Lisa Dusseault
Mon, 22 Oct 2001 22:39:28 -0700

Voting isn't the centerpiece of American culture, by at least some
standards.  USA has very few national referendums, and only some states seem
to do a lot with ballot initiatives and other local voting mechanisms.
Other countries vote on far more issues.  Switzerland is, I believe, one

Many controversial laws have never been subject to direct vote.  Some recent
 - Whether evidence seized under a search warrant taken out without
sufficient cause can be used against the plaintiff
 - Whether an alien who does not have citizenship in another country can be
 - Whether cigarette advertising regulations are contrary to the

These are only the ones that I understand -- the supreme court also tackles
some extremely technical cases, the briefs for which I am unable to
comprehend sufficiently to even list one basic issue.

Note that the supreme court refers frequently to the constitution and I
don't think the constitution was ever brought to a referendum.

Instead, most national/federal issues in USA are subject only to very
indirect pressure from votes, exacerbated by the lack of any large parties
other than Dem/Rep.  Take the issues determined by the supreme court: you
vote for an elector, who votes for a party, who has selected a president,
who nominates supreme count justices, who get approved by other people, and
these supreme court justices eventually form opinions that really matter.

Anyway, I think you get my point that the centerpiece of the system isn't
really voting.

Next question: Should it be?  Should we all be able to vote directly on
whether the death penalty should exist, whether torture is allowed, and
whether abortions are legal?  I have some mixed sympathy for countries that
decide not to put things to vote if the result would be something like the
death penalty.  Case in point: apparently most Euro countries do not allow
the death penalty, although if they voted on it, most would find their
voters in favor of it.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: []On Behalf Of
> Sherry Listgarten
> Sent: October 21, 2001 8:29 PM
> To: 'Clay Shirky'
> Cc:
> Subject: RE: Multiculturalism
> > The very idea of voting is corrosive of cultural norms, since it
> > assumes they are not set in stone, and should be changed when people
> > change their minds.
> Funny, I thought voting was the centerpiece of American culture. Where the
> taxes were collected for public purposes and the buses were to be used.