Academic journal article Atlantic Economic Journal

Some Thoughts on the Voting Process

Academic journal article Atlantic Economic Journal

Some Thoughts on the Voting Process

Article excerpt


In teaching graduate programs in public choice, many professors adopt the Mueller [2003] textbook. Mueller [2003, pp. 148-179] devotes considerable space to a description of various methods of voting which have been either used or at least been proposed. (1) Mueller writes lucidly, and most graduate students have no difficulty following his descriptions. He is relatively neutral in discussing the simple alternative voting methods [Mueller, pp. 147-157]. When it comes to the more complicated voting systems [Mueller, pp. 159-179], he exhibits greater enthusiasm. Not surprisingly, 'voting by veto,' which is his 'invention/creation,' is given a very positive evaluation. The concept of 'demand revelation' also gets good marks. From his list, it is obvious that there are several different meanings of democracy, and each of these different meanings would yield somewhat different outcomes after the people have voted.

The problems to be considered here are "what does democracy mean?" and "which of the various forms of democracy is best or 'least bad'?" Historically, many different political arrangements have been identified as democracies. Before we make any effort to decide which is best (or least bad), it seems sensible to at least briefly consider the menu of possible designs.


We begin with the question of who can vote. In most countries, only citizens or in some cases long-term inhabitants can vote. Indeed, in the United States, the existence of a great many illegal immigrants has raised problems here. Politicians who think that the illegal immigrants will vote for their party's candidates frequently 'arrange' to allow them vote. There appear to be no readily available, dependable statistics on this subject, but the issue nevertheless manages to receive attention in the media from time to time. American citizens living abroad can vote in American elections. Interestingly, in the recent unpleasantness about the Florida vote, more than 1,000 military personnel who attempted to cast absentee ballots were denied that right for 'technical' reasons.

The history of voter eligibility in the United States may serve as a guide to the problems. During the first few years after the Constitution was adopted, there were property restrictions on voting. These particular restrictions rapidly disappeared, with a result that all 'adult' males who were not slaves could vote. Although the slaves could not vote, they were counted as three-fifths of a person of the purpose of allocating Congressional seats and electors. Technically, Jefferson had fewer votes than Adams in 1800; however, he ultimately won as a result of the 'slave vote.' The fact that each state had two senators and a proportionally increased number of electors meant that different voters had different weights in the process, depending on which state they resided in. Interestingly, different voters also tend to have different weights in Presidential elections due to the exigencies of the Electoral College System [Cebula, 1983]; clearly, this problem continues into the present.

As a general rule, voting was confined to males until imperial Germany in 1911 gave women the right vote. There had been a few women who could vote because they were residents in some of our western states where it was legal before 1911. The German example was followed by almost all democracies in the early part of the 20th century. In the case of the United States, it was formally adopted in the form of a Constitutional Amendment in 1921. Apparently, as result of oversight, the amendment permitted women to vote from the age of 18 while men continued to be prevented from voting until they were 21. In the 1980s, there was a something of race between the Supreme Court and Congress to eliminate this oddity. It has been suggested that the continuing limitation on young men voting was a major reason that we retained conscription.

The upper house, the Senate, was elected by the state governments until that anomaly was eliminated by a Constitutional Amendment. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.