There are a few other similar questions. The answers mostly point out downfalls as to why this wouldn't work. In this question I try to address these downfalls, hoping to patch (not necessarily totally fix) the system. I am interested in how balanced you think this system is. Are there are other shortcomings I have not seen (brownie points if you can provide a fix).

Also feel free to chip in with possible impacts it would have on society/the economy and/or how different aspects of politics (lobbying, election campaigns) would be different. (This latter isn't required as I don't want this question to be marked 'too broad' but I would love to hear opinions, either in your answer or comments).

I'm trying to create a new type of government where taxes aren't mandatory. Instead you are given votes based upon how much income tax you decide to pay. People who don't care about voting can keep all their money. But people interested in the political system could essentially buy votes, the more they cared the more votes they would buy.

[EDIT with clarification] I am NOT trying to make the perfect, corrupt free government/voting system. I do not think there could ever be such a thing. I totally plan on capitalizing on there being flaws and using that conflict. But you see I believe most people will agree that our current system is also corrupt. Yet it still works and we still use it (even if we grumble about it's unfairness). What I'm really wanting is a critique of this system. Could it be used, would people be as indifferent as we are (as a whole) in trying to change the system. And are any other major loopholes in this system I'm missing? For example, would this completely break/change our economy to the point that it would fail.

This whole system would follow some rules/regulations which (hopefully) balance it and help prevent it from being abused.

  • The price of each additional vote increases exponentially. This is the main system in place to prevent the rich from dominating elections. The first few votes would be cheap enough for anyone to buy (maybe $1 for the first vote, or whatever). Wealthier people would have an advantage individually since they are able to buy more votes. It is important to note that this wouldn't be too large of a gap. This is because it would reach a point where they would be spending large chunks of their fortune for a single vote which wouldn't be cost effective. Assume many smart people have bumped minds to develop a fair growth rate for the equation(s).

[Edit with additional information] Feel free to challenge me on this (I'm perfectly willing to listen to criticism). The purpose of the exponential growth on vote prices is to let someone spend a little more money if they care that much but to not let the rich completely dominate. The growth rate (whatever it is) would try to balance this out. A rich person wouldn't be able to buy a 100k votes for example as this would obviously be unfair.

  • There are different kinds of votes you can buy. E.g. national/state/county votes. Obviously that vote could only be used in the respective election. Buying a county vote wouldn't increase the price of a state/national vote (possibly having different vote cost growth rates set in place by the respective government?). Therefor people wouldn't be deterred from buying national votes since their vote 'counts less' and therefor would get less bang for their buck.

  • The money spent on different votes in the previous bullet would go to the respective government. Federal vote money would go to the federal government, state vote money to the state etc.

  • There is still a version of the w-4 form and IRS (W-4 ,IRS quick explanations for non Americans). The W-4 would serve as a way for the government/IRS to see how much you earn. The IRS would investigate (audit) possible cases of voting fraud. For example, if you spent more on votes than your total income... expect a visit. It doesn't have to be that extreme, maybe you spent a large chunk of your income on votes but are living as if you didn't.

  • Voting is still anonymous. This is to provide another safeguard against the wealthy abusing the system. While they can give people money to spend on votes there is nothing stopping a voter from voting as he/she pleases.

[Edit with additional justification] Lots of people are bringing up the fact that it doesn't matter if a candidate can enforce whether the person he/she pays votes for them or not. This is because it is possible to find a base group of people you can be certain will vote appropriately. I have thought about this and didn't bring it up before because wouldn't both sides be doing this. How effective can this truly be? Wouldn't they just (more or less) cancel each other out? In the end the only people I see benefiting from this is the government since they're getting all the money. Also adding another bullet below this (which also address this issue).

  • [Edit with an additional bullet] I totally forgot about this one in my original write-up. Paying other people to vote for you is illegal. There would be appropriate penalties for both the payer and the payee. No this will by no means stop this from happening and people buying votes can distance themselves from the actual exchange. But it would act as a deterrent and it wouldn't be as rampant compared to it being legal.

