crypto and public policy

Voting: Accountability and Secrecy

Filed under: General — November 22, 2005 @ 2:36 pm

Just a quick thought I just had about voting, inspired by a recent brainstorm within our research group.

In an election, your ballot remains secret, so that you cannot be unduly influenced by others. When elected representatives vote on laws, however, their voting record is supposed to be public (let’s discount those sleazy hand votes Congress holds every now and then). The idea behind the public voting record is to inform the people of their representative’s work. In this case, voters *do* influence their representative, and that’s a good thing.

But of course, there are other types of influence. Public voting records inform lobbyists on how their effort (ahem, money) is affecting politics. If elected representatives were to cast truly secret ballots, lobbying would be far less effective. But then, of course, representatives would be accountable to no one, not even the people they represent. So the “fix” here is to control the lobbyist influence. It would be impossible (and seriously problematic from a privacy standpoint) to scrutinize a voter’s cash flow to detect undue influence, but it is certainly doable to scrutinize political campaigns and ethics laws to ensure that politicians are not unduly influenced.

So what’s my point? Just that extracting an honest vote from a human being is a difficult thing, and the dynamics of secret ballot, public voting records, and campaign finance are intricately linked. Which shows, yet again, the importance of the current debate on campaign finance reform. We’re talking about nothing less than the very basis of our democracy.

1 Comment

  1. Patrick Giagnocavo:

    Another perspective would be to posit that if the federal government had less power, there would be less lobbyist influence.

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