Budget decisions today are often made in an environment of high conflict and low trust. This is not surprising given that conflict is up, and trust is down in the United States, generally. The share of people who think that most other people can be trusted has declined in the U.S. by about one-quarter over the past few decades. This has real consequences. Seven in ten Americans think low trust between fellow citizens makes it harder to solve problems. The good news is that there is a desire to repair this problem. Six in ten Americans think it is “very important” that the level of confidence people have in their fellow citizens be improved.
There are many causes of the decline in trust. One cause with salience to local government is the state of the institutions in which our democratic discourse takes place. Many institutions have not evolved and adapted with the times. For example, the simple “majority rule” vote system has been at the center of American government since the founding of the republic. However, the majority rule voting system can create a polarizing, conflict inducing dynamic. This is especially true when complex, controversial issues, like local governments are increasingly required to deal with, are oversimplified into a binary choice.
The traditional majority rule system forces people to pick a side and discourages them from investigating potential areas of compromise. The result is that the system (e.g., government) loses legitimacy in the eyes of those who lose the vote. It also misses an opportunity to learn more about the range of preferences that participants have because their choices are reduced to a small number of options (e.g., yes or no). Local governments are the true laboratories of democracy, making them the ideal place to experiment with new institutional forms designed to address these problems. In this article, we propose the use of an alternative voting system called “Quadratic Voting” (QV).