« The Apple Engineer | Main | Reader Question »

Tuesday, 08 November 2016


So retirees age 68 and over can't cast a vote that counts? So much for the notion that with age comes wisdom.

Why Kansas?
Why not North Pole
Or Mars?
As citizen of Finland
I'am surprised that a big country as yours can't find better presidents...

Unfortunately a couple of classes in civics will not weed out the ignorant. It is frustrating to see how well the big lie works, but it works really well. As for the rest of your criteria, the less said the better. Remember Campaign 2020 starts tomorrow.

In _Starship Troopers_, Heinlein suggested that only veterans should be able to vote. When questioned, he later amended that to add equivalent federal service such as Peace Corps, though there is no evidence of that in the book.

How did we end up with a choice between a self serving crook and a complete idiot? Gotta be a glitch in the system somewhere, right?

Hints: you have the senator for Wall St. in line to be majority leader IF...and a a woman who succeeded a woman. I'm from Idaho, now name those two crackerjack doozies if you will.

Isaac Asimov, in a story called Franchise*, took it a step further and used computer analysis of the answers to a number of questions by one carefully chosen person to select the President, thereby avoiding any faffing about with elections or votes.

But that may be taking things a bit far...

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franchise_(short_story)

In the early 1980s, while stationed in Scotland, there was one aspect of British government that impressed me(I do not know if it still prevails.) It was the fact, when politicians were caught in scandal, i.e. the preponderance of available evidence pointed to corruption, that particular politician would resign. British politics did include its share of corruption, but, when that corruption got to the point that everybody knew it was so, the corrupt person was gone....Such was/is not the case in US politics. It seems any of our politicians is more than willing to drag the whole damned country down, rather than step aside.

I hate to think that British politicians are of a superior build. Is it possible, the root cause of the difference is related to the value of a political position? Is it possible that the extent of political influence in the US has risen to the point that maintaining that power/influence is worth the shame?, whereas such levels of power and influence do not exist for the British politician.

It may have been Robert Frost who said: "Government is a harness; democracy makes riding in the harness easier." It must have been a much different time.

As with all things you write, your proposal is interesting. I am not certain, given the benefit of seeing the present mess, the Founders wouldn't have seen the merit in your voter structure. But, I think the problem has more to do with the extent to which federal government has reached into every aspect of individual lives: the larger the trough, the more swine will be attracted.

To give it a Lincolnesque (sp) close:

The federal government is kind of like the farmer who, through deception and cleverness, manages to obtain every other farmers hogs...........And then complains that his barnyard stinks. And it does, too. :)

I absolutely agree that we'd be in better shape if voting were limited to informed voters. How informed ? I haven't given it too much thought and there's no real point to doing so.

I also tend to think voting should be restricted to people who pay taxes and therefore have a vested interest in how their elected officials spend their money. (As opposed to people who don't pay taxes or who receive money from the government and therefore have a vested interest in how the government spends everyone else's money). The intent of that idea, by the way, isn't to limit voting, but rather, to expand taxation such that as many people as possible pay some taxes, even if it's a token amount. Ideally, that would be done by improving standards of living and shrinking the number of people dependent on government entitlement programs.

I don’t quite understand what problem you are trying to solve here. Changing the rules for one election, even if it is the Presidential election, still leaves a lot of other elections to cause “stress, aggravation, and worry.”

Elections are supposed to be stressful and worrying. For those who are elected, the stress and worry continues after the election. That is what we elect them to do, take care of things that would be aggravating for the rest of us deal with on a day to day basis.

Your solution is to give a very important part of the political process to an elite group. “House of Lords” seems like an accurate name for the rotating committee of statistics professors and census bureaucrats.

You didn’t mention how the Lords are chosen. How many elections do you think it would take for the selection process of that committee to become politicized?

Here is my definition of the problem: The longer any system of government exists, the more power it tends to accumulate. The more power any organization has, the more it attracts people willing to spend time and money to use that power for their own ends, independent from the goals of the organization. Corruption is the short name for this.

If you haven't heard this podcast, you should listen to it; it documents an experiment in which visitors to a county fair guess the weight of an ox, with guesses indexed by different demographics, as for example most educate. The results showed that a cross section of the entire population made a remarkably accurate guess (when averaged together). Not so much for the more educated participants, or any other group for that matter. Ruminating on the experiment has burned up quite a few brain cells.

