[Discuss-sudbury-model] Power and Money voting strength. (Was Re: First Amendment Schools)

From: <Hunderhill_at_aol.com>
Date: Thu Nov 16 16:24:00 2006

Hi:
This is Harlan. One of the glories of the Sudbury model is that everyone
does have one vote, in so far as I am aware. Perhaps Woty or others would
comment. I have neither attended nor taught in a Sudbury model school, but
continue to remain interested in the model as a theoretical ideal for a democratic
society.

Stuart has made many interesting points, most of which I shall have to leave
for a later time (.e.g. Florida, Ohio, and "gerrymandering,") until I have
thought and read a bit more about them, but I would submit that in the past 2006
election, a goodly number of "one vote" voters collectively reversed, to the
extent they could, the direction of events in Washington. That would seem to
me, on the face of it, to refute Stewart's root claim: "That is pretty much
the way American democracy works, too: people with power and/or money get 100
votes, those who lack them get 1."

I don't know anything about stock voting rights. It IS a surprise to me
that some shares have voting rights in excess of their literal numbers, and it
seems to me, without studying it further, that that is an inequity we do not
wish to reproduce in the political voting system.

I was shocked to learn from a former PhD candidate in political science who
was also a retired county clerk that she approved electronic no paper trail
voting machines. I do not, and I would have thought that an expert like her
would be against them too. I was, in fact, so shocked that I couldn't even
pursue the topic with her. I was rendered speechless and debateless. I am
gratified that in my home state, Michigan, every county uses optical scan
devices and that we have a dedicated corps of volunteer poll watchers and managers
to operate the system. Thus I have very great confidence that the results in
Michigan this election reflect accurately the opinions and sentiments of the
"one vote" voters. Dick DeVos certainly spent enough money to buy the
election if he could have. Perhaps union opposition counteracted his postulated 100
to 1 advantage.

I would be interested, before considering Florida, Ohio, and gerry
mandering, to hear from Stuart whether the most recent election does or does not
require him to withdraw the assertion which I originally challenged. I found this
election profoundly encouraging. Did not he?

Harlan

In a message dated 11/16/2006 1:35:00 PM Eastern Standard Time,
Stuartwwms_at_aol.com writes:
Hi,

This is Stuart. Harlan challenged my assertion that in America, people with
power or money have far more voting power than those who do not. Please pardon
the tangential relationship of what follows to the Sudbury model. Here are a
few examples that support my claim:

1. About 90% of the districts for Congressional seats are considered "safe
seats" for the incumbents. While the money and power advantages inherent to
incumbency are part of the explanation, another key reason is gerrymandering. A
voter in a gerrymandered district is much less likely to make a difference than
a voter in a non-gerrymandered district. In effect, legislators who
gerrymander transfer power from voters to themselves.

2. In the crucial swing states or districts, the voters' wishes can be
thwarted by state officials. In 2000 in Florida, partisan state officials worked
tirelessly to block recounts; a month later, the Supreme Court (by a 5-4 majority
on the critical question) did the same thing, in part because the recounts
would take a week and it was "too late." Most experts believe that a recount
would have changed the results of the national election. In the deciding state of
Ohio in 2004, many districts likely to support Kerry had problems with their
voting machines, resulting in 2-3 hour lines and lower voter turnout. In
addition, Robert Kennedy Jr. has described numerous instances of suspected
tampering with electronic voting machines, which had no paper trails to enable
reported results to be audited.

3. Politics as practiced in Washington, and often at the state and local
levels as well, is largely about money and power. Campaign contributions get more
than just "access." Many members of Congress are highly focused on gathering
contributions from the day they are elected. As for local politics: when I
lived in Santa Clara, CA, the company that had the local garbage monopoly donated
enough money in the City Council election to swing the election in favor of
its supporters. I used to be a Wall Street analyst, and I learned that a high
percentage of the decisions to award local cable television and garbage
monopolies were corrupt. These companies were born in "original sin."

In sum, gerrymandering renders many votes largely impotent. In the contests
that do matter, partisan or corrupt officials may determine the results. And
when the winners take office, they are expected to raise large sums of money,
making them beholden to their financial backers. So, if you live in a
gerrymandered district, vote on voting machines lacking paper trails and overseen by
partisan officials, or have representatives whose decisions are influenced or
dictated by money or power, then I would say your vote is relatively unimportant.
You get 1 vote (which I still think you should exercise, and which is a lot
better than O votes!) , while the folks with garbage or drug companies (to name
two examples) get 100 votes.

Separately, someone on this list thought I was unfair in casting aspersion on
The New York Times' two-class share structure, in which certain shares hold
disproportionate voting power. Here is why I don't like dual-class voting
structures. In the academic literature on corporate governance, it is well known
that two of the key "agency" problems afflicting corporations are:

1. The ability of a company's largest shareholder to use its leverage to
extract disproportionate value from the corporation, for example by making
favorable deals with management concerning purchases or sales of assets. (This
problem is more prevalent outside the US, though it is not unknown here.)
2. The ability of corporate management to extract disproportionate value from
the corporation. Often this takes the form of excessive compensation or by
managers purchasing part of the company in sweetheart, no-auction deals.

 Dual class share structures result in both of these problems. Yes, there may
be "valid" reasons for a dual-class structure, but I'm sure there are equally
valid reasons why China and Saudi Arabia are governed the way they are. A
dual class structure permanently entrenches some relatively small group, which of
course uses its power to benefit itself disproportionately. The basic idea
behind democracy is that it disperses power.

In a message dated 11/13/06 7:48:37 PM, Stuartwwms_at_aol.com writes:

That is pretty much the way American democracy works, too: people with power
and/or money get 100 votes, those who lack them get 1.

Now Stuart, how does that work. I challenge you to teach us or withdraw
your assertion.

Harlan
Received on Thu Nov 16 2006 - 16:21:59 EST

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