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Insight | TIMES BOARD OF ADVISORS

The Future of Voting--Don't Sell It Short

November 03, 1996|MICHAEL SCHRAGE | MICHAEL SCHRAGE is a consultant and a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the author of "No More Teams! Mastering the Dynamics of Creative Collaboration."

As the elections approach, the traditional techniques and technologies that facilitate voting look tired and anachronistic. So it only makes sense to look beyond this first Tuesday in November to ask: What should the future of California elections be? How might America's largest and most innovative state, with its diverse populations and propositions, be transformed by new elections media and markets? A voter's guide for, say, the elections of 2008 will almost certainly reflect core changes in the way Californians choose their leaders and their policies.

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Voting is both a vital trust and a sacred privilege. Voting is an essential part of the democratic process, and it provides the mechanism that enables the public to choose the people and the policies that will govern them.

As you are no doubt aware, there have been several fundamental changes in California's electoral processes. These changes are designed to assure greater participation and awareness by the electorate as well as provide new incentives to vote. The most important of these changes has been the result of Proposition 2274, also known as the Brown-Friedman Voter Freedoms and Rewards Initiative of 2002 (California State Law 5623.532 Sec. A), which permits Californians to put all or part of their votes up for sale.

Operating under the economic principle that votes are the property of the voter and the voters should have the right to sell their property under appropriate contracts, Brown-Friedman allows voters to register to sell their votes for 1) any State candidate 2) any municipal candidate 3) any county candidate 4) any proposition on any State ballot and 5) any financing issue. Voters are permitted to sell or acquire votes either as individuals or in registered groups. NOTE: YOU MAY NOT SELL YOUR VOTE FOR THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Litigation on that issue is still pending and a restraining order has been issued that forbids the selling of your vote for President. PLEASE IGNORE THE SALE REGISTRATION FORM FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. IT IS NOT VALID. You may, however, sell your vote for Senator and Congressperson.

At the core of Brown-Friedman is the belief that people know the value of their votes. If a particular issue or candidate is more valuable than its perceived cash equivalent, then individuals will choose to exercise their right to vote rather than their right to sell their votes. You are required by law to disclose which votes you intend to sell at least 24 hours before the date of the election (California Revenue Code 2564.3 Art. 2). Income above the $2,500 (two thousand five hundred) exemption level from vote sales are taxable under both State and Federal Law. IF YOUR AVERAGE ANNUAL INCOME HAS BEEN BELOW $25,000 FOR THREE YEARS, YOU MAY BE ELIGIBLE FOR THE VOTING TAX EXEMPTION.

Please contact your local Voter Registration Office for more information or send e-mail to votertaxinfo@california.gov.org. You may also obtain a tax deduction by donating the proceeds of your vote sales to a registered charitable or educational institution (California State Law 666.43). Failure to provide timely notification of vote sales and/or to declare income derived from such sales constitutes a felony under California law (California Penal Code 35954.cv1).

While Brown-Friedman offers an efficient public market in votes, the 1999 Arrow-Guinier Voter Fairness in Representation Act has created a variety of voting options to mathematically assure more representational outcomes in the electoral process. You may choose from several ways to select the candidate or proposition of your choice (California Law 9887.342 Section B).

You may choose:

a) Approval voting. You may cast up to one vote per candidate. The candidate "approved of" by the most voters is declared the winner.

b) Cumulative voting. You are given 5 (five) votes and may distribute them among the candidates and proposition options in any combination you wish.

c) Borda count. You may rank your votes by preference--first, second, third, etc. NOTE: IF YOU CHOOSE THE BORDA COUNT OPTION, YOU MUST SELL YOUR ENTIRE VOTE--NOT JUST YOUR FIRST, SECOND OR THIRD PREFERENCES.

d) Preference voting. You may rank your votes by preference--but if the results of an initial count reveal your first-choice candidate will lose, your second-place vote is counted instead. NOTE: SEE RESTRICTIONS ABOVE.

Each of these systems can be mathematically proven superior to the plurality/winner-takes-all voting practices of the last decade. The creation of more voting options, more votes and market mechanisms to provide economic incentives for voter participation is designed to lead to a more optimal outcome for elections. Voters may choose of their own volition to substitute economic benefit for direct political representation. Similarly, voters may choose to acquire votes from others to gain greater representation.

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