Presidential candidates squandering millions and millions of dollars of privately funded donations from vested interests on high profile campaigns while laying out their policies for combating poverty and need in the nation is a shocking perversion of democracy, not to mention a gross insult to some of those whose votes they hope to elicit.
If legislation were adopted to impose controls on campaign duration and spending with a clear set of rules to govern the process then perhaps politics at the higher levels might become a little less slanted in favour of only the very rich and/or connected.
You never know, it might even cause candidates minds to focus more on policies and less on the kind of no-holds barred vehement personal attacks that have so characterised this election.
America deserves better than that. So does the world.

So people who own the property they live in -- statistically this means richer people, and in the US it almost certainly means whiter people -- get more votes than those who don't? Right.

Sorry Mike, your criteria for voting does not achieve your desired goal of screening out the blatantly ignorant - a goal which needs a great deal more definition! That said:

The age limits are arbitrary and not correlated to ignorance.

Home ownership vs renting doesn't meet your criteria. Renters are not inherently more 'ignorant' than homeowners. Nor are those out of work more informed than those working over 50% of the time.

And there is no apriori reason I can think of for giving business owners, professors, police chiefs, or high level military officers more voice than workers, non-enlisted men, consultants, doctors, or anyone else. Some of our best ideas come from those who are not considered 'elite'.

If 'ignorance' is an issue, we need to put out more information in a way people can understand. I don't mean 'news', but a proactive campaign to explain facts like the US budget (how much is actually spent on what) and what the government actually does (e.g. What does the Commerce Department do?) I would love to see a super pac or even the government itself actively promote (force feed) this type of factual data to the American people.

Some aspects of your utopian system are interesting, but the basing the number of votes on wealth and circumstance does not seem fair in the least. Some are born with wealth (and the attendant advantages and opportunities) and others earn it, but neither path necessarily leads to wisdom and good judgement.

Just to use myself as an example, in your system I would have one vote, now and probably forever. If I would have chosen a different career path in college with the goal of making money (and ultimately having the income and stability to own a home) rather than studying for several advanced degrees and working on environmental and wildlife conservation issues around the world I would likely have two votes by now. Does that seem right?

[No it does not, I'll admit. --Mike]

@Jeff: Look again; the proposed voting age is 26-76.

@Mike: You might as well round out the age of candidacy to 40-60.

re monarchy: Andy Borowitz's parody (I think) news stories for the New Yorker helped keep me sane the last few months. One of my faves was "Queen Offers to Restore British Rule Over United States" http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/queen-offers-to-restore-british-rule-over-united-states

I quote: “This two-hundred-and-forty-year experiment in self-rule began with the best of intentions, but I think we can all agree that it didn’t end well,” she said.

The Queen urged Americans to write in her name on Election Day, after which the transition to British rule could begin “with a minimum of bother.”

I'm ok with the first three tiers, but not the Leading Citizen. Having a "minimum ignorance" bar to clear is enough for me and I think giving the elites more power as spelled out here reeks of junta. Heck, they're the ones that largely got us into the pickle we're in now.

When we live in a society where many first time or rarely exercised votes can be swayed by entertainers...

Wow, not only have (different) people hit the two most obvious SF "election" references—but they've done them, including the Heinlein which nearly everybody deeply misunderstands, accurately so far as I can see. Nice jobs!

I'm basically afraid of opening the flood-gates of restricting voter participation, no matter how strongly I agree that most of my fellow-citizens are blithering idiots and, even more to the point, ignorant to the bone (as the various statistics Mike cites indicate).

I reckon that the Swiss system of government is of proven quality and I wish that much of the system were imported here to Blighty.

It would work well in the US, it partially works in some states.

In one stroke, the system turns politicians and civil servants into actual servants, as opposed to masters.

I like the tribunal idea. The who gets to vote idea not at all. Too many assumptions about who is worthy. I, for instance, would give anyone convicted of a crime or is currently serving time 4 votes, anyone with an anual income under $50,000 four votes, and anyone with a professional degree or who owns a business with more than three employees, one vote. Others likely have thier own preferences.

Just a small correction: Al Gore was Vice-President at the time of the 2000 election. He had been a Senator but not for several years at the time of the election.

Dump the electoral college. Yes, please.

Meeting conditions to be able to vote. Nope...can't support this at all. Reminds me of the justifications for Jim Crow, literacy requirements and poll taxes.

