Requisites of Democracy for the electorate. The strength and stability of modern states are usually attributed to the fact that they are democratic. It is argued that if the people make the laws that they obey and select the persons to administer such laws, there is the largest likelihood that general welfare will be secured and the least danger of dissatisfaction and revolution. A more careful analysis of the term “democracy” and how a democratic government is organized is desirable.
Democracy is based upon the theory of equality and, from the political point of view, includes these two concepts:
1. Civil liberty, or the right of each person to equal freedom, within a certain sphere, from interference on the part of other persons or of the government.
2. Political liberty, or the right to share in exercising the authority of the state.
Accordingly, a state is democratic when, from the standpoint of the former, all its citizens are guaranteed an equal amount of civil liberty, or, as usually stated, are equal before the law and, from the standpoint of the latter, when a large proportion of its citizens take some part in the sovereign power of legally expressing the state’s will. A state in which all are equally exempt from interference and all share equally in exercising such authority as exists would be a perfect democracy; such a condition is, in practice, impossible. The actual political authority exercised by the mass of citizens is determined by the following.
a. The extent of the electorate, that is, the proportion of the entire citizen body that are active citizens or the number that may legally exercise governing powers at any time or in any way.
b. The powers of the electorate. These powers may be exercised directly by the electorate as an organ of government or indirectly by controlling the electorate legally exerting over the government’s ordinary organs. Indirectly it may exert a certain control by the pressure of public opinion. If the electorate exercises only small powers and at irregular or infrequent intervals, real authority is in the ordinary government’s hands. The extent of the electorate is only an apparent test of democracy. Only when the electorate directly exercises large powers, or where its control over the entire government is extensive and constant is the electorate an important governmental factor.
Hence in a pure democracy, the electorate would coincide with the entire citizen body and directly exercise all governmental authority. But no state finds it expedient to widen its electorate beyond a fractional part of its entire population. In no modern state could even this narrowed electorate exercise all governing powers.
The degree of democracy will depend, then, upon the limitations placed by a state upon its electorate, Upon the direct part played by the electorate in government, and upon the relation existing between the electorate and the ordinary organs of government.
Moreover, since unanimous consent among many persons is unlikely, and some form of majority must prevail, the question of dealing with the minority remains, and states find it expedient to devise means of protecting this body by giving it a legal method of expressing its will.
Accordingly, the limitations placed by states upon the size of their electorates, the authority exercised by the electorate indirectly utilizing their control over the ordinary organs of government, how the electorate exercises political authority directly without the intermediate use of other governmental organs, and the methods of representing and protecting the minority will form the subdivisions of this article.
It should be noted that political democracy does not necessarily imply economic or social democracy. Even where political rights and powers are widespread and fairly distributed, there may exist wide discrepancies in wealth distribution, preventing economic equality, and clearly marked class distinctions, or castes, preventing social equality.
Where such conditions exist, political democracy finds difficulties in successful operation since any superiority or power tends to be translated into political control. Hence a democratic state finds it desirable to secure a fair degree of economic and social equality.
Theories of the Nature of the Suffrage:
The process of voting exercises the functions of the electorate. Concerning this political right, various theories have been held.
1. The tribal theory:
This theory appeared in the early tribal organization of the Greek, Roman, and Germanic peoples and reached its highest development in the Greek city-state. It regarded suffrage as a necessary attribute of membership in the state. State and individual were identified. Neither had any interests that conflicted with the other, and voting on public policy questions was a part of the community’s life in which every citizen shared.
Citizenship might be narrow and exclusive, but each person was expected to share in government work within the citizen class. Suffrage was not viewed as a right or a privilege but as a necessary and natural part of every citizen’s life. Membership in the state carried with it the obligation to take an active part in its life. The modern practice of requiring citizenship as a qualification for voting represents a survival of this theory.
2. The feudal theory:
In the latter part of the Middle Ages, when the representation system was being developed, the right to vote was considered a vested privilege, attached to those occupying a particular status in society, and usually associated with land ownership. Modern property qualifications for voting are a survival of this theory, as are the systems of plural voting, such as that which existed until recently in Great Britain, where persons who owned estates in various parts of the country had the right to vote in each of these places.
