More Free Elections
The policy that I wish to propose is not merely a law appertaining to a single issue, but a constitutional amendment. Simultaneous extension of the vote to prisoners and sixteen year olds, and adoption of the AV-top up electoral system, would, I believe, positively change the way politics is conducted in Britain, affecting the way in which one engages in politics, not what one’s politics consists of.
If one assumes that democracy is the ideal system, the most logical question follows: what sort of a democracy do we want to see? I hold that the ideal democracy is based on two important criteria; it should have the widest potential for direct participation without succumbing to absurdity, and its participation process should produce the most accurate, proportional representation of the electorate as possible.
As democracy is the system by which we consent to governance by others, it makes sense that this consent be ratified by those that it concerns – providing they are able to engage in the process. The only members of a democracy that we may exclude are those who are unable to form a political opinion; for instance, it would be “absurd”, to extend democratic rights to a one week old baby – I would regard it as similarly ludicrous as giving a monkey a driving lesson. As citizens capable of rational thought, I determine that it is wrong to deny prisoners the votes, in much in the same way that we no longer restrict the electoral rights of women and ethnic minorities. The UK should recognise this conclusion and comply with EU law.
In the same spirit, I propose lowering the voting age to sixteen. Not because I claim that this is the age at which humans achieve some minimum standard for forming political opinions, but because I believe that that age is, for the most part of the population, certainly no older than this. It may be that teenagers as young as fourteen are capable of good quality political participation, and I think that, in the ambiguous sea of ages that is adolescence, sixteen years old is a sensible age to draw the line. At that age one can start a family, get married (with parents’ permission) join the military, and begin A-level courses – all of which significantly mould a person’s life prospects. If sixteen year olds are capable of those things, they are capable of voting.
I support the hybrid system of AV-top up, as proposed by Lord Jenkins in the Jenkins’ commission. The AV-top up system gives the voter two votes – the first regards their constituency representative, who is elected through the AV method, and the second goes to whichever party or candidate they prefer from a national list. Under our current system, First Past the Post, many recognise that their ideal candidate has no chance of winning, as their constituency is in a safe seat of another party, so they vote for whoever has the best chance of unseating their constituency’s detested occupant. However, this is a very impure form of politics, one in which the electorate abandons the candidate they actually support, for tactical reasons. The AV-top up system eliminates this. Jenkins himself describes this advantage as “freeing the voter from the prison of having to suffer an unwanted candidate for the constituency in order to get a desired government.”[i]
I propose these constitutional alterations in the belief that they may inadvertently produce other desirable results, or at least help us on the way to reaching other desirable ends. It is no secret that the UK has a critical apathy problem; in 2001, less than 60 per cent of the electorate voted – compare this with the comparatively skyscraper figure of 83.9 per cent in 1950[ii]. I do not claim that a change in electoral system will solve this decline, which I imagine to be symptomatic of more deeply rooted problems, but I do think that widening the scope of democratic potential, and increasing the accuracy of that potential, may help the electorate to grapple with apathy, and inevitably even discard it.
I think that, if we are committed to democracy as a political system, then we must recognise it as an instrument that requires constant refining, inspection and reconsideration. While no anarchist, I am naturally sceptical of those who hold authority positions – particularly when those authorities affect the more vulnerable members of society, and particularly when they were elected on a slender margin of votes. Returning back to my assumption that democracy is a good idea, I think that we should build on this premise in order to make that good idea a good system – and the best way to do this is to improve the mechanisms by which that system functions.
Written by Gregory Pichorowycz, edited by Chris Olewicz