None of the Above!
Democracy is an imperfect form of government but as protests in Iran can attest, the alternative to democracy is death, despair, and a bleak outlook. It is crucial that democratic societies continue to innovate their political systems to ensure that citizens continue to view their governments as the legitimate holders of power.
It is also quite clear, that liberal democracy as created in the United States and Europe are losing legitimacy among their own citizens. A resurgence of authoritarianism is rising among Western democracies and more citizens are losing faith that their democracies can deliver.
The peoples of Iran and Iranshahr need to learn the lessons that liberal democracies have not, as they struggle to topple the dictatorships that litter this region. One of the major reasons citizens in democracies across the world are losing interest in democracy is that a system that is supposed to promote merit seems to keep the same people in power election after election. Liberal democracies have a dangerous flaw: incumbents almost always get re-elected. Another dangerous flaw is that liberal democracies tend to lead to binary choices between two candidates that nobody is loves. Those two candidates divide and conquer their constituents to scare them into choosing one candidate over the other. Citizens have tried in vain to break this stranglehold with acts of defiance that sadly only reinforce the system. They will either vote for smaller parties that have a slim chance of making change or they boycott the vote.
Citizen voters should have an actual choice rather than the illusion of choice that modern liberal democracies force on them. There could be another way to both break the binary election system and give voters a true protest vote that actually can change the course of their country. This is the "None of the Above" option.
Imagine that when electing candidates to an office, there is a check box that a voter can mark to say, "I don't like any of you and none of you should represent me!" Now how could this work? Say there are two candidates that are on a ballot and just below their names is a third option, the "None of the Above." If voters gave the "None of the Above" option the most votes, then both of the those candidates lose and a new election is called for this office position. The two candidates that lost are disqualified from running for the new election. That would mean completely new candidates would have to run for the office. There are many ways that the "None of the Above" could be used for different ways of electing public officials. The example I listed above would be a reform better suited to the American liberal democracy model. However, there is no reason that a "None of the Above" option could be of great use in other democratic political systems.
Why does this matter? In all the democracies I have seen, there is a growing sense that the people representing them do not actually represent them. Many choose not to vote as a way of saying, "This system is not working." But the political systems they are boycotting actually work better for the elites when fewer people vote. So a vicious cycle continues where fewer people vote and the political system becomes harder and harder to reform. Eventually, you get a stale ossified "democracy" and people just assume that democracy sucks and maybe another system of government would be better. But the truth is, nothing works better than when the governed have a true say in their government.
Democratic societies have for too long ignored the non-voter and just reviled them as lazy. However, a person who chooses not to vote has valid concerns and incorporating a mechanism for them to actually voice their protest of a system they think is low on legitimacy is completely necessary to prevent democracies from sliding into authoritarian systems or civil wars. Citizens should not have to choose bad options for their countries' leadership. Adding a "None of the Above" option would break the grip of elites and bring the non-voters back into the political community where they belong.
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Latif Simorghi is an activist, blogger, and author.