3. The natural rights theory:
The theory of an original state of nature, in which all men were free and equal and possessed natural rights, and the establishment of the state and government through voluntary contact to popular sovereignty doctrine. All political power came from the people. They alone could create law, and the government was their agent, receiving its delegated powers from the people who created it.
Following these principles, the right to take part in government was a natural right, by which the general will of the people could be discovered. The government kept responsible for the consent of the governed. According to this theory, which reached its highest development connected with the revolutions in England in the seventeenth century and the American and French revolutions in the eighteenth century, the right to vote was viewed as an abstract right that people possessed under the law of nature.
It was also appealed to extend the suffrage to women and other disfranchised classes and widen the electorate’s direct governing powers by such devices as the initiative and referendum. The fallacy in this theory results from confusing the ethical and the legal concept of law and rights. Only those possess the right to vote, in the legal sense, upon whom the state has conferred such right by law. From the point of view of political expediency, the state may legally and quite properly restrict suffrage by imposing such qualifications as it considers necessary.
4. The legal theory:
According to the legal theory, which most political scientists hold, the electorate is viewed as one of the organs of government, whose composition and the laws of the state determine powers. Voting thereby becomes a function of government, the exercise of public trust. Each state decides who may vote and what the voters may do from the point of view of political efficiency. Suffrage, therefore, is not a natural right but a political right conferred by law.
This theory serves as the justification for various reform movements, such as proportional representation, the short ballot, corrupt practices acts, and educational qualifications for voting, the purpose of which is to secure a competent and effective electorate as a part of the governmental organization.
5. The ethical theory:
The exponents of the ethical theory argue the desirability of the right to vote, not as a natural right but as a means for the complete development of human personality and worth. By taking an active part in government, the citizen becomes more interested in public questions and more intelligent concerning public policy than he otherwise would be. His self-government capacity is thereby increased, and his dignity and self-respect are enhanced by the opportunity for self-expression in political affairs.
This theory has been used to justify the extension of suffrage, as a means of political education, to classes not fully competent to exercise it wisely. The granting of suffrage to former slaves at the close of the American Civil War and the recent establishment of wide Dowers of self-government in the Philippine Islands and India are examples of this policy.
It may be noted that the first, third, and fifth of these theories tend to widen suffrage and equalize political rights. The second and fourth theories restrict suffrage based on a particular privilege or ability. If suffrage is viewed as a right or a privilege, the citizen is theoretically free to exercise it or not as he sees fit. If it is viewed as a legal obligation or duty, it may be argued that voting should be compulsory so that the real will of the electorate may be accurately represented.
In practice, however, only a few states impose penalties for failure to vote. It is usually believed that better results are secured if the citizen is under moral obligation only to perform this political duty and that compulsory voting tends to lower the character of the privilege, create a feeling of resentment against the government, and increase political danger corruption.
The extent of the Electorate.
The widening of the electorate is one of the most characteristic features of recent political development. States have always made a distinction between citizens and none citizens, based mainly in ancient times on common blood and worship, in the Middle Ages on personal allegiance to the ruler, and more recently on territorial sovereignty. Within this class of citizens, all of whom owe allegiance to the state and may claim its protection, and a further division has been made into those who have not and those who have the right to share in expressing the state’s will.
This latter class has usually been limited to a comparatively small part of the total citizen body. In the city-states of Greece and the Roman Republic, a fair proportion of the population had, under certain restrictions, a share in governmental authority.
However, Rome’s expansion and the establishment of the Empire destroyed this early democratic progress. The modern electorate developed from the local moots and assemblies of the Teutonic peoples and the representation system, which created parliaments in several new national states that appeared toward the end of the medieval period.
Italy and Germany’s commercial centers also revived some of the early city-states’ methods in using the elective method for selecting government officials. In England, a national electorate came into existence in the thirteenth century to select delegates to advise the king and his council on taxation matters.
The right to vote was limited by property qualifications in the rural districts and was restricted to members of the monopolistic corporations in the boroughs. The religious disputes following the Reformation added religious qualifications for voting in many states. As late as the beginning of the nineteenth century, only 3 percent of England’s population possessed the right to vote.