I voted today by not voting. I looked at those running for national, state and local office and found them all lacking. As I get older I find I suffer fools less and less while humanity breeds them more and more.

I don't normally talk politics online, but I'm curious:

Why, in your version of a "Utopian" election, does someone who is a stay-at-home parent have less of a voice than someone who works full time?

Why does a retired person have less of a voice than someone still pursuing his/her career?

Why does a couple with children living at home have less of a voice than a couple with no children or children living away from home?

Finally, and perhaps my biggest issue, why does a renter have less of a voice than a homeowner?

I could go on, but I'm just curious about your justification for these requirements. To me, these things seem like life choices and circumstances that don't necessarily impact fitness to vote or "ignorance" in the slightest.

I like your thinking for a change.... A simple and fair pattern recognition test could determine baseline intelligence of those worthy of voting. If that means proportionately more Asians and Jews get to vote than Blacks and Hispanics then so be it.

I would get rid of the citizen part and make anyone who has legally resided in the US and paid taxes for two years eligible.

...and I read somewhere (I think it was Arthur C. Clarke, but my memory is what it is) of a parliament simply made by 300 people (changing a third every two years, or something like that) chosen at random, more or less like you say. They select a President every four years.
The basic comment was "it can't be worst that what we have now; and it's cheaper". (I am Italian, not American. But we had a similar thing some years ago, and we voted who everyone knows, so I sympathize).

Just move to Canada and side step the whole stinking mess and be done with it. Politics in Canada is a pleasant diversion that doesn't mean a whole lot and doesn't usually intrude into real life too much. The yammering class has lots to say about it, but the ordinary man and woman can quite safely ignore it until the next 4-5 week random election is launched. We even have a figurehead royal to entertain and captivate us when they bring the little royals over for a visit!

Why you put up with your system I cannot understand...

What a fantastic Utopian dream! Can you send me a sample
of the stuff you're smoking. I too could hope for similar
dreams in this election year.

Having woken at home in Scotland to the nightmare of the Brexit vote, I'm really hoping that, now I'm visiting NYC, I'm not going to have the same nightmare tomorrow.... Twice in one year would be too much!

I would oppose disenfranchising the disadvantaged, which your system would do. The present system is fine, except for one aspect of it: the media. I read an article not long ago saying that Trump is the first presidential candidate essentially chosen by the media, and I think that is correct.

We need to find a way to rein in the self-serving aspects of the media' one way to do that would be to ban all advertisements on news programs.

There you go, Mike, taking things for granted. How did you work out the cows come home in seven years?

Walt Whitman on Election Day, 1884: (hint: it is the choosing, not the chosen)


The vested and leading citizen provisions strike me as a back door to racism and classism.

Actually, the Electoral college serves a useful check and balance. Candidates have to consider more than campaigning in just a half dozen of the largest states. It also "firewalls" counting problems. In a very tight election, one could imagine having contested races that force a re-do of county vote counts for all 1000+ counties across the US - instead of a couple in Florida. The electoral college is the least of our problems.

Mike, check out the Isaac Asimov short story "Franchise". An intriguing concept.

Constitutional monarchy? Why not?
Queen Michelle I with Prince Barack at her side!
Sir Bernard Sanders could be considered as first Prime Minister.

I don't buy into idea that ownership of property or business means that one is more qualified than others to make wise decisions. I also think it is unreasonable to disqualify people aged 18-25 from voting, especially considering how many of them serve in the armed forces, police, fire departments, etc.

I do like the idea of restricting the vote to people who have a clue however. I just don't like using other markers (profession, wealth, age, etc) as criteria for how clued-in a voter might be. I also don't like the extent to which money plays in this game. One more thing, any citizen, no matter how much of a whack-job should be allowed to run. We should just know better than to vote for him/her.

So, here are my ideas...

(1) No personal or corporate financing of campaign propaganda. In the run-up to campaign season, all the wannabe candidates collect signatures from supporters. Any candidate who collects the minimum required number of (duly vetted) signatures gets a lump sum from the US govt. to run their campaign. To make this money go further, cable and broadcast companies will be required to provide air-time free of charge to each of the candidates that collected the minimum number of signatures.

(*) Anyone who feels that their freedom of speech is being restricted, is free to stand on a soap box somewhere and hold forth.