  • Votes can be bought at anytime throughout the year so you don't take a huge financial hit come election day. They can also however be bought at the voting booth. But purchased votes only be spent during that voting cycle. A person can't save up votes over ten years, buying cheap votes, then use them all at once. (Possibly a refund if they aren't used? Or not, free money for the government 'n all).

What do y'all think? Would this system work or would it crumble for reasons I haven't addressed. Again feel free to include how you think this would change the government/economy.

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    $\begingroup$ Ok so the obvious problem is vote buying, once you have spent thousands on your own votes, it makes more sense to just pay people who are politically aligned with you to vote than it does to waste your own money on expensive personal votes. Effectively the wealthy would be able to buy votes same as if the system wasn't exponential, they would only have to find lots of not-rich people who are politically aligned with them. $\endgroup$ Apr 19, 2016 at 21:44
  • $\begingroup$ Do you not think bullets 3 and 4 would help counter this? Yes you can give money to people who say they'll vote for you, but how can you enforce that? And you could only give so much to one person before the IRS starts getting suspicious. Also, both sides would be doing this. Do you not think it would cancel each other out? $\endgroup$
    – Chrus
    Apr 19, 2016 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ Yes some people won't vote how they say, however if you do a good job selecting candidates it won't be a problem. How likely is it that the evangelical creationist you gave the money to is going to go and vote democrat? In order for both sides to cancel out you assume that both sides are spending equal amounts of money since that's all that matters. Even if it is balanced it's still a oligarchy. $\endgroup$ Apr 19, 2016 at 21:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Chrus In short, your points 3 and 4 don't help counter this at all. It's easy enough to find all the people who don't vote when it's free because they don't care, and pay them to vote at a couple times. Sure, the voting is anonymous, but you could always go with them to the vote site, wait for them to come back out with proof of having voted (regardless of who they voted for) and then pay them the money. Your votes would have to jump from 1$ to 20k+ each in order for your income point to be even relevant, but then the system would still benefit the rich. $\endgroup$
    – Aify
    Apr 19, 2016 at 21:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Aify, I made one edit (third paragraph), mind reading it? That pairs with the rest of this comment. I agree that it doesn't completely counter/fix the problem. But it does help counter the problem right? Can we agree on that? (keeping in mind that I totally agree everything you've stated is a problem and will happen). $\endgroup$
    – Chrus
    Apr 19, 2016 at 23:08

8 Answers 8


Lack of buy-in

Why does democracy work? The main reason is that it legitimizes the government. Because people believe that their votes matter, they understand that sometimes votes won't go their way. In this system, people wouldn't feel that way. If there's a close vote that involves a clear choice between high tax people and low tax people where the high tax people win, then people will be frustrated.

Lack of revenue

Trump pays hundreds of millions in taxes. In this system, why would he? A thousand dollars gets him nine votes. Why pay another thousand for the next vote? If you read Sanders' tax return, he paid \$27,653. But under this system that would only get him thirteen votes which he could get by paying \$16,383. So Sanders would either save \$11,270 or pay \$16,384 for his next vote. Most people would choose to round down most of the time.

In the US, federal taxes are roughly 25% of GDP. Even if we assume that people would pay 25% for however many votes that gives, will they be willing to pay 12.5% of their income for one vote? That's what exponential growth of just doubling gives you.

Advertising is cheaper

The basic problem is that votes just aren't worth enough. People won't pay big money for votes. It's much cheaper to pay for advertising. Even if a million dollars of advertising only convinces a thousand people net to your position, that's still much cheaper than buying a thousand votes.


A system needs to create balance. In our current system, people who pay for services and people who use them are mostly separate. So the payers want to pay as little as possible while the recipients want as much as possible. This gives a kind of balance.

Under your system, there isn't enough money to pay for any kind of welfare state. The people who want services don't have the money to pay for them. The people who have the money don't value votes enough to buy them.

Compare to charity

Charitable giving in the US is only 2% of GDP. Even tithers (e.g. the Mormons) generally only give 10%. This is well short of the 25% provided by taxes.

Without scaling

The natural fix to all this is to decrease the scaling factor. Instead of doubling, multiply by 1.5 or 1.1 instead. Let's take it down to 1. What value does Donald Trump give to voting? Unless he feels needs as many votes as he pays dollars in taxes, he'll pay less. That would only increase the budget deficit (already large).

