What's the first thing to decide before you can have an election? An agreement among N persons to abide by the outcome of the election. In most groups this established by defining "membership" by consent. But there are competing criteria which do not establish "membership" by consent. Such criteria include kinship, language, religion, sex, age, 'ethnicity', the value of one's property and other characteristics which are not based on consent but circumstances determined by the actions of others - often by others long dead and legendary.
One of the most seemingly neutral criteria for membership is geography, Meaning simply some expanse of the earth's surface defined by a boundary. But boundaries are chosen by someone. The power to define and enforce boundaries is among first claimed by any group on a mission to establish a government. Some will assert that any social group has a form of government. All social groups have enforcible rules, but that does not establish a government. Children engaged in a game during recess are not engaging in government, Such children are gaming until they agree to exclude some one from the game. At that point they are on the path to forming a gang.
A gang which tries to define and enforce boundaries is a proto-government. If they can exclude others from 'their' part of the playground they are playing at government. It is not property that is the basis of the exclusion, it is their co-operative effort to exclude others from that which none of them own. It is proto-eminent domain. The assertion of a right to take without mutual consent.
Democracy and elections have been erected on the ancient customs of territorial gangs. Boundaries are drawn down and then elections are practiced within these boundaries, All the people who live within the accepted boundaries of one village are considered to be a 'natural' grouping for elections. People who live within Adamsville are supposed to naturally vote separately from people who live in adjacent Evesville. It seems natural and convenient. If the two villages are joined together by mutual consent or conquest into a new entity with a new boundary, then new rules for elections must be established.
Eventually many villages can be aggregated into a mighty empire with an enormously lengthy boundary. Typically it will also have many internal sub-boundaries for administrative expediency for command and control of, among other things, elections.
So, having settled that people for reasons of kinship, language, religion, sex, age, 'ethnicity', the value of their collective property and other circumstantial characteristics, have aggregated into a village or a mighty empire that by custom or conviction wants to have elections to decide certain things within their boundary, what is the next thing to decide?
Who within the boundary shall be allowed to vote? Some group must always be excluded. Regardless, of the rationale for it, those who are excluded are always those who can be safely excluded - who cannot effectively insist on inclusion. The exclusion of infants is traditional. Although it is conceivable that parents could act as temporary proxies for children. Beyond children they the exclusions can be based on any of the usual circumstantial characteristics indicated previously. The fewer the characteristics for exclusion the closer a group comes to what has been called 'Universal Suffrage' - even though it is never universal and it is always restricted for command and control in various ways.
All democracies practice limited self-government inversely to the extent of universal suffage. That is, the more universal the suffrage, the civil right to vote, the more limited the scope and effect of the voting on the system of government. These limits are enforced by transferring restrictions from who can vote to how and who and what they they are permitted to vote for or against. When the restrictions become so total that voting is a meaningless ritual, democracy is extinguished.
Some of these restrictions are enshrined in sacramental constitutions and others in more pedestrian law. In most cases geographical boundaries form a central controlling concept: Thou shall not vote on the wrong side of the line. This leads straight to a discussion of gerrymanders, but we shall defer that well worn subject for now and pass on to another less worn.
There is one characteristic about geography. It changes very gradually until there is a catastrophe. In the old land speculator's opinion, land; they just ain't makin' anymore. But people are very reproductive. Over time boundaries become filled with more and more people by 'natural increase'. Handling non-uniformly increasing population within fixed boundaries requires subtle (cunning, insidious) political engineering to maintain internal 'stability'.
Fixed geographic boundaries and growing, fluid populations make for complications in theoretical democracy. In practice, solutions are rather straight forward, just jettison democratic theory. Anything you can get away with long enough is democratic because the people let you get away with it. Problem solved.
Except that not everybody assumes what they are supposed to assume.
- Entry for August 06, 2007
Returning to the intitial question: What's the first thing to decide before you can have an election? An agreement among N persons to abide by the outcome of the election. All elections are intended to have consequences. However the terms of the initial agreement to abide can and should be revised by voters' appraisal of the consequences of the outcomes. This idea is expressed in the statement that people have a right to alter or abolish any form of government. Alteration must mean any change in forms of structure and procedure major or minor. Abolish means secession and renegotiation of all terms and conditions. Secession then can lead to a range of intergroup treaty relations characterized as confederation or alliance.
At what point, we may inquire, should people seek to "alter or abolish" ? Any time they are willing to risk it. Historically, this has been rarely. It is also true that governments are continuously altered, but not always as a consequence of the voters decision in an election or series of elections. When this takes place one may question whether elections still have consequences that matter.
Control of the processes of elections means control of the process of altering the form of government, short of sudden abolition. It means inducing people to abide by outcomes without their consent. It means inducing them substitute faith in process for outcome. The problem can arise that outcomes are so disappointing that the faith in process is challenged. A challenge to electoral process leads to re-examination of the whole history of alterations. A kind of political archeology in public view. Skulls and bones are dug up which prove difficult to explain. If the archaeologists arm themselves to defend their artifacts and theories, revolution is afoot. Abolition enters the bloodstream.
It is often counseled by some contestants that re-negotiations begin before that point is reached. A plethora of proposals for reforms bubble up seeking to mediate and retrench or re-entrench obedience to the outcomes.
It is useful to consider such reform proposals if only to discover where the stress is being expressed. Caged voters, at the very, least will insist on bigger more transparent cages.
In the United States today, the stress is in the electoral system because the outcomes of government are unsatisfying to too many people. Reforms may or may not prevent abolition from entering the bloodstream. Effective reforms must exact deprivation on someone - the entrenched must pay a price. The wise will fold a losing hand, the foolish will go "all in". If they have been caught cheating, retribution will likely follow the pattern of all revolutions since the French. The King of England, George III, was fortunate that the American colonies were far away from London, otherwise he may well have been lynched. And that was fortunate for the Americans too.