(2) Voting is mandatory for everyone over the age of 18. Mandatory, and as easy to do as possible with help to get to the polls available to anyone who asks for it. Election day should be a national holiday, hell, take Monday off too. Failure to vote would trigger an immediate IRS audit.

(*) But what about the clueless masses you ask?

(3) Every voter fills out their ballot as well as a 20-question multiple choice quiz. Each person's vote counts in proportion to their score on the quiz. Individual quizzes are generated randomly from a bank of 200+questions. The bank of questions is what the 5200 people in Kansas work on for 7 months. The entire bank of questions is made public a month or so in advance of the election, together with detailed answers that people can study, if they so choose. Help studying will be provided to anyone who asks for it. Just to be clear - the questions would not be tricky or technical, just factual.

Either that, or a benevolent dictator. I'm good either way.

I think 3 is a better number than 5,200 when calling something a Tribunal.

Hmm... coming from a demographic ethnic minority group that was once treated as live stock to be bought, sold and bred ... your scenario scares.

Baby steps, let's start by fixing gerrymandering by letting software handle it:

How do you defend "U.S. citizen and between the age of 26 and 76" ... that seems to eliminate many of the most knowledgeable voters (both younger and older than the permissible range).

Didn't realize NY was a recreational pot state.

Needless to say, I'm impressed with your diligence in this exercise. Like most Americans, prior to this I get about as far as "this wonky system has some really big flaws... it should be changed."

Though it isn't the candidates or electoral college that vex me, but the influence of (I guess you might call) "Super-Leading Citizens" who, by dint of greed and luck, can spend hundreds of millions of dollars both during and between elections to get their candidates elected, and their private interests served in government (including their status as "Super-Leading Citizens").

Good luck, and good night!

Tell you what Mike, we'll take you back. Britain that is. You could become the county of Americafordshire and have an MP and everything. Instant constitutional monarchy and a national health service, but of course you'd have to pay the BBC TV Licence fee (we could do with the money).

I know you dislike Reagan, but he had nothing diagnoseable as dementia while in office. His son's anecdotes are just that.

In his 1957 book, "Starship Troopers" science fiction writer Robert Heinlein touched on a great concept. You could live in a country, but in order to vote you had to obtain citizenship. And the path to citizenship was 2 years of service to your government. This could be in the form of military service, peace corps, anything where you gave 2 years of your life to the government. That way, you became vested in it and were more likely to take your vote seriously. It's not a concept that would gain favor with everyone, but what is these days.

Relevant news from the past:


May we all be blessed and live in dull times


My fantasy—eliminate PACs, limit individual and corporate political contributions to $27, outlaw lobbying, institute Congressional term limits, overturn Citizens United, and retire the Electoral College.

Nothing too complicated or unattainable if it's done piece by piece.

The world should get to vote, since the results affect the entire world. And it may also be also true of elections in other countries.

You should watch the PBS special on the Broadway show "Hamilton." http://www.playbill.com/article/hamiltons-america-debuts-on-pbs-tonight
That should cure you of the notion that America was created without controversy.
It also shows another reason why so many conservatives hate Obama, as the interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton, shows, he's got so much "class" that they lack.
Also on PBS today, On Point I think, was a discussion with two presedential scholars talking about other campaigns with lots of animosity. The quotes from Johm Adams about Thomas Jefferson would put Trump to shame!

One thing we did learn in 2000 was how many people, including many journalists, apparently slept through high school civics when they should have learned that we don't elect our President by national popular vote.

add equivalent federal service such as Peace Corps, though there is no evidence of that in the book

Don't have the book at hand but I do remember that a person could not be denied the right to federal service. Something about "counting the hair on a caterpillar" if that was all you could do. You could request a certain type of service but it was up to federal needs and personal capabilities as to where you ended up. You could refuse and quit but that was your one shot a becoming a voter, and filling other positions, AFTER your federal service was over.

As I sit watching PBS coverage over the Internet, I can see that one problem right off the bat is that either of these ideas would allow the Bobo in Paradise to vote. A fellow who never actually seems to meet or talk to anyone outside of the DC/NYC "elite" but is magically able to mansplain what the rest of us and especially the "uneducated"---present day code for stupid---think. Talk about ignorant. His vote should be given a negative number such as -10. But enough about David Brooks.

