A stratagem to delegitimize democracy

This paper should be familiar. It was featured by Levitt in the New York Times and has been discussed at length in these circles. It describes what happened when a Swiss Canton allowed mailing ballots in an election. Participation fell dramatically. The article concludes that most people vote because showing up at the poll booth signals you are participating in the election.

I was recently reminded of this paper by an article on Slashdot telling a similar story:

Voting fell 83% in an all digital election

Why should we care? Many anarchists, including me, argue that if one is to vote, it is better to cast a blank ballot than to pick the least worst candidate. If the least worst candidate gets a sufficient number of votes, it may send a weak and noisy signal to the population about the ideas held by some anarchists. However, non-voting sends a better signal. A low turn out indicates that people do not really care about the election. It indicates they perceive the different candidates as similar. Better, it attacks the myth that democracy is representative. It creates a visible distance between the state and the citizens.

Indeed, the success of democracy has relied on letting people believe that as long as anyone could become an institutional exploiter there was no exploitation going on. In Democracy: the God that Failed, Hoppe argues that in monarchies, people clearly understand the nature of the state as a separate organization. A democracy with a lot of eager participation is a recipe for collectivist arguments about the “will of the people”. Low turnout allows the state to be viewed as a separate parasite.

Therefore, I suggest that libertarian pushs for internet or text message ballot in the US. I do not think the government would see that one coming. It seems to me that any proposal to have Internet voting would look like the will of technology and democracy enthusiasts, not anti-democracy activists.

Imagine for a second Internet voting is used during the next election and voting drops 83 percent... This would deal a serious blow to the collectivist rhetoric about a government “by the people”. It would also considerably increase the proportion of principled votes which might be a good thing.

I want to make it clear that I am not calling for change through the ballot. If you have that impression, I have been terribly misunderstood. I do NOT think this is a magic bullet, and it will obviously not lead to libertopia. Still, it is a reasonably easy battle to win. Politicians want to appear as technology savvy and might go for it, and the public might go for it. There's a nice opportunity here.

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The paper you link doesn't claim to show that mail-in ballots decrease voter turnout. Turnout increased, but by less than we would expect given such a dramatic decrease in the cost of voting. People were still free to vote in person, and those who did so still got the signalling benefits of voting. It's just that adding an easier but less visible option does not increase turnout.

I doubt many politicians would go for an all electronic ballot, which is what you'd need to reduce voter turnout (by denying voters signalling benefits). Even then, I wouldn't be so confident. The all-electronic Hawaiian election you link to was for a neighbourhood board. My suspicion is that among the little old ladies likely to bother with that sort of election, electronic voting would be more costly than in-person voting.

Actually, just looked at the

Actually, just looked at the paper more carefully. On average mail-in voting increased turnout slightly, but decreased it in some cantons in which most people live in small communities. The explanation is that in small communities without postal voting, anyone who doesn't show up can easily be identified as a nonvoter. Postal voting introduces some doubt and thereby reduces the cost of nonvoting.

Still, making voting easier is almost certainly going to increase turnout at the aggregate level.


Online elections would be easily hijacked by small special interest groups, either with principles of the kind that named Fethullah Gülen as the world's most influential intellectual, or unprincipled groups like the one that chose Stephen Colbert's name for a space station.

That's not a bug, it's a

That's not a bug, it's a feature. If politicians lose the election to a clown (or to Colbert) that would be a great blow to the myth of democracy as a grand respectable process.

And you don't have to worry in the meantime, hanmeng, ...

...since what we have now has already been hijacked by small special interest groups.

Or politicians could gather

Or politicians could gather to alter the participation results, i.e. make the public believe more people voted.

Since a higher proportion of

Since a higher proportion of hackers are libertarian then the population at large, I wonder if moving to an "only online" voting system (especially one that could be hijacked) might make a libertarian electoral victory more likely.

Only a secret ballot can be hacked

The only way for an honest national election is to post the voter registrations and the ballots.