The only people likely to pay significant amounts will be those who benefit from the votes. But that means that they have to expect to benefit more than they pay. In order to beat 10% of the vote (from paying a 10% tax as charity), they'd have to buy their own 10%. So at the unrealistic rate of 10% natural giving, we can get up to 20%. Still short of 25%.

There's another problem. If your 10% is going to pay for services valued by others rather than your services or charity, why pay it? But without that 10%, there's no reason for the greedy to add their 10%.

So even without scaling, there just isn't enough money from selling votes to eliminate taxes.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks this post brought up some interesting points. First I just want to clarify that I was using the example of doubling the cost of each vote hypothetically, just to give a quick, easy example. I don't know what the scaling factor would be, I assume it would take people much smarter than me to figure out an appropriate equation lol. $\endgroup$
    – Chrus
    Apr 20, 2016 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ I do appreciate the statistics about revenue, that's something I was hoping to get some opinions about. I especially like the balance section, I hadn't thought about welfare. I do want to say this world I'm building isn't earth (probably should have clarified that) so I'm not like trying to switch from the current US system to this. Any thoughts on how a country would be different to make up for receiving less revenue through taxes? Idk that might be a post in of itself lol. $\endgroup$
    – Chrus
    Apr 20, 2016 at 15:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Lack of buy-in is not supported historically. In 1792, for instance, the US limited franchise to property owners, with the result that less than 10% of the adult male population was allowed to vote. $\endgroup$ May 12, 2017 at 21:55

The rich would utterly dominate politics.

Furthermore, once they do, they will either make it cheaper to buy more votes, or make all votes more expensive, thus limiting the number of people who vote.

You have to understand that even with voting being free many people simply don't bother. When it starts costing them money even fewer will do so - except for the rich, of course.

In their case not only will the rich vote, but also their wives/husbands, children, mother/fathers, cousins, etc. will all be present and accounted for. They will even give their employees money to go buy votes in their favor, and then maybe give them a nice bonus too!

Whereas some low income families will have to buy maybe one or two votes between a group of them because they can't afford anything else.


Picture two families, one rich, one middle class. They both consist of a mother, father, son, daughter (both 18+), and two sets of grandparents.

In this example we will price the votes as such: 1st vote $1, **2nd vote** $500, 3rd vote $10K.

The middle class family buy one vote each, for a total of 8 votes cast, but the father decides he feels very strongly about this election and actually goes out and buys an additional $500 vote. This means that he will not be able to buy his son that new hockey equipment he had been asking for, but he hopes to get it for him for Christmas instead.

In this scenario the middle income family casts a total of 9 votes.

For the rich family things are a little different. The father purchases 3 votes for each of his family members - either outright, or provides them with the money in some other way (through business transactions, gifts, allowances, etc. He has legal avenues to do so).

His family effortlessly casts a total of 24 votes. And they still go on a 5 star tour of Europe the following month.

What you're setting up is a system of government in which money is power, which realistically is also the world we live in now - only you're making it a lot more obvious.

Looking back in history, there was a time when only landowners had a right to vote, which automatically excluded the vast majority of people who were not nobles/rich. Obviously, they only passed laws that were in their favor, thus propagating imbalance.