The doctrines of natural rights, equality of men, and popular sovereignty, which was prevalent in the eighteenth century philosophic theories, manifested themselves in demand for universal manhood suffrage. In the French Revolution, these doctrines were put into practice. In the United States, where English political methods had been established without feudal institutions’ background, comparatively extensive suffrage was further widened due to these theories by abolishing religious and property qualifications.
Even in England, the injustice resulting from the restricted and unevenly distributed franchise led to the nineteenth century’s Reform Acts. The suffrage was extended to the farm laborers and the city workers. Other states, affected by the last century’s general democratic tendency, have established a more or less extended electorate, and agitation for wider and more equal suffrage still exists. At present, in the more liberal states, almost half the entire population are voters. The remaining limitations, some being survivals of earlier restrictions, others being the result of political expediency, may be summarized as follows:
All states agree that a certain maturity is a requisite to voting’s political intelligence and judgment. Hence a minimum age limit to the exercise of suffrage is universal, the usual requirement being twenty to twenty-five years of age. This qualification alone removes from the electorate almost half the entire population.
Political authority in its origin was closely connected with military power, and in many early political societies, the freemen in arms formed the electorate. This association of political power with military service excluded women from active Participation. When modem states arose, women were legally and economically dependent. While in some states, through descent, women might occupy the throne, the idea that women as a class should share with men in government did not exist.
In fact, except for the philosophical theory of “universal suffrage.” held by a small minority of extreme radicals at the time of the French Revolution, it was not until the latter half of the nineteenth century that woman’s suffrage was seriously urged. Even today, in many countries, it has made little progress. Before the First World War, women had secured the right to vote in some American states, in Australia and Finland, and had the right to vote in local elections in Great Britain, New Zealand, and Denmark. Organized movements for the enfranchisement of women were actively at work in many countries. During the war, women’s important part gave an impetus to their demand for political rights and led to a general extension of women’s suffrage.
By constitutional amendment, women were given equal political rights with men in the United States. In England, women were given the right to vote in parliamentary elections. After the First World War, the new constitutions of Russia, Germany, Poland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, the Irish Free State, and, more recently, Italy and France conferred upon women full or partial rights of suffrage. In many of these countries, the enfranchisement of women was followed by their election to public office.
The opponents of women’s suffrage argued that women were physically unable to perform all the duties and obligations of citizenship, especially military service. Hence, they had no right to demand their privileges. It was held that active participation in public affairs would unsex women and destroy their valuable qualities and services as mothers and homemakers. If a wife voted differently from her husband, it would tend to create dissension in the family; if she voted according to her husband’s advice, her vote was merely a duplication of his. Scripture’s authority was used to show that God intended women for a position of obedience rather than authority.
In Catholic states, women’s suffrage was opposed because they feared that the priests would control women’s opinions. Many argued that women would be guided by sentiment and emotion rather than reason and that they would take little interest in public affairs after the first novelty wore off. It was believed that women’s best influence could be exerted indirectly and none politically. Public careers for women would destroy differently and chivalry toward the sex, make them different creatures, and be bad for the state.
The arguments in favor of equal rights for women took various forms. It was pointed out that the proper criterion for determining the right to vote was moral and intellectual, not physical, and that women should logically be given equal civil and political rights with men. With the entrance of women into the industry, it was argued that they needed the right to vote to protect themselves against class legislation and secure proper regulations concerning hours, wages, and employment conditions.
Some believed that women’s active participation in political affairs would have a purifying and elevating influence and ensure better government. The doctrine of “no taxation without representation” was also used by many women who were owners of the property. Universal education and the growing economic independence of women did much to break down opposition to the movement for woman’s suffrage.
When the population’s movement from one country to another is common, citizenship becomes an important and complicated problem. Most states require either original or naturalized citizenship as a qualifier for suffrage. Citizenship at birth is decided by one of two principles or by a combination of both. Following the principle of jus sanguinis, a child’s nationality follows that of his parents or one of them, regardless of the place of birth. Following the principle of jus soli, nationality is determined by the place of birth, regardless of the parents’ citizenship. The former principle is the older and was incorporated into Roman law. The latter principle appeared in connection with the feudal theory of territorial sovereignty.
