As a New Zealander I am ineligible to obtain Australian citizenship, even though I have lived here for the past eleven years. Not having Australian citizenship means that I cannot vote in these coming elections.
And, I am quite okay with that. In fact, I could almost claim to be glad of that.
That seems a strange thing to say, perhaps even paradoxical, unreasonable, or senseless. It may look that way, especially from the perspective of those who claim that ‘voting is our democratic right.’
From my perspective, however, things look quite different.
Voting is not democratic.
That is perhaps an even stranger thing to say, even subversive, or disloyal.
Let us pick voting apart. Usually, when one goes into a polling booth to vote, the following have already taken place:
- The candidates for election are pre-determined. The number of us who suggest someone stand for parliament, council, senate, congress etc is extremely limited. Most often, it was not the common woman or man who determined who the candidates should be.1
- The policies of candidates are pre-determined. Often the policies are to a) continue the present policies by an incumbent candidate, or b) offer up counter policies to those of the incumbent. Either way, the voter has no direct input into the policies, only a tick in the box against candidates with pre-determined polices.
- Candidates have often aligned themselves with one political party or another. Then, once elected, it is party policy that takes precedence over any suggestion of “representing” the local constituency.2
- The education, social standing, articulateness, economic resources, and/or celebrity status of candidates are strong indicators of the likelihood of someone being elected. These are usually those from elite groups of society. How often do you see your hairdresser, the manual labourer, or local barista on the ballot paper? Even were one of these to be on the ballot, how often do they get elected? Consequently, the decision-making bodies we get are not representative.
For these, and other, reasons, I claim that voting is not democratic.
But that is not all. Because of the above reasons, the electoral process results in a parliament, senate, or council that is little able to offer up the changes we need to see in these troubled times.
At the heart of much of the current predicaments we face is how we go about our collective decision-making. Electoral processes result in decision-making bodies that are adversarial in nature – hardly a system that allows for the collective creativity we need.
What then? How do we go about selecting public decision-makers if not by voting?
Toss a die, draw lots, generate random numbers (with numbers allocated to individual citizens,) flip a coin. These may sound flippant. Only in their simplicity. At the core of each of these is a very simple, and fair, means of selection.
Random selection has generated a lot of interest, research, and experimentation over the past few decades. It has a technical name – sortition.
The idea and practical use of sortition, and other forms of democracy (aside from electoral) go back millennia. The most famous is to the very birthplace of democracy – Athens.
The Athenians used sortition for most of their selection processes for their public decision-makers.3 Voting was generally restricted to electing those who would be their military leaders. Indeed, Athenians did not trust voting as a fair and democratic method.
There is even evidence showing sortition to have been used some 1,500 years before the Athenians. See this blogpost for more on these earlier forms of decision-making.
I have written extensively in this blog about sortition: what it is, how it works, and cited historical and contemporary examples of its practice. [Go to the “Categories” column to the right of this page and click on “sortition” and/or “democracy” – for these blogpieces.]
For now, I am quite comfortable in the knowledge that I cannot vote this coming weekend. I am also comfortable in the knowledge that until we shift from electoral democracy to more representative and/or direct means of selection and public decision-making then nothing will fundamentally change.
Hence, I can’t vote and I’m okay.
1. I use the term ‘common’ (or ‘commoner’), not in its somewhat disparaging sense, but in its literal sense of ko = together and moi = to move, to change, hence to move and change together.
2. Even “independents’ are not immune to this. Recently in Australian politics we have seen the emergence of Teal candidates – a loose coalition of independent candidates. Furthermore, many of those who are presently ‘independents’ in Australian politics have either resigned or been expelled from political parties they were once members of. Others have gone on to form their own party.3. Sometimes when I mention the use of sortition in Athens I am reminded that a “citizen” in Athens did not include women or slaves. That is true. However, that is not a critique of sortition; that is a critique of social structure.