An example that I always thought interesting was that of Starship Troopers: a world in which if you don't sign up for military service and serve a certain number of years you do not qualify as a "Citizen" and do not have the right to vote. Their logic is that if you're not willing to die for your country then you have no say in how it's run. Now that sounds fair.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm sorry but did you even read the bullet points? The very first one tries to deal with the rich dominating by being able to buy more votes. I'm fine if you think that still isn't enough, but could you at least explain your reasoning behind it? I'll edit the first bullet point and add a little more detail in case I didn't provide enough information for everyone to fully understand what I meant. $\endgroup$
    – Chrus
    Apr 19, 2016 at 21:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Chrus - What is there to explain? If 5 votes cost 10 million dollars, but I'm a billionaire I can afford to buy 10. If 2 votes cost 500 dollars, chances are your average person will only buy the one, if that. Did you actually read my answer? Specifically paragraphs 3, 4, and 5. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Apr 19, 2016 at 21:17
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Chrus Andrei is right - Let's say I'm a billionaire and I buy 10 votes. The next vote can cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars - but I could just spend the 100k and find 10 people, give them each 10k to buy 2/3 votes normally. Those bystanders just earned (10k - cost of 3 votes), and I just got 30 votes for the price of 1. $\endgroup$
    – Aify
    Apr 19, 2016 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ @ AndreiROM I edited bullet 1, let me know if you agree/disagree. $\endgroup$
    – Chrus
    Apr 19, 2016 at 21:39
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Chrus You miss the point, it would be really easy for them to circumvent that problem, they would just have to find a bunch of christian fundamentalists who they are certain will vote in their favor, and give their money to them. $\endgroup$ Apr 19, 2016 at 21:46

This system was in place in the Roman Empire for a substantial part of its history.

It is also essentially the system of government used in most modern business organizations and in most condominium associations.

Also, most monarchies were special cases of this system in which a monarch personally finances government out of his own pocket and personally owned a substantial share of the national wealth to pay for it. Most Islamic monarchies today operate on that basis right now. There is no taxation and no representation.

More generally, the proximate cause of democratic government in most countries in Europe was a bargain between a monarch who ran out of money and a monied or landed class to raise funds in exchange for a partial surrender of political power. This was the trigger for democratic government in Spain, France, England and at least parts of Germany and Italy.


Ok so I would like to make this answer to point out that in such a system the rich would always be to effectively buy votes at the base rate instead of at the exponential rate.

You brought up that if you pay people to vote you can't be certain they'll vote how you want. The problem here is that this would be a very small issue for the rich.

You only need to find a bunch of people who you are certain will vote in your favor such as religious evangelicals if republican, then just buy votes by giving them money. Even if there are laws against it it would be impossible to stop. You could hide your vote buying by only giving a few votes and spreading it over a larger group. Or better you could just give them donations that aren't for voting per se but they would likely be motivated to spend it on votes, and if they don't then they don't get more money next election.

As for whether the rich people in both parties would cancel each other out: Well even if they did it would still be exclusively about who spent the most money, but in addition one party would probably have a slight monetary advantage, since money is the only thing that matters in this election once one party got ahead they could leverage that to stay ahead forever becoming a one party system.

In response to your edit:

  • I need to make it extremely clear, that even if voting buying is is illegal it will still be ubiquitous. Unless you have laws against giving people gifts of money, then the rich will be able to pay people money with the expectation that they will buy votes with it, if they then don't use the money to buy votes for the election for which it was granted, then they will be granted no further money for future elections. Even better they will likely grant the people somewhat more money than is needed to buy votes, which they can then spend thus making them dependant on their rich benefactors(and less likely to bail out and spend their allotment on stuff other than votes).
  • To readdress your other point:Sure both sides would be effectively (even if not technically in the eyes of the law) be buying votes. This wouldn't cancel out for long though, (if at all) for as you see such a balance is extremely unstable. As soon as one side gets an upper hand they can use their extra power to get more money, to buy more votes... effectively since this is all about who has more money (people will take advantage of the system quickly) as soon as one person gets more money they effectively can cement their power indefinitely. They would probably also change the laws to further cement their position.
  • $\begingroup$ Why do you think that vote buying would happen in that system more frequently than it happens in our system? $\endgroup$
    – Christian
    Apr 20, 2016 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ Within this system most votes would be bought on every level, and it would quickly end up as a one party system. $\endgroup$ Apr 20, 2016 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Vakus Drake. Thanks your post/edit does bring up some good points about vote buying. I am a little confused as to why you think this would end up as a one party system though. The structure of elected officials would be similar to the US with congress/house of reps/ect. In what way do you think this system would be different than ours in respect to a party winning a majority of the positions in the government. Aparty has never managed to take full control in the US so I find it difficult to see how a party in this system would. But I would love to hear your ideas if you think differently. $\endgroup$
    – Chrus
    Apr 21, 2016 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Chrus Ok so to clarify: As I have established this system becomes almost exclusively about who has more money to buy votes with. So since a parties popularity may play very little role (assuming they aren't so hated everyone donates money to oust them). So once one party gets control they can use their power to get themselves more money, which means they can buy even more power. Effectively because of the relationship between power and money the controlling g party can create a positive feedback loop to cement control. $\endgroup$ Apr 21, 2016 at 17:12

