Referendums and low-engagement voters produce catastrophic outcomes (but what about corruption?)

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I think that the referendums and ballot initiatives mostly represent a loss of trust in elected representatives. Businesses keep costs down by investing in automation, negotiating with their employees, negotiating with their vendors, outsourcing, etc. Governments are very bad at all of those things. Politicians are poorly incentivized to fix these problems. So, costs go up and services go down, and people get mad and stop trusting their government and representatives. Angry people tend make bad decisions which they regret later. Angry voters are no exception.


A solution to low voter turnout in representative democracies seems simple:

  1. Mandatory voting, with enforced penalties for not voting.
  2. A binding “None of the above” for all candidates and, if sensible, for measures.
  3. An exception for 1 above for individuals who conscientiously object to voting with a one-year process to reenstate voting rights after conscientiously opting out.


Should the Federal government of the United States be dissolved breaking the US into fifty different independent countries?
Yes, dissolve the federal government
No, keep the federal government

How do you think such a referendum would turn out?


I keep seeing the idea come up to make California a separate country and my response to people who think it’s a good idea is:

  • Do you think CA should have its own army? air force? navy? coast guard?
  • It’s own ambassadors to every country?
  • Border crossings at state borders?
  • Potential tariffs from the other states?
  • It’s own postal system?

It’s an amazingly complex question, but voters will just give it an emotional response.


I doubt my job could be done better by having a large group of barely informed people to vote about it, and I doubt that goes for many other professions as well.

To drive a car, I have to have a driver’s license. To control a city/country, you don’t need one? WTF. I want politicians to have qualification (proven capability to use logic, being able to see through logical fallacies etc.).

In addition, what I want is that for every law that is proposed, people can get to comment on it with the limitation that if something is said twice, it is still included in the comments on that law only once. I may not be knowledgeable about all laws, or even a single law, but as an intelligent people knowledgeable about a couple of topics, I could make a couple of sensible remarks. And I can solve problems, so I may have a suggestion once in a while. You don’t want a law that is the average of uninformed people, you want the best law one can come up with.


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The problem I see is not just corruption from money, but that the kind of people who want to be in government, by and large, like power, and are the last people who should have it.

For example, the majority in most states in the US wants to legalize weed, but it has only ever been legalized by citizens’ initiatives. Even when the majority wants it, legislators are so biased towards being authoritarian shitheads that they won’t vote for it.


Can only agree for the most part.

Talk to almost any EU brexit supporter here in the UK and you’ll find someone who has massive genuine problems with the way that the UK is run, but has been taught that it’s the EU’s fault, not the people actually in charge in Westminster.

So in effect they’re believing they’re voting to fix the problems, when in reality they’re voting for the very people who caused the problems, and want to make them worse, but have been very successful at scapegoating the EU for the cause…

A lot of parallels with people like Trump supporters really…


In my experience, referendums tend to happen when the elected officials want to dodge responsibility for having to make serious and possibly unpopular decisions.


IIRC, Australia has a fine for not voting, and something like 80% voter participation.


Referendums can be good or bad, it just depends on the issue in question and the wording/details of the question up for approval.

Brexit has been a disaster, but in the US, most (all?) of the states that legalized cannabis did so by ballot initiative, since the politicians have mostly been intransigent. Ohio’s failed mainly because it would have placed all production in the hands of a few well-connected cronies.

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Yeah, Prop 13 is a big deal referendum that sounded good a the time, but has starved municipalities of tax revenue and forced them to cover costs by increasing commercial development and reducing education spending.

It may have boosted Reagan’s popularity for his presidental campaign, riding on the back of the California “taxpayer revolt.”

Ask any Republican if they favor rent-control and then mention Howard Jarvis. He was the one that started this hypocritical “rent control” for homeowners, and he was a major proponent for landlord lobbyists.

Ironically, rent control laws continued after it was found that Prop. 13 was ineffective in passing savings and property improvements back through to tenants.

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I like the idea of the whole country voting on whether Texas should secede. I say have at it.


Yep, compulsory voting at the federal level, on pain of a fine, and eventually getting barred from the electoral roll for repeat offenders. States are the same, local is usually not compulsory. Generally greater than 90% turnout.

As far as I know, Oz is just about the only place already doing this. However…

  1. The fine is deliberately trivial and easy to be excused from. The idea is not to punish people, the idea is to make it so that not voting is slightly more of a hassle than voting.

  2. There is no reason to remove anyone from the rolls. Just because someone didn’t vote last time doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a say this time. Disenfranchisement is open to abuse; we have voting booths in prisons here [1].


[1] Unfortunately, we do temporarily disenfranchise prisoners serving sentences of more than three years. However, there aren’t a lot of those; most sentences aren’t that long. And their voting rights return when they’re released.


Interesting! I’m an Aussie, and I had the impression that you did eventually get removed via an American Australian who had decided that compulsory voting was slavery or some such nonsense, and eventually stopped getting hassled by the AEC.

I guess they just dropped off the roles naturally (eg. “we can’t find you”). Or lied.

Only if you fix the voting system first. The US shares an equally hilariously undemocratic excuse for a voting system as the UK does. That needs to be fixed first

Most likely. That’s the only normal way to get off the roll.

low engagement can lead to some really upending referendum results, but corruption is often how such stupid questions get put to the voters in the first place.

I support the idea of referendums, but I also support ‘compulsory voting’ (the punishment for non-voting being you do not qualify for your own individual tax exemption (or some such)).

Except the referendum would be entitled “The Defense of Puppies Act” and be phrased as follows:

  1. Yes, the federal government should not not be dissolved and puppies should be protected.
  2. No, the federal government should not be dissolved and puppies shouldn’t be protected.
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