Conflicts resulting from these two theories of citizenship are usually decided by treaty agreements among states, or by the practice of states in declining to assert their claims as long as the citizen whose status is in dispute remains outside their territory, or by allowing persons of double nationality to choose the one they prefer. The principle has an advantage in the fact that citizenship is easily proved, but it is illogical and unsatisfactory in other respects. The principle of jus sanguinis lacks the advantage of easy proof but is, in general, more natural and reasonable and has been more widely adopted.
Modern states differ widely in their attitude toward admitting aliens to citizenship by formal grant or naturalization. Citizenship conferred by this process is a gratuitous concession on the part of the state. It may be granted on prescribed conditions or withheld for any reason the state considers expedient. In some cases, the process is made easy, and resident aliens are encouraged to become citizens. In others, the process is so difficult as to discourage the admission of new citizens. In the United States, only white persons and persons of African descent are eligible for naturalization. Naturalize citizenship does not necessarily carry with it the right to vote. Citizenship and suffrage are by no means coextensive. Many citizens are excluded from suffrage in all states, and states may, if they choose, confer the right to vote upon resident aliens.
Closely connected with citizenship is the requirement that to vote, a person must establish a legal residence in a particular place for a certain period of time. In the United States, where the population is especially mobile, 3 periods of residence ranging from thirty days in some election districts to two years in some commonwealths is demanded, and a person may vote only in the district containing his residence. In Great Britain, a person possessing certain property qualifications may vote in one district in addition to that which he resides. Some form of registration to prevent fraud in voting is in practice in all states.
Since modern suffrage originated during the feudal period, its exercise was limited to property holders for a long time. An early English statute required a freehold worth forty shillings a year as a requisite for voting, and for centuries the possession of real estate or the payment of taxes was necessary. According to the current theory, voting was the accompanying right of property, not citizenship, since property owners alone had a permanent share and interest in the community.
Even in modern times, it has been urged that the assembly which imposes taxes should be elected by those who pay something toward the taxes imposed. While this theory has largely disappeared, certain of its elements survive. A small poll tax remains as a qualification for voting in many states. In some, property possession gives to its owner additional votes or special privileges in government. While paupers, dependent on the state, are usually excluded from the electorate, property qualifications, in general, are being abandoned. According to the theory in present-day Russia, property possession becomes a distinct disqualification for government participation.
6. Mental and moral qualifications:
Religious qualifications for voting have practically disappeared, although the constitutions of several commonwealths in the United States provide that no person shall vote who does not believe in a God. Criminals in confinement and idiots and lunatics are usually excluded, and sometimes those who have been convicted of certain crimes, such as bribery in elections, are temporarily or permanently disqualified. Recently, educational tests involving the ability to read and write have been adopted in many states. This requisite is based on the sound principle of political expediency that voting should be intelligent.
The difficulty lies in the lack of a practical method of determining intelligence on public questions. Reading and writing does not necessarily imply intelligent knowledge of public questions or high honesty and integrity standards. Persons of high attainments in certain fields of knowledge may be absolutely ignorant and indifferent concerning political matters.
Sometimes illiterate persons may possess sound sense and judgment on governmental questions. Where propaganda is used through the press deliberately to misinform the voters, the ability to read may even be an obstacle to forming sound opinions. In some cases, as in the Southern states of the United States and British South Africa, educational tests are administered mainly to disfranchise the black population.
Also, there are exceptional qualifications in certain states. The residents of the District of Columbia are entirely disfranchised. In Russia, those who employ others for the sake of profit or who live on income not derived from their own labor, monks, and priests of all religious denominations, and members of the former ruling dynasty and of the former secret police were excluded from voting. Soldiers and sailors on actual military duty are disfranchised in some states.
Qualifications for suffrage are sometimes applied to the entire state by the constitution, as in the German Republic, or by a single law, as in France. In England, suffrage was established by a series of laws, each of which extended the suffrage and partially repealed the previous statute. The Reform Acts of 1832 and 1867 and the Representation of the People Acts of 1884 and 1918 was the most important.
