It's been a while-34 years-since the last major change to the American voting process: in 1976 Nevada put a "none-of-the-above" line on its ballot, a change which has had zero impact on ballot layout in the other 49 states.
Here's my proposal which probably would do even worse, but is worth pondering: the weighted ballot.
My idea is based on the historical understanding of human nature which is the underlying theme of such quotes as Benjamin Franklin's "When the people find that they can vote themselves [other peoples'] money, that will be the end of the Republic."
Such voting succeeds when the redistribution recipients are more than 50 percent of the electorate, which they appear to be in 2010. This problematic aspect of "democracy"-or majority politics-isn't a new one.
Some researchers trace the notion back to 18th-century Scottish writer Alexander Tytler. Tyler supposedly used the phrase, "... A majority which discovers it can vote itself largesse from the public treasury... ",; some cite a similar 19th-century Alexis de Toqueville quote. Even 20th century U.S. Ag Sec. Ezra Taft Benson has been credited, right up there alongside 5th century B.C. Greek philosopher Plato.
In American history, the ancient principle of vote-selling was decried by the LaFollette Republicans, who were so offended by 19th century Chicago ward-heeler politics that they established Progressivism, originally a concept of government by experts (themselves, of course) brighter than your average stupid and venal voter-ah, but then it was employed by modern Vermont Progressive politicians in the design of Act 60, a school tax proposal which encourages a majority of home-owners, via an income-sensitivity tax-increase exemption, to approve increases in educational spending they, personally, won't be required to pay.
It takes a non-Progressive to make this Platonic point: voting yourself OPM (other peoples' money) is less honorable than voting to pay your own "fair share" (a little Progressive lingo, there) of the costs of the collective enterprise being proposed.
Typically, those who get their own paychecks by expending a lot of time proposing, administering, or even executing such things are enthusiasts for seeing themselves as deserving OPM destinations. But this isn't an argument for full vote denial on such self-interest tainted matters.
It is a limited argument for vote weighting: specifically, that those who stand to enhance their own paycheck-from a voteable public budget question-should have their votes count for somewhat less than those who will pay full freight.
It's similar to shareholder voting-where those who have invested more in the enterprise through the purchase of, say, 100 shares, have twice the voting power of those who chose to invest less and own only 50 shares. But it's dissimilar to shareholder voting in that it doesn't deny voting to non-investors, those who get benefits from the enterprise but don't invest in it.
Even tax-minusses are entitled to a weighted vote, I'd argue, because they pay a little something for government indirectly through sales taxes and part of their rent-even though they don't ever send a real check to the IRS or the state department of taxes.
As for those whose spending and rent money comes not from real personal earnings but from real taxpayers via government (with a little skimmed off the top for "management", of course), a pure application of weighted voting would invoke the no-pay-no-play principle: those who don't support government don't get to vote.
But I'd argue for less than purity of principle on my political calculation: weighted voting is already so threatening and offensive in concept to both the voting bloc of largesse recipients and the Progressive elites dependent on their votes that only a diluted version would have a chance at survival of criticism of the Founding Fathers' Constitution.
You might call my proposal gradualism, the same practical tactic advocated in Fabian socialism where multiple tiny steps toward elite governance have better prospects for eventual success than a single fundamental transformation (to borrow a recently invoked Obamian phrase).
This could start-as a trial run-with that still-barely surviving old-Vermont tradition, the annual school budget vote.
I say "barely" because a statewide grass-roots movement a few years back toward the Australian ballot (useable by the voter/taxpayer types who actually hold a private-sector day job and can't tolerate the deliberately late-into-the-night Vermont rituals which the traditional voice vote-by-attenders-only meeting has become). This was bitterly resisted by the same folks who normally advocate for everyone voting- early and often-on the grounds that "no residency proof is needed, you have to be there for the entire meeting to appreciate the wisdom of our spending proposals, and then you get to vote."
Much to our surprise, the campaign for activists-and-educators-only-voting has been largely rejected in most of the Vermont towns which have adopted the Australian ballot.
Ok, for starters I'd propose that those who pay full freight under Act 60 and Son-of-60 (Act 68) have their school budget votes weighted more heavily than those-the majority of residential property owners , as 60 and 68 were skillfully designed to buy educational-spending support-who are exempted from paying full freight by the income-sensitivity provisions of the legislation. This model is visible in corporate governance where we who own only, say, 100 shares of Entergy Corp. are out-voted, as we should be, by those who have more skin-in-the-game (and have invested more of their own money to own more of their own shares).
I'd go with Constitutional precedent and suggest the 3/5 fraction: those pulling the wagon should have 3/5 more say-so about its destination than those riding in it.
Ex-U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm's comments are still being cited by today's Gentry-Left (check out the current webpage of American Prospect magazine which features a year-old op-ed characterizing them as "racial demagoguery"). The Left enjoy the power stemming from the solid voting support from riders, even as it loses them the soon-to-be-permanent-minority puller vote.
It would be fun to see what 21st-century language would be deployed against the 18th-century Constitutional exercise in fractions-even if that exercise was originally employed not for vote-weighting but for population-counting.
Former Vermonter Martin Harris lives in Tennessee.