Negative numbers and democracy: an antidote to divisiveness

Massimiliano Sassoli de Bianchi
8 min readFeb 5, 2021

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?