Factors which determine the value of the electoral privilege

Factors which determine the value of the electoral privilege. First, the Number of Elective officers. Manifestly the value of the suffrage and the power which its possessor is capable of wielding through -its exercise depend upon several conditions. In the first place, it necessarily varies in proportion to the number of elective officers and the extent to which the principle of the popular referendum in legislation and upon public policies exists in the state.

Clearly, universal suffrage would amount to nothing in a state where there were no elective offices and where the referendum did not exist in any form. On the continent of Europe, generally, few executive, administrative or judicial offices are filled by popular election.  In France, to take a conspicuous example, where a system of virtual universal manhood suffrage prevails, no executive offices from the presidency of the republic down to the mayor of a village, and no judges of the courts (with the exception of the members of the councils of prud hommes and the tribunals of commerce) are elected.

There only members of parliament and of the departmental and other local councils are elected by popular vote, and the referendum, as it exists in the United States, is unknown in Practice. Obviously the role of universal suffrage under such conditions is a very restricted one. On the other hand, in the states of the American Union where the elective principle extends to a large number of executive and even administrative offices, where in most states even the judges of the courts are popularly elected, where candidates are nominated by popular vote, and where the referendum is resorted to on a wide scale for the purposes of ordinary legislation, the ratification of new constitutions and constitutional amendments, and for the decision of various questions of public policy, where official tenures are short and consequently elections frequent, the role of the elector is potentially at least-much more important than in Europe and, as pointed out above, his burden and responsibility are correspondingly heavier-so heavy indeed that intelligent voting has become increasingly difficult.

Second, Direct and Indirect Elections :

In the second place, the influence and role of the elector vary with the directness or indirectness with which, the electoral function is exercised. In various countries of Europe when large extensions of the suffrage were made, a system of indirect and double election was introduced at the same time, as a means of counteracting or attenuating the possible evils of a democratic suffrage.

Reference has already been made to the old Prussian system of indirect election for the members of the lower Chamber. In a number of the other German-states a system pf indirect election prevailed until recently, for example in Bavaria until 1906. In France senators are still chosen by a process of indirect election.

Norway, prior to 1905, had a system of indirect voting for the election of members of the Storthing, and in Sweden such a system still prevails for the election of members of the upper chamber. In Denmark 54 of the 66 members of the Lands thing are indirectly chosen by local electoral colleges.

As is well known, the Soviet Government of Russia is based on a system of indirect elections. The peasant and artisan voters elect village soviets these elem representatives to the bolost soviet, which chooses representatives to the All Russian Congress at Moscow and this latter assembly elects the executive committee which is the principal governing authority of the country. All the other constitutions put into effect since the World War specifically declare that elections of members of the lower chamber (and also the upper chamber where it is popularly elected) shall be direct,

Arguments for the Method of Indirect Election :

The principal argument in favor of the system of indirect election is that it eliminates to some extent, as has been said, the possible dangers of universal suffrage by confining the ultimate choice to a body of select persons possessing a higher average of ability and necessarily feeling a keener sense of responsibility. Moreover, it tends to diminish the evils of party passion and struggle by removing the object of the popular choice one degree and confining the function of the electorate as a whole to the choice of those upon whom the ultimate responsibility must, rest.

This contrivance, said John Stuart Mill,

“was probably intended as a slight impediment to the full sweep of popular feeling, giving the suffrage and with it the complete ultimate power to the many, but compelling. them to exercise it through the agency of a comparatively few who, it was supposed, would be less moved than the Demos by the gust of popular passion, as the electors, being already a select body, might be expected to exceed in intellect and character the common level of their constituents, the choice made by them was thought likely to be more careful and enlightened and would in any case be made under the greater feeling of responsibility than election by the masses themselves.”

But experience with the indirect system of election has never worked out in practice satisfactorily. In France it failed to meet the expectations of its authors and was abandoned for the system of direct election, except for the choice of senators , and this has been the experience of most states where it has been tried.

Objections to Indirect Election :

Where the party system is well developed, the indirect scheme is likely to degenerate into  a cumbrous formality, since the intermediate electors will be chosen under party pledges to vote for particular candidates. This has been the history of the indirect system for choosing the President and Vice President of the United States, where the presidential electors have become mere party puppets, Without judgment or freedom of action in performing the high functions that were intended to be exercised by them.

Wherever the intermediate electors are reduced to the position of party puppets, they are certain to be persons of less weight, as Lord Brougham observed, because their office is only occasional and temporary and hence their sense of responsibility is weakened.

It may be safely asserted, said Francis Lieber,

“that the Anglican people are distinctly in favor of simple elections.”

Elections by middlemen deprive the representation of its directness in responsibility and temper the first electors lose their interest, because they do not know what their action may end in no distinct candidates can be before the constituents and be canvassed by them, and inasmuch as the number of electors is a small one, intrigue is made easy.

Manifestly, whatever may be the advantages of indirect election, a suffrage which limits the power of the vote merely to the election of those who are to choose instead of those who are to represent him will not satisfy the masses in the present state of the world’s opinion concerning the nature of representative government.  The idea is out of harmony with the Spirit of modern democracy.

One of the chief merits of popular government comes from the fact that it stimulates interest in public affairs and increases the political intelligence of the masses. If a middleman is interposed between the voter and the object of his choice, his interest is necessarily diminished and his opportunity for political education weakened.

If a person is lit to choose an elector, said Lord Brougham, he is fit to choose a representative. He may, of course, be unfit to vote wisely upon a measure or a question, of public policy and still be it to choose some one to act for him in such matters. Finally, the indirect system tends to increase the evils of bribery, because the ultimate electoral body is much less numerous and consequently more easily reached by corrupt influences than the whole mass of voters.

