Negative numbers and democracy: an antidote to divisiveness

This short text, in the form of questions and answers, presents in a synthetic way the essence of the proposal of introducing a ‘double electoral vote’, which makes use of both positive numbers (to represent the favorable votes) and negative numbers (to represent the possible votes against, of a defensive nature), in order to protect our failing democracies from the growing political polarization.

Question: Is it possible to improve the functioning of our democracies in the short term?

Answer: Yes, by improving the functioning of the electoral systems they use, so that brightest and more enlightened political forces can more easily access power and help their citizens, and consequently all of humanity, to overcome the numerous “growth crises” that await us.

Question: But how can we improve the democratic voting systems?

Answer: Well, one possibility is to use the representative power of negative numbers, moving from a ‘single vote’ system to a ‘double vote’ system.

Question: Isn’t that a useless complication?

Answer: Now of course, at first glance, this might indeed look like a useless complication. It is not. The double vote is in fact a natural evolution of the more traditional single vote system. But before explaining how it works, let me emphasize that the possibility of a negative vote only reveals all its importance in conditions of crisis, that is, when the strength of a democracy is put to the test.

To use a metaphor, suppose you have an allergy to peanuts. As long as no one offers you peanuts, you certainly don’t need to say ‘no thanks’, which is the equivalent of a negative vote; but when that happens, the ability to say ‘no’ becomes essential, as peanuts are highly toxic to you, and therefore represent a real danger.

The same goes for a country’s political elections. As long as there are no truly toxic political proposals, the possibility of casting a negative vote, in addition to a positive one, is not essential; but when it happens, the ability to defend oneself with a negative vote becomes fundamental.

Question: But how does this double vote work in practice?

Answer: It’s simple: voters can decide to cast only a positive vote in favor of the political force they wish to support and see form the government; or give in addition also a negative vote against the political force they in no way wish to see elected.

In other words, the positive vote is an opening, towards what you want to promote, and the negative vote (not mandatory, but possible) is a closing, with respect to what you want to protect yourself from.

Question: How is the election result calculated in a double vote system of this kind?

Answer: Exactly in the same way as in a single vote system. You simply add up all the votes received. In this case, however, the sum will involve both positive values (the votes in favor) and negative values (the votes against). In other words, the electoral result of a political force is given by the number of votes in favor received ‘minus’ the number of votes against received.

Question: If a political force receives more votes against than votes in favor, what happens?

Answer: In this case, its electoral result will be negative, and it will not receive any seats, regardless of the number of favorable votes obtained. In other words, in a double vote system, negative votes count as much as positive ones.

Question: Getting to the heart of the matter: how would the double vote system be able to protect democracies when they are in crisis?

Answer: You see, a democracy stops working properly when the political debate begins to lose its rationality and demagogy spreads, with the consequence that politicians, to get attention and votes, are led to give life to increasingly polarized visions, trying to befriend a part of the population at the expense of another part of the population.

We arrive in this way at a climate of increasingly sclerotic visions, as well as increased mistrust, which can even lead to hatred.

The great advantage of the double vote system is precisely its ability to defuse this perverse mechanism of the growth of political polarization, and the consequent division in the population.

In fact, a political force that tries to win the favor of, say, half the population, antagonizing the other half, will obtain with the new system an electoral result close to zero, since the number of votes in favor it will receive will be comparable to the number of votes against. Therefore, it is very difficult for such a force to gain power.

On the other hand, the less confrontational political forces, by not applying the strategy of discord, will not receive (or will receive very few) negative votes, therefore, while collecting (at least initially) a modest number of votes in favor, they will still be able to compete and even win over those political forces that play on division rather than unity.

Question: Could you give a concrete example?

Answer: Imagine a party that gets 10 million votes in favor and 9.5 million censorship votes. Its electoral result is then only 0.5 million, that is 10 million ‘minus’ 9.5 million, because, as I explained, the unfavorable votes must be subtracted, being negative votes.