In the United States, except for the Fifteenth Amendment, providing that the right of citizens to vote shall not be denied on account of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” and the Nineteenth Amendment, extending full and equal suffrage rights to women qualifications of suffrage are left to the separate commonwealths, the Constitution providing that for federal suffrage the voters “in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature.” In practice, the electorate’s full strength is never actually exercised in any country; sickness, absence from home, and deliberate or thoughtless failure to vote, reducing the total. In elections in which there is little general interest, the vote cast is often but a small part of the total number of eligible voters.
Control of Electorate over Government:
Modem states differ in the degree of control which the electorate exercises over the ordinary officials of government. If the constitution may be modified only after referencing to popular vote, the electors determine the form of government, and by the insertion of a Bill of Rights in the constitution may exercise a negative control by excluding the ordinary government from a certain field of powers. The electorate’s real authority will be determined largely by the method in which the ordinary government officials are chosen and by the control which the electorate exercises over them, either in influencing or in checking their actions.
As soon as the area and population exceed a comparatively small limit, it becomes increasingly difficult for the electorate to exercise direct political power. Popular assemblies either are attended by only a minority of those qualified or become too unwieldy for actual usefulness, incapable of serious deliberation, or dealing with complicated problems. Modern democracies have met this difficulty by selecting smaller groups, representing the whole, creating law, and choosing officials to administer it. Representation and election are thus two means by which the electorate keeps in touch with the government’s other organs. These bonds are further strengthened by the principle of local self-government, according to which certain affairs are left in the smaller units’ hands. In those areas, a more intimate connection between the electorate and government obtains than would be possible in the state as a whole.
The electorate’s control over lawmaking representatives and public officials is narrowed in many states because heredity, appointment, and indirect election remove part of the government from its influence. Besides, in many lawmaking bodies, the representatives, once chosen, are permitted to exercise their own judgment on questions at issue and are under no legal compulsion to express their constituents’ wishes. Of course, in all elective offices, the term’s length affects the power of the electorate. Frequent elections allow the opportunity to indicate approval or disapproval of certain policy lines, and desire for reelection leads many representatives to follow the wishes of those on whom that reelection depends. In some cases, the electorate may remove and select officials, utilizing the recall. A certain number of voters, by petition, may demand a popular vote as to whether or not a certain elected official shall remain in office.
The indirect election system, by which the electorate chooses a smaller body, which selects officials of government, was popular in the early period of modern democracy. It was upheld that the ultimate choice would rest in a body possessing a high average of ability and intelligence and that the evils of party passion and hasty popular emotion would be avoided.
Against this system may be urged that voters lose interest if a middleman is interposed between them and the objects of their choice. Besides, the danger of political corruption may be increased if the electoral body is narrowed to a small group, more easily reached by special interests. The party system is well developed, and the indirect election is likely to degenerate into a cumbrous formality since the electors will be pledged to vote for the party candidates. This has taken place in the method of choosing the president and vice president in the United States. The indirect election system is not in harmony with the spirit of modern democracy and has been largely abandoned in the new governments of modern states.
The electorate’s actual power also depends to some extent on the method by which voting is exercised. It is generally believed that secret voting enables the voter to freely and independently exercise his choice, without the bringing of pressure to bear upon him by the government in power or by those who can intimidate him in any way. At the same time, some believe that voting, as a public responsibility, should be exercised publicly and that secret voting develops a feeling of irresponsibility.
Easy facilities for voting also increase the actual power of the electorate. If elections are held on working days, and the workers lose financially if they take the time to vote, the actual number of votes cast will be reduced, and the working classes’ influence will be reduced. The practice of holding elections on Sunday became general throughout Europe. If the voting district is large, requiring many voters to travel long distances, many voters will find it difficult to exercise their suffrage. Provision has been made in some states for a system of absentee voting. Enabling those who me away from home on election day to forward their ballots by mull.
Under modern life conditions, anything that increases the ease and convenience of voting increases the electorate’s actual power and prevents the disfranchisement of those whose business, health or amusements would otherwise interfere.
In addition to public opinion pressure, which means public meetings, petitions, the press, and the lobby may be brought to bear on governmental officials, the electorate in modern states exerts a powerful influence utilizing political parties. These voluntary associations of voters, aiming to control all the organs of government and establishing behind the government machinery of nominations, conventions, and committees, determine the real policy of the state and give to the electorate a most effective way of making the government constantly and promptly responsive to its will.