Public Versus Secret Voting :

Again, the value and effectiveness of the electoral privilege depend to some extent upon the manner in which the formality of voting is exercised. Opinion and practice are now universal that if the privilege is to be exercised freely and independently, guarantees must be provided under which the choice or decision of the voter can be expressed in secret. Formerly, however, the practice of oral or public voting had its defenders and in practice it was the general rule.

Montesquieu defended it on the ground that it afforded a means by which the common people could be assisted and instructed by the more enlightened.  John Stuart Mill defended it on the ground that the duty of voting, like any other public duty, should be performed under the eye and criticism of the public a duty in the proper performance of which every one has an interest and a right to consider himself wronged when it is not so performed.

More recently the secret ballot was characterized by Professor Treitschke as

“the shabbiest trick that was ever proposed in the name of liberalism.”

It was, he said, unreasonable and immoral voting is a public responsibility and its exercise should be public no man can have a true sense of political honor who does not feel humiliated when he slinks up to the ballot box and slips his paper in.

From the first, however, there were men like Harrington who defended secret voting as an essential condition to a free and independent suffrage. But until 1920, the system of public voting prevailed in Prussia until 1909 in Saxony until 1888 in Bavaria, and until 1901 in Denmark. Apparently Hungary (except the city of Budapest and the cities which enjoy municipal home rule) and Soviet Russia are the only countries left in which  public oral voting is required-or permitted. In Prussia, especially, the results were deplorable.

The government took advantage of the opportunity which it afforded to exert pressure upon the electors to vote for government candidates, and landholders and employers did likewise in respect to those who were more  or less subject to their control. The result was, large numbers of voters, rather than be exposed to intimidation of this kind or to loss of their positions through having their votes known to the public, abstained from voting.

In the elections of 1903, while 75 per cent of the registered electors of Prussia voted for the election of members of the Reichstag, for which the system Of envelope, and therefore, secret, voting prevailed, only 23.6 per cent voted for members of the Prussian Landtag under the system of public voting.

Nevertheless, the system was defended by Beth-mann-Hollweg in a speech on February 10, 1910, before the Landtag, in which he said :

“We are against secret suffrage because, in the place of developing in the elector the sentiment of responsibility, it attenuates it while on the other hand it favors terrorism on the part of Socialists against the bourgeois electors.”

The French Method of Voting Prior to 1914 :

In France, strictly secret voting did not exist before 1914. Ballots were provided by the candidates themselves, rather than by the state, and were distributed among the electors in advance of the election, and While the law required the ballots to be printed on white paper and without any external marks or signs by which they could be identified, there was no restriction as to their size or shape.

Naturally each candidate took advantage of the opportunity which the absence of the latter requirement afforded to Provide  himself with a ballot of such size or shape as,to enable him is identify his own, when it was being cast by the voter. The polling room was open to the general public and there was no pro vision for screened voting booths as in the United States or for concealing the ballot in an envelope as Was the method employed in Belgium and for the Reichstag erections in Germany.

Under these conditions it was fairly easy for candidates or their representatives, for employers, or for government watchers to determine for whom the ballots were intended when they were handed to the election officers by Whom they were placed in the urn in full view Of the assembled spectators. After a long controversy between the Chamber and the Senate over the reform Of this method of voting, a law was finally passed in July, 1914, providing for a system of envelope voting, of ballots furnished by the state, Which are obtainable by the voter only when he enters the voting hall and which are required to be placed in the envelope in a screened voting booth (cabine d’isolement).

The law was passed in the face of considerable objection, especially against the provision for voting booths, which it was said would be cabines de réflexion and would, besides, entail large expense. The Senate refused to accept a provision permitting candidates to have watches at the polls for the purpose of challenging the right of electors who were believed to be disqualified.

Facilities for Voting :

Finally, it may be observed that the value of the electoral franchise depends in some measure upon the opportunities which are provided for its convenient exercise by the mass of the electorate, especially the working classes. Before the World War it was one of the outstanding grievances of the Social Democrats in Germany that the elections were not held  on Sundays when workingmen and government employees were free to go to the polls.

There were no laws such as are common in the United States which allow such persons to absent themselves from their Work or offices on election day for the period of time necessary to cast their ballots, without deduction of their wages of salaries.

Under the Circumstances large numbers of voters were prevented from exercising in fact a privilege which the law conferred upon them. The German government, controlled as it was by those who desired to keep down the Socialist vote, refused to permit the elections to be held on Sundays. The new German constitutions, however, expressly provide that the elections shall be held on Sunday, and this practice is general throughout Europe.

Naturally, the smaller the voting district and hence the shorter the distance which must he traveled by the elector to reach the voting place, the fewer is likely to be the number of voters who will be deterred by considerations of convenience. As pointed out above, one explanation of the large number of abstensions from voting in Belgium prior to 1893 was the necessity which the voters were under of journeying to the capital town of the arrondissement in order to vote.

One further recent reform which has had the effect of increasing the value of the electoral franchise is the provision now common in the United States by which electors who are absent from home on election day may forward their ballot by mail and have the result recorded the same as if it were cast personally by the elector at his voting place.

A similar provision is contained in the British Representation of the Peoples Act of 1918, but the practice does not appear to have yet been introduced on the Continent. Under the conditions of modern life the facility for voting thus provided serves to prevent the disfranchisement of large numbers whose occupation, business, health, or pleasure require them to be absent from their voting districts on election day.