Conference Proceedings
Opening Remarks by the Chair

As shown by the diametrically opposite ways in which the unconditional use of postal ballots has been assessed, a wide variety of electoral standards can be discerned on an international scale in regard to different methods of voting, some of which are informed by distinct traditions of political philosophy. Cultural diversity can be interpreted as mitigating against the possibility of developing consistent international electoral standards. An alternative view is that such standards are possible if based on common sense, and that democrats should seek agreement on how best to secure them. This is the CDRSB viewpoint: like President Kennedy, we are unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which democratic nations have been committed.

Aside from questions of national circumstance and cultural diversity two general factors can be discerned which help explain why inconsistencies in electoral standards exist. The first is that of concern to halt falling rates of voter turnout, the second is that of direct or indirect factional self interest in securing electoral advantage. The CDRSB view is that the use of postal ballots on demand creates unacceptably high levels of opportunity for fraud and intimidation, and that alternative ways to facilitate voter participation should be developed which are less vulnerable to factional interests. For example it is a self evident truth that sortition can be used to contain deleterious factional influences.

Consistent international electoral standards based on common sense are possible. The chief benchmarks of social progress in establishing universal standards of modern common sense understanding were set by the work and revolutionary achievements of the British people, and given their most concise expression in the American Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. The ideas embodied in these documents are based on the self evident truths of common sense which underlay and were clarified in their relation to those truths which can be derived from them by the development of modern scientific method and its application to the organisation of human affairs. Impediments to progress since the American Revolution may be attributed in large part to insufficient account being taken of these distinctions in their relation to political reform concerned with popular scrutiny of and experimentation with distinct forms of macroeconomic organisation.

Jefferson's vision of a flexible, participatory democratic order able to facilitate radical constitutional review and if necessary reform upon a regular, long term cycle was first deferred and later forsaken altogether for pragmatic considerations made more pressing given the slower and more problematic pace of reform in Europe in achieving stable and supportive advance. The construction of government based on reason and consent has involved ongoing conflict between evolving conservative and radical perspectives, and in this context a consequence of failure to improve upon or address shortcomings in the American constitutional settlement has been the strengthening of tendencies towards chronic, factional polarisation within the relatively narrow, representative parameters of democratic power bestowed by the founding fathers.

In the USA conservative extremism on the question of slavery had to be overcome by the use of unlimited and overwhelming force. In Europe this polarisation led to factional extremism, deepening social conflict and rupture of the tenuous relation between science, common sense understanding and political philosophy not only on the part of conservative forces but also of radicalism itself in an era of accelerating technological and economic development. The genesis of both left and right totalitarianism, and with this the main problems of democratic struggle, war and cold war throughout the twentieth century may be attributed in large part to these difficulties.

In this light it can be seen that the tasks of developing consistent international electoral standards can include to some considerable extent the need to address major problems of socioeconomic and political development. These tasks concern not only voter turnout and political participation in the west but also social conflict and extremism on a general basis, both in regard to contemporary developments and also in regard to the legacy of past conflict which conditions and circumscribes the present state of world affairs. An examination of the relation between common sense and the development of modern democracy can more fully illustrate this (this point is elaborated in the historical analysis).

Against this background the CDRSB is proposing that opinion among the international community should be sought and systematically recorded in regard to the use of postal ballots on demand in their relation to the standards implied by Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights concerning the secrecy of the ballot. The CDRSB is also proposing that a provisional intergovernmental forum on electoral standards be formed with the purpose of inviting formal government affiliation to it, preparing a comprehensive report on the use of postal ballots on demand and organising a conference on international electoral standards.

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