Imagine now a new emerging party, much smaller, which only gets 1 million votes in favor, but at the same time, having no divisive agenda, it also gets a very small amount of censorship votes, say 0.1 million. Its electoral result will then be 0.9 million, which is better than that of the bigger party that presented a divisive program.

Question: Why has no one ever thought of using this double vote mechanism?

Answer: Well, in the electoral field, we have fallen behind compared to other fields of human knowledge. Up to now, in fact, we have always and only used natural numbers. Ok, sometimes, certainly, also a little bit of positive rational numbers (fractions), to calculate the proportions of the seats to be distributed, but nothing more.

Until now, the representative power of negative numbers has not been thought to be useful in democracy. This is not the case in economics and finance, where negative numbers are widely used to represent situations of debt, overdrafts, losses, and so on, and the same obviously applies to numerous other fields, primarily science.

In the electoral field, however, it has never been thought that it could be useful to represent disagreement in a clear and pragmatically effective way, giving voters a greater expressive and discriminatory capacity when voting.

In a certain sense, if we use an accounting metaphor, when the parties compete in the elections, they do so by showing only a part of their balance sheet, the part of the assets, while keeping the part of the liabilities hidden.

However, if in democratic voting we want to use a more accurate picture of the different political parties competing with each other, from which to derive the respective electoral results, then the introduction of negative numbers, in addition to positive numbers, becomes necessary, just as it is necessary to know all the entries of a balance sheet, the positives and the negatives, to correctly assess the state of health of a company.

Question: But our democracies, are they ready to use this more accurate picture?

Answer: Of course, the new double vote mechanism must first receive the attention of the electoral systems’ experts, who will have to carefully analyze it, carry out simulations, tests, etc., in order to obtain a fully operational tool, ready for use and reliable.

This is in fact the main purpose of this article and of the more in-depth article that you can read in Issue 22 of the journal AutoRicerca, which is an open access journal.

The purpose, in essence, is to allow this idea to circulate, to be debated, studied, improved, tested…

Once this work is finished, nothing however guarantees that the new voting method will be adopted. Indeed, it is not because a system is more advanced that it will necessarily be considered. It is entirely possible that it will not be taken into account precisely because it is more advanced!

Because sometimes, in fact, often, we are confronted with the natural resistance to change. The double vote system represents a real threat to all those political forces that leverage division in their programs, which are well aware that its introduction would lead to a radical change in political equilibrium, facilitating access to power to more mature individuals, with real ability to create consensus.

Politicians capable of mediating between apparently conflicting demands, such as that of preserving the sovereignty of the parliaments of the various countries, which must legislate in an autonomous way for the good of the people they represent, while at the same time addressing effectively, in larger international assemblies, those problems that can only be addressed on a global scale, such as pandemics, climate change, biodiversity loss, nuclear proliferation, and so on.

Let me finish with a metaphor. You have surely heard of the Big Bang, of what is hypothesized to have happened in the very beginnings of our physical universe.

The universe we know, with the life it contains today, emerged from an immense “electoral result” precisely promoted through a double-vote system. There were the “matter votes”, positive, and the “antimatter votes”, negative, and something in the laws of the universe, or in its initial condition, expressed a slight preference towards matter. And in a certain sense, we can say that our current universe is what emerged following that ancient mega electoral ballot.

Similarly, the general elections of a country are a small Big Bang, which gives birth to a new parliament, which should, ideally, be the result of a balancing of pre-existing discrepancies, so as to remain only with a representation of the truly constructive forces, present in a country.

thanks for reading this far, and please, if the idea of double vote appeals to you, discuss it and make it known, and obviously one way to do it is to simply share this article.

Let me be clear, the double vote is not the only way to advance our democracies (and here we could discuss at length), but it represents a concrete possibility that is worth exploring and testing.

PS: see also my YouTube video: https://youtu.be/YA_l3HM1S0M

Physicist, writer, editor, researcher and self-researcher. For more info: www.massimilianosassolidebianchi.ch

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