Alex Massie

The Problem of Too Much Democracy

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In general terms I'm a fan of more, much more, local democracy. I think it could do much to improve civic life and promote a genuine local politics of real accountability and value. In other words, it can be a liberating force for good. However, it's also true that one can perhaps take the principle too far. Here's Jonathan Bernstein to explain why:

Yesterday was election day in Texas, and I voted.  And I voted.  And then I voted some more.  If my count was correct, I voted fifty-two times.  I voted for Governor, and I voted for U.S. House and Texas House and Texas Senate...OK, I didn't actually know the candidates for the state legislature, by I did feel a bit guilty about that.  I voted for Lt. Governor (which is a big deal here in Texas).  I voted for Attorney General, and Commissioner of the General Land Office, and Commissioner of Agriculture, and Railroad Commissioner.  I don't know what the General Land Office is, no.  I voted for judges -- judicial judges, and the county judge, who is the head of the county government, not a judicial judge at all.  I voted for more real judges.  We know someone who is running for "Judge, County Probate Court No. 2."  I voted for her.  I voted for District Clerk.  I don't know what kind of district the District Clerk is clerk for.  I'm pretty sure it's not pronounced the British way, though.  I voted for party chair...actually, Party Chairman, although I voted for a woman, but what do I know? 

Fifty-two times.

Really, it's not possible to make 52 informed judgements on election day. And remember some states, such as California, are worse than Texas for this. As Bernstein says:

I love elections, and I do believe that one mark of a strong democracy is keeping the politicians, and not bureaucracies, in charge of lots of things.

But this is ridiculous.  The correct word for most of the elections that happened in Texas today, and that happen in primary elections around the nation all spring and summer this year, is farce.  No one has any idea what they're doing (especially in primaries, and in nonpartisan elections, in which you don't even get a useful cue about what to do).  I like the idea that Americans vote more often and for more things that just about any other nation, but we could vote for about a third of what we vote for now and still be very high on the scale, and people wouldn't have to fee like idiots on election day.  I've never heard a good defense for most of it, and I really think we should cut it out.

That seems about right to me. We could do with more local elections; Texas and much of the United States could probably manage with fewer.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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