The lack of knowledge about how the government works seems to be primarily a problem to be addressed by education, not by disenfranchising those whom it failed. (How can anyone graduate high school without a basic understanding of it?) And who would those disenfranchised be? The wealthier of us? The connected? Or folks in the lower classes? How long would it be before someone figured out a way to use a test for that to disqualify certain groups they disliked?

No, I don't think the way to improve the quality of our elections is through depriving people of their right to vote.* Voters are not the problem. The problem is the DC/NYC elite and monied interests seeming to represent little or nothing voters believe. Even if we do elect a good person, it seems a certainty that that person will sooner or later more those folks representatives than ours.

*Not even David Brooks. He should just be required to begin every sentence with, "I don't really know what I'm talking about, but...

I meant to write that it seems even if we do elect a good person, sooner or later it is almost a certainty that they will start to represent DC/NYC and the monied interests more than us.

Oh, just heard Ol' Bobo (Brooks) on PBS talk about speaking with folks in diners and the slipping and saying "Even at that low level..." before correcting himself, thus proving exactly what he thinks of regular Americans.

I'm just baffled that a country that claims to 'bring democracy' to other countries is still using an electoral college, which basically means that in all but 12 states, if you're a minority voter you can just stay at home.

Maybe you should just, you know, count all the votes together, and elect the person with the most votes? Radical idea, I know.

Is it back to the future or forward to the past? Anyway, it looks like a form of census suffrage. And the qualifications are somewhat spurious, why should being an overextended mortgage holder lead to more entitlement, than to live debt-free in a rented dwelling?

I've thought for a long time that public office (congressmen, senators, members of parliament, etc) should be held by people chosen at random from the general population, a little like jurors. You put in your time of public service (2 years) and then you go home. Like a military service, only useful.

Presidents would be randomly chosen from the pool of people who've already held a public office.

And lobbies would be outlawed, punishable with 10 year minimum prison sentences.

We all have our unrealistic, yet thoroughly practical dreams, Mike. Today is a good day to retreat into them...

Today is one of the worst days in my adult life.

How our country could vote for a person like Trump who has a lack of basic human decency, openly thinks of women as objects to grope, detests minorities, cares only about himself, and possesses such a profound lack of understanding about the world around us is completely beyond me.

I fear for our global climate and world peace with this country in the hands of such a self-centered, insecure, and mean-spirited person.

A sad day.


The reality (not necessary real) world is more interesting than the imaginary world. Welcome to the reality show of USA, for better or worst (depends upon your view). I think it is worst.

Thought I should mention a very relevant but not agreeable view from Nasim Talem in his article "The Intellectual Yet Idiot".

Tuesday proved you right.....Wrong ...... Sadly right. The ignorance of the populace has spoken. I am terrified.

If you really want to change the political system in the US, there needs to be a change in political contributions.

Make it so that only individuals can contribute to political parties to a maximum of $100.00 per year. And that political parties and politicians can only use that money come election time.

Here's what your neighbour to the north thinks of Trumps getting the presidency.


Also there is the news that the Kremlin held a party after Trump's win. Their boy is the next occupant of the White House.


She got more votes.
In my country who get more votes is elected.

Some of the smartest and most experienced geeks in the country tried their damnedest for months and months to get a handle on how this election would turn by attempting to poll a a very large sample of voters to stand in for the rest of the country. All the geeks were shocked to discover that the best methods available failed miserably..

I therefore remain extremely skeptical that your 5,200-member Tribunal of the People could ever be said to "to statistically represent the U.S. voter population" in any meaningful way.

Although it probably started from a good intention, the proposal is so flawed I'm not even going to bother.

Why can't the election be democratic by counting all votes nation-wide, and getting rid of the electoral college?
Why not ask candidates to present a program including budget, and have them explain how they plan to finance all their promises?
Why not create a code of conduct, and immediately eliminate candidates that show a lack of respect?

Sorry for the late comment Mike. It would seem to me that the US has an easy opportunity to get people to move to Kansas or anywhere else that is considered undesirable. They should offer free medical care and tertiary education (to bachelor level) to anyone who moves to the desired area. If they leave or move outside a pre-agreed distance, they lose the benefits.

I reckon you would get plenty takers, perhaps even from foreigners like me. I would seriously consider retiring to the US but it is inconceivable without adequate medical care.

Stuff & nonsense. Go for in-breeding. Worked for us.

The comments to this entry are closed.