On the other hand, if party machinery falls under the control of a few men, the electorate finds itself less powerful than ever, for the legal irresponsibility of party bosses makes them correspondingly difficult to attack or remove. As political parties become a legal part of the government and are responsible for the electorate’s wishes, the latter’s authority over the government will increase. The direct primaries system was adopted to democratize political parties and extend the voters’ control over nominations and elections.
Direct Governing Powers of Electorate:
In addition to the influence indirectly exercised by the electorate in its control over the ordinary government, a direct share in governing is possessed by the electorate in some states. Not only does the electorate, utilizing jury service, exercise direct judicial powers in many states, but it also takes part in the actual creation of law. Direct legislation by the assembled voters has survived in the swiss cantons, partly because of the small size of the units, partly because of Rousseau’s influence, who taught that direct democracy alone embodied true popular sovereignty.
The surviving town meetings in New England represent similar conditions and beliefs. In some states, direct legislation has been recently adapted to extend democracy and remedy some of the representative bodies’ evils. Modem communication methods have removed some of the hindrances to direct democracy in large areas, and government by the people’s mass has been revived. This takes the following forms:
1. The initiative:
by which a given number of voters may, by petition, originate a law. In its direct form, the proposed measure is submitted to the voters for their decision. In its indirect form, the proposed measure is submitted to the legislature for its action, sometimes followed by the legislature, in case of unfavorable action, by submitting the question to the voters. The purpose of the initiative is to enable the electorate to secure the passage of laws desired by the majority, regardless of the legislature’s wishes.
2. The referendum:
A proposed law or constitutional amendment is submitted to the popular vote and becomes law if ratified by the required majority. This may be compulsory for certain kinds of laws or optional at the legislature’s discretion or if demanded by the petition of a certain number of voters.
3. The plebiscite:
A certain question is submitted to the popular vote. The decision sometimes has no legal force but is intended to express public opinion and guide the government’s policy.
Although constitutions were first adopted by popular vote in the American states and France, direct legislation by the electorate has been most highly developed in Switzerland. Several cantons forming the Swiss federation retain the ancient folkmoot, or Landesgemeinde, in which all the voters meet, pass laws, vote taxes, and elect officials. In the Swiss federal government, the referendum is compulsory for all constitutional amendments and optional, at the request of thirty thousand voters or eight cantons’ legislatures, for general application laws. Fifty thousand voters may demand either a specific or a general revision of the federal constitution. Still, there is no federal initiative for ordinary laws unless they are put in the form of a constitutional amendment.
In all the cantons, there is a compulsory referendum for constitutional changes, and in all except conservative Freiburg and those having the Landesgemeinde, the referendum for ordinary laws of a general nature is either compulsory or optional, the number of voters required to demand a referendum in the latter case depending upon the population of the canton. The initiative may be used in all but one of the cantons for constitutional revision and three to enact or revise ordinary legislation.
In actual practice, the referendum is used much more than the initiative, and a large proportion of proposed laws are rejected. In 1921 an amendment to the constitution was adopted. It provides that international treaties, concluded for an indeterminate period or more than fifteen years, shall be submitted to a popular vote for adaption or rejection if the demand is made by thirty thousand voters or by eight cantons. This is a unique extension of the principle of direct legislation. Many of the new constitutions drawn up by European states after the First World War contained liberal provisions for using the initiative and referendum.
In the United States, the electorate exercises direct legislation in the New England town meetings. The voters in mass meetings elect town officials, vote taxes, and decide questions of local concern. Almost from the beginning of our history, popular votes have been taken to adopt and amend state constitutions. No national referendum exists in the United States, but several questions are a popular vote in the states. In some cases, the legislatures may, and in others, submit certain measures to a popular referendum. In some states, a certain percentage of the voters may demand a referendum on action taken by the legislatures. Although petition to the legislatures is used in some states, the initiative is also used to request action on matters of interest to the voters. Recent city charters in the United States make wide provision for the use of initiative and referendum.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Direct Legislation:
Among the advantages claimed for direct popular legislation are those shown on the following page:
1. The voters may force action on apathetic legislatures or prevent legislation that does not reflect the majority’s wishes.
