alive today would experience a decline in the potency of their voting power. This would remove the perception of imbalance or accusations of ageism as, with implementation, all living would have experienced their full quota of electoral influence at the totality of their democratic involvement. In short, those with years in front of them will maximise their influence on that future. Those in their last years will have exerted maximum influence upon the creation of the conditions in which they now live.
Following a systemic introduction and constitutional acceptance of this new democracy, any lingering unease around a perceived assault on democratic sanctity would be allayed as the potential for a re-shaping of political activity became apparent. The very inequities of social division according to age will dissolve as political parties redress policy to appeal to a broader spectrum of the electorate rather than all energies reinforcing the ideals of their ‘traditional’ or ‘core’ vote. Simply, no political ideology will maintain dominance unless it caters to a broader cross-section of society. Through naked self-interest, those who would rule would be heavily incentivised to shape policy to appeal to the numerical core support – one that they would not find centralised in any one far corner of the demographic. Concomitant with political posture and public signalling, those media sources heavily aligned with special interests, dogma, prejudice or the commodification of intolerance will lose their undue influence and must adapt for the re-calibrated market place. Publications or broadcasting sources that espouse regressively nostalgic opinions may still appeal to a certain audience but it will not be prudent for any one political party to excessively apply its efforts for that group’s benefit. This adjustment strikes at the heart of the democratically unhealthy institutional relationships between proprietor and politician.
Ultimately, this amendment has the appeal of seeking systemic balance rather than political change in itself. Neither left nor right will benefit from such an amendment unless politicians pledge to ensure social capital is applied evenly at all stages of life. The fetishisation of polarised opinion has flourished in this technological age of smart-phone bulletins and, while controversy abounds, ideas are not the problem. Rather, it is the social and political conditions in which an idea may distort, fester and reproduce. However, the principles behind this amendment are advantageous in being understood as functioning outside of an economic or political frame. As it’s implications manifest, the current gaming of democratic processes may be offset, if not corrected. This proposal is lateral to the ideal of suffrage, not absolute.
Without adequate analysis, simplistic and shrill responses in public dialogue might assume this proposed amendment is merely an attack on electoral rights. Rather, the rebalancing of voter privilege and restriction according to the individual’s passage of time and experiential capital has several desirable consequences. It encourages voters at all stages of life to use their influence and discourages political parties from formulating policy based upon nostalgic cues that appeal to a small minority. Finally, this amendment is fundamentally fairer to a progressive society moving through a period of fast, unprecedented technological change and correctly addresses an ethical relationship between individual agency, civic involvement and mortality.