The system of plural voting means that certain persons have more than one vote.
The idea behind the system of plural voting is that persons better qualified or those supposed to have greater interests at stake are given more votes than those less qualified or having smaller interests in the country. Belgium introduced this system as early as 1893 and it continued till very recently. Every citizen having attained the age of twenty-five years and having lived in the Commune for at least one year was allowed one vote. In addition to this, a supplementary vote was allowed to every man who had reached the age of thirty-five years, had a legitimate child and paid a tax of five francs to the State, and two supplementary votes to all male citizens of twenty-five years age who possessed a diploma from an institution of higher teaching or had held or held a public office. No one, however, had more than three votes.
The system of plural voting prevails in India as well. For example, graduates of universities have more than one vote in the State elections, where two chambers exist. In Britain, before 1918, voters had as many votes as positive qualifications.
The Reform Act of 1918 permitted, at most, two votes per voter to be chosen among the qualification of residence, occupation, and university degree. In 1945 it was estimated that there were 200,000 qualified to cast a business vote and 175,000 a university vote. The Labour Government abolished the “plural vote” by the Representation of the People Act of 1948. The opponents of universal suffrage were reluctant to entrust political power to the ignorant masses. They feared that a demagogue or a self-seeking politician would usurp the real power by misleading the ignorant and uninstructed people. The device of plural voting was invented as a “counterpoise to the numerical weight of the least educated.
” John Stuart Mill was a great apologist of this system. He maintained that it was a great political wrong to rate all votes as equal. Votes, he added, should not be counted; they should be weighed and those who have a greater stake in the country or who are better qualified to vote should be given greater weight. The poet Iqbal also satirized democracy for the same reason: (Democracy is a form of government in which votes are counted not weighed) But the practical defect of plural voting is the difficulty in prescribing a just and equitable standard of weighing the votes.
To put a premium on education or property is to attach arbitrary values to a certain category of votes. Thus, while a university graduate may receive a special vote, the Civil Engineer or Architect who is highly qualified in his particular branch of works, may justly complain that he has no extra vote. Property, too, is not a true criterion. Democracy cannot work when political rights are based upon wealth. Weighted voting for the wealth means a class government to perpetuate vested interests. Such a process is most undemocratic as it is inconsistent with the principle of political equality. Plural voting, therefore, is fast disappearing as it has disappeared in Britain.
One vote, one person is the requirement of democracy.