2. The voters are less likely than the legislature to be improperly influenced or hesitate to oppose special interests.
3. Public sentiment is awakened, and government interest is stimulated if voters have questions of importance to consider.
4. The local referendum may adapt general law to particular communities’ needs utilizing the local option.
Among the disadvantages are these:
1. Voters take little interest in such elections. Because of their frequency and because many citizens are not interested in many questions submitted, the number of votes cast is usually small.
2. The referendum destroys the sense of responsibility of legislatures. Unwise laws are passed in the expectation that popular vote will destroy them, and the advantages of having law framed by a group of men specially selected and trained is largely lost.
3. It is difficult to frame complicated statutes concerning economic or social questions so that a simple Yes or No vote will indicate the people’s real will.
4. Laws prepared by initiative petitions are often so carelessly drawn that extensive litigation results.
5. Constitutional amendment by initiative and referendum leads to the inclusion of such material that should be left in statute form.
6. Voters cannot inform themselves on many of the questions submitted and therefore vote unintelligent.
The electorate has become practically a separate and important government department because of the wide powers, direct and indirect, exercised by the voters in modern states. Standing behind the ordinary executive legislative and judicial organs. It exercises political powers, varying in different states but tending to become more extensive as its intelligence and political ability increase.
It exercises executive powers to elect or recall administration officers it shares in legislative powers by electing representatives. The initiative and referendum take part in judicial decisions utilizing jury service. In some states, it has a deciding voice in the formulation of the constitution, thus determining the state’s fundamental organization.
It exercises more direct and legal control over political parties, hitherto the chief bond between people and government. Simultaneously, restrictions on the extent of the electorate, once numerous, are being removed. This process makes it coincide more and more with the politically capable population of the state. Also, the growing size and powers of the electorate have brought into prominence certain defects of democracy in incompetence, extravagance, instability, and lack of interest and this revelation has led in recent years to a reaction in favor of the greater efficiency to be secured by trained experts, Chosen by civil service tests or by appointment, and by a shorter ballot, concentrating the attention of the voters on the important and conspicuous offices only.
In the opinion of many, the devices of direct democracy, such as the direct primary and the initiative, referendum, and recall, have not worked as well as was expected, from the point of view either of increasing the intelligence and interest of the voters or of improving the efficiency of government.
In a direct democracy, it is conceivable that the wishes of a minority, consisting of almost half the entire electorate, might be completely disregarded. Several devices are used to prevent this possible tyranny of the majority, granting minorities more or less share in authority.
The systems of the federal government and local self-government there are favorable to minorities in that they allow local communities to adjust government to their own needs and avoid the possible dissatisfaction that uniform legislation over the entire area of the state would create, besides, in driving the state into districts and sub-districts with officials and representatives chosen separately by each, the chance that the minority will control someplace in much greater than would be the case if all officials were chosen on a general ticket. In all states, national legislatures are elected by the case if all officials were chosen on a general ticket.
In all states, the national legislature is elected by districts usually based on the principle of representing approximately equal numbers of the population by the process known as gerrymandering. The authority having the right to redistribute these districts often arranges them in such a way as to make it difficult for the minority to control any of them or, by combining the minority votes in a few districts, gives them fewer representatives than their strength really deserves. Because of the unequal growth of population, frequent changes in the distribution of districts are necessary if, as is usually the case, the population is the basis of representation.
Within the districts, even when honestly and equally established, there are always minorities whose votes, cam for defeated candidates, are lost, and various schemes of minority representation hate been proposed and in some cases put into practice. Sometimes it is provided by law that certain boards or commissions shall not contain more than a certain number of members of one political party, thus guaranteeing minority representation.
In districts where more than one candidate is to be elected, the plan of limited voting, by which each voter is allowed fewer votes than there are places to be filled, results unless the majority party is strong enough to divide its votes and still win, in the election of some minority members. From 1867 to 1885, this plan was tried in England, voters in places sending more than two members to Parliament being each allowed one vote less than the number of members to be chosen. In cumulative voting, each voter has as many votes as candidates to be elected and distribute them as he likes. In this way, a minority, if it concentrates its votes on one candidate, has a good chance to secure his election. This method is in use in Illinois, where three members are chosen to the lower house of the legislature from each district, giving the minority about one-third of the members.