Prussia had a similar system called Dreiklassenwahlrecht in the 19th century. You can draw from their history.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Universal suffrage is a very recent phenomena. For a long time, in most countries, only landowners could vote on national issues. Other people could vote only on a local level (electing a village elder, for example). Prussia was in no way unique, even if details of implementation varied. Actually, on a historical scale, universal suffrage has not been existing for long enough for telling whether it is stable or not. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Sep 1, 2016 at 6:10

IMHO the whole proposal is wrongheaded. If a polity doesn't have one person one vote they should have the number of votes inversely proportional to a person's wealth.

Imagine Person A has \$ 10,000,000.00 and Person B has \$ 10,000.00.

If they both pay an emergency wealth tax of 50 percent, Person A will have \$ 5,000,000.00 left and Person B will have \$ 5,000.00 left.

If they both get a government grant of \$ 50.00 Person A will have \$ 10,000,050.00 and person B will have \$ 10,050.00.

Person A could claim that he deserves more votes because he has more to lose. But it seems more rational to accept Person B's claim that he deserves more votes because he has so little that losing a specific dollar amount or even a specific proportion of his wealth will leave him with much less than Person A.

Poor people tend to suffer much more from government taxation and gain much more from government benefits, considering how much they affect the resources available to poor people, than rich people.

In short, the poor need more influence over government policy because even minor changes in their wealth affect them much more.

Since people at different economic levels are about equally good or bad depending on one's point of view and thus more or less equally deserve to suffer or benefit, one can deduce that poor people deserve more influence over government policy than rich people.

I propose the reverse of the original proposal. Make voting equally difficult for the rich and the poor, but pay people each time they vote, so that the poor will find it worth their while to go to the trouble of voting several times but the rich won't think it worthwhile to vote even once.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I fixed the formatting for you. $ and $$ delimit Mathjax formulae, so you need to backslash-escape any dollar signs that are not used for that purpose: \$ shows up as $ in the text, whereas a bare $ or $$ followed by some text followed by another $ or $$ delimits mathematics. $\endgroup$
    – user
    May 12, 2017 at 19:59

Here are the problems I see:

You would have too little tax income, too many elections, and immense social unrest.

Almost no rich person would pay the steep exponential tax for a few more votes. They can easily buy as many votes as they like at the cut-rate one dollar per vote price point. A liberal millionaire would simply "donate" to the blue state inner city disadvantaged voter fund that helps families struggling to buy votes. A rich conservative would "donate" to the red state evangelical voter fund that helps rural families struggling to buy votes. Votes being cast secretly has very little effect on this since most people's political leanings are extremely easy to glean from demographics and Facebook profiles.

A rich foreign government, though, might be inclined to pay the exponential costs, through agents, to install a puppet. If your country is an influential player on the international scene, this is very likely and would lead to a loss of sovereignty. You basically get a country that is auctioned off to the highest bidder every X years. (Side note: I believe there is a board game that works just like this, you "invest" in world powers and whoever invests the most in, say "Europe", controls that country's military for 1 turn).

Making a budget and long term financial planning would be close to impossible. The city running out of money; the city council calls for early elections.

What buy-in do the poor have to serve in the military or obey the law in this system? This would quickly deteriorate into a feudal system with a ruling "noble" class and the poor second class citizens. Given ideas of freedom and self-determination are freely available on Wikipedia these days, how long before your country experiences a popular uprising?


One more issue which I think has been neglected: polarization. If you are moderate, you may give up idea paying. If you are fanatically convinced that politician A is the Saviour or anti-Christ, then you'd pay a lot to vote. Needless to say the most crazy people would decide about the final result.

(A working system could involve a compulsory taxation and unequal votes. Then the result may actually quite good as it may even give more power to medium class vs. the richest, as the richest would have less power through advertisement)


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