The basic elements of Ackerman’s proposal for ‘Deliberation Day’ are as follows:
- one week before major national elections, registered voters would be invited to meet in neighborhood meeting places (such as schools) for one day, to deliberate on the central issues raised in the election campaign;
- this Deliberation Day would become a national holiday and deliberators would be paid $150 for their attendance, provided they showed up at the polls the next week;
- deliberators would first meet in small groups of 15 to listen to a live TV debate between the principal candidates and to identify questions for discussion at a later plenary session of 500 people with local party representatives present to answer questions; and
- deliberators would then reconvene in their small groups of 15 to share their reactions to the responses given by the party representatives to the plenary session.
An obvious advantage of this proposal would be that voters would become better informed about political issues and policies before they vote. In the US and the UK, where there is no compulsory voting, this proposal would also be likely to increase voter turnout rates.
An obvious disadvantage is the cost; but to put it into perspective, the Australian state of Victoria has an annual public holiday for a horse race! There are currently 15.8 voters enrolled in Australia and $US150=$200AUD, so the cost of the payments would be $3.16 billion – not a huge amount in the scheme of things and worth it, in my opinion.
A philosophical advantage of the Deliberation Day proposal is that it would resolve a conflict over the secret ballot, as illustrated by a debate between John Stuart Mill and his philosopher father James Mill. Prior to the secret ballot, English elections were conducted by voters at polling places having to tell election officials who they wished to vote for in front of other voters.
After the widening of the political franchise, James Mill advocated a secret ballot so that tenants and servants would not feel intimidated by the political opinions of their landlords and masters. On the other hand, his son John Stuart Mill wanted to abolish the secret ballot because he thought the lack of public discussion encouraged undue focus on private interests at the expense of the common good.
The Deliberation Day proposal preserves the benefits of the secret ballot, whilst encouraging voters to focus on the common good rather than purely their own private interests. (The underlying assumption is that voters would be more likely to discuss national interest or common good issues at Deliberation Day).
Ackerman, Bruce, ‘Deliberation Day’ (2002). Faculty Scholarship Series. 162.