Many political reformers have favored some form of proportional representation. According to this plan, large electoral districts are used, each providing several representatives. The voting system is so arranged that the representatives will be allotted to the different parties in proportion to the votes cast by that party.
Two main systems of proportional representation are in use. English opinion favors the method of the single transferable vote known as the Hare system. According to this plan, each voter has a single vote but may indicate his preference among the candidates by stating his first choice, second choice, etc. The quota, or several votes required for election, is then ascertained by one of two methods the number of vows cast is divided by the number of representatives to be elected, or, to make the result more accurate, by one more than the number of representatives In counting the votes, a candidate who receives sufficient first-choice votes to fill his quota is declared elected.
His surplus votes, if any, are passed on to candidates not yet elected, in the order expressed in the preferences. If the votes elect any candidate he receives as second choice, his surplus votes are given to the third choice, and so on until the full number of seats are filled. Obviously, there is a considerable amount of chance in the order in which the ballots are counted, and various devices have been suggested to secure greater accuracy. Continental opinion favors the list system, under which the voter votes for the party list and expresses his preference among the candidates upon the list. Each party secures representation in proportion to the votes cast for its list. The members apportioned to each party go to the candidates to appear on the party’s list unless the voters express a different preference.
Proportional representation is used in the Irish Free State, in the Scandinavian countries, in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, and exists in many small new states of central Europe. It is also employed in municipal elections in some cities in Canada and the United States. Proportional voting accurately represents the voters’ real wishes than the majority or plurality voting system in single-member districts. Still, in countries where there are many political parties, it often results in legislatures containing so many party groups that action is impeded and responsibility dissipated.
In Prussia, a form of minority representation aiming to guard the upper classes’ interests was formerly used. Voters were divided into three classes, not numerically. Still, according to wealth, each class represented one-third of the district’s taxable property. Each class elected one-third of the representatives or officials to which the district was entitled.
A comparatively small number of wealthy men composed the first class a somewhat larger number of well to do, the second and most citizens, the third. Hence, a minimal number elected one-third of the officials, and a minority usually controlled two thirds. In Belgium, a somewhat similar system was in use until 1913, citizens having certain qualifications as to age, property, education, etc., being given either one or two additional votes.
In England and America, plurality is usually sufficient for election. Since there are usually but two leading candidates in these countries, this convenient method works with little hardship. However, when there are more than two candidates, the one elected may receive considerably less than a majority of the votes cast. In Europe, where party groups are numerous absolute majority is often required.
In some countries, if no one receives a majority on the first ballot, a new election is held at which a plurality is sufficient to elect. This encourages numerous groups to show their strength on the first ballot. Hoping to win concessions from the leading candidates on the second. In other countries, if no candidate receives a majority, a new election decides between the two candidates that received the highest number of votes at the first election.
The peculiar arithmetical system by which presidential electors are distributed in the United States (each commonwealth being entitled to as many as it has senators and representatives in Congress, thus giving an advantage to the small commonwealths because of equal representation in the Senate and the custom of voting for presidential electors on a general ticket so that, no matter how small the majority the entire electoral vote of a commonwealth is cast for the candidate of the party that wins the election), make it possible for a president to be elected who receives a minority of the total popular vote.
A modified form of minority representation was found in the attempt, formerly common, to represent the important classes, professions, or interests in the state separately. In the Middle Ages, the three estates, clergy, nobility, and commons, received distinct representation. The constitutions of upper houses in some European states still show survivals off distinctions landowners, churchmen, large taxpayers, representatives of army and navy, and men distinguished in science and an m found in upper houses, and are chosen to represent interests or classes rather than a population or territorial divisions.
In the United States, the legal profession has wielded an influence in politics out of all proportion to its numerical strength. In recent years, various theories of representation at economic interests or occupational groups have been ardently supported. This principle was incorporated to some extent in Russia’s Soviet system and the syndicates in Fascist Italy. It underlies, in general, the new theories of communism, syndicalism, and guild socialism.