In the opening scene of the classic caper comedy It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, a motorist speeding down the highway goes off a cliff and crashes. Several other cars pull over and some of the occupants make their way down the embankment in time to hear his dying words about the location of a buried treasure. Then, the fun begins.
Should the shares be divided just among the people who went down the embankment and heard the dying man’s last words? Should shares be divided among the various groups of traveling companions, one share per car? Or should they be divided equally among all travelers, so that cars with more occupants get more shares?
Clearly, “one man, one vote” is not the only way to resolve the question, and maybe not the fairest either. This is a question that comes up in real life, too, not just in funny films.
Employees at large companies may vote an issue by department. Students may vote by year or classes. Adult siblings or cousins planning joint vacations or other get-togethers may vote by family to decide the destination or other details.
In almost any situation requiring a vote, one can conduct a popular election, providing ballots to all who have a stake in the outcome, and let majority will prevail. Or one can create an electoral-college system in which groups are established with one vote each — or a set number of votes determined by an agreed-upon formula.
Universal suffrage and the principle of “one man, one vote” seem so obviously fair that many Americans cannot conceive of a better way. But our Founding Fathers did. If we want to preserve our marvelous democratic system, we must be able to explain its virtues to our fellow citizens. Change should not be considered without thorough examination.