I have recently heard an idea from a local journalist that even surprised the moderator (greatly simplified):

  1. Pay some amount for people that do NOT vote

  2. Heuristically this should lead to better results because those interesting in taking the money are less interested in politics, more egocentric, thus the result will be reflect options from those who understand the value of the vote, value more the politics than immediate financial gain.

I am trying to find online resources about this idea, but everything I can find is related to the exact opposite (i.e. provide incentive for people to vote)

Is there a theory, a study, paper etc. to provide more insight about such an approach to voting?

I am mostly interested in a cost/benefit analysis of such an approach within a democratic system, or even better, within a democracy that seems to decline.


Some problems I can see with this idea:

Unbalanced incentives

In point two, you claim that this system would encourage votes from people who "understand the value of the vote", but is that really true? Votes are very important in aggregate but a single vote, not so much - the overwhelmingly most likely outcomes of adding one vote are either 1) your preferred candidate wins by one more vote than they already would have, or 2) your preferred candidate loses by one fewer vote than they already would have. It is extremely unlikely that your vote will turn a tie into a win, or a win into a tie, and hence you are almost always better off taking the money.

Poor people are more heavily incentivised to abstain

The (presumably small) payment is going to appear more tempting to a single parent on minimum wage than it is to a millionaire, leading to a skewed effect across the whole population. I also wouldn't rule out candidates trying to promote the payout amongst demographics likely to vote against them in order to benefit from the low turnout.

Low turnouts lead to a reduction in perceived legitimacy of the winner

In a democratic system, the winner wants to be able to point to the election results as evidence that the public supports their policies. Winning a plurality of the 10% of people who actually voted doesn't really show this.


An obvious point, but you're going to need to pay a lot of people. Approximately one third of UK registered voters don't vote, and that number is sure to increase under your scheme. If we pay £10 each then that's over £150 million (and probably rising) per general election, more if we're also paying not to vote in local council elections and the like.

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    +1. I find "poor people" issue the most problematic. The cost issue can be partially circumvented by requiring voters to explicitly request for payment per non-vote. If they are simply not interested in voting at all, they do not get payed. – Alexei Feb 14 '19 at 13:05
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    -1 I don't get the point about aggregate voting. At some point there is a vote that determines which candidate wins and which ones lose. It's impossible to know whether your vote is the deciding vote, so how can any individual determine whether their vote is the one that 'matters' or not, and thus choose whether to vote or take the money? – Roy Feb 14 '19 at 15:28
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    I already get paid not to vote. I don't waste an hour of my time doing it and the many hundreds of hours doing the homework to make an informed decision. So I "get paid" thousands in my time, which others happily relinquish. – Cloud Feb 14 '19 at 17:27
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    While these are all very good reasons why this isn't a good idea, please note that the question specifically asked for "online resources about this idea" and "a theory, a study, paper etc." – Philipp Feb 14 '19 at 17:45
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    @Roy I think the point is that there is no single "deciding vote" unless a candidate wins by one vote, which is highly unlikely. That being the case any individual voter may consider their own vote worthless, certainly compared to the money they will be paid for abstaining, even if it's a very low amount - i.e. the outcome of the election will be the exact same whether or not I vote, so why do I not just take the money? – colmde Feb 15 '19 at 8:53

Let me rephrase your proposal. Every eligible voter gets a $10 stipend. In order to vote, you must pay $10 (forfeit the stipend).

This is a poll tax, and the US has a long history of this. To summarize, this approach to provide monetary penalties for voting is generally viewed unfavorably because it disproportionately impacts the poor (who the money would benefit more).

In the US, the 24th amendment forbids this practice.

The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

The government paying (crediting) nonvoters is the equivalent of taxing at the polls, and would have the same results.

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    +1. Even if you don't have the USA's dark (racist) history with poll taxes, a subsidy for not voting is clearly going to stilt your electorate towards voters for whom that amount is trivial pocket change, and away from those for whom it means not having to skip a meal that week. That's simple economics. Perhaps you have a country in mind where the rich not having enough of a voice in government is an issue, but if you do, I'm at a loss for what that country is. – T.E.D. Feb 16 '19 at 0:02
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    One nuance that might improve this answer a little is to mention that suppressing (in particular) the black vote was the point of the tax. i.e. at the time it was not "viewed unfavorably" by those in power. As such laws are still being enacted I think we cannot assume that OP's proposal does not have similar antidemocratic intent. – jberryman Feb 16 '19 at 17:26
  • Yes, the whole purpose of a poll tax is to suppress the poor and/or a minority. In the USA's case, it was to suppress the interests of poor blacks. – The Mattbat999 Feb 17 '19 at 14:32
  • @T.E.D. I agree with you, that's the obvious outcome. On the other hand, only "rich enough" people can afford to spend time in getting informed about who/what they should vote. People for which not having 10$ means skipping a meal don't usually have the means of knowing exactly what's going on. – ChatterOne Feb 18 '19 at 9:47
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    @ChatterOne [citation needed] – T.E.D. Feb 19 '19 at 17:16

An interesting idea which would, however, lead to undermining the democratic system in the end. A democracy justifies its claim to power by saying it is the will of the people (whether that's actually true or not is beyond the scope of this topic). Now imagine that only, say, 20% of the population actually go voting, as the rest simply decides to take the money (since most people realise that their vote, given the total number of eligible voters in the country, is unlikely to have any noticeable impact anyway, so they might as well grab the money) and the ruling party thus amassed a little above half the votes. How could the government claim to be ruling in the name of the people if only a tenth of the population actually supported them? It is also likely that the poor would be more incentivised to take the bribe, meaning further class divides and allegations that the so called democracy is actually just a thinly veiled oligarchy.

Another issue is then that only people passionate about politics would go voting, meaning the voting base would be chiefly composed of activists, who tend to have rather radical views on politics, and who would thus be pandered to by the government instead of the rest of the population (as they wouldn't be part of the voter base and thus would be irrelevant). A democracy would be unlikely to last under such a system, as one thing you likely have noticed about activists already is that they tend to be fanatical in their beliefs and absolutely hate activists of the opposing side - sooner or later, the party in power would start outlawing certain parties of the opposition, citing greater good and similar bullshit.

The proposition seems to be fueled by a desire to end the status quo and bring large scale changes to the system, in which it would certainly succeed and relatively quickly at that (of course how it would be changed is a different question entirely). If that is something you seek, it is probably an idea you might consider supporting. Otherwise, it should be avoided.

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    I'm not convinced that this would result in only activists voting. I think a lot of people are passionate about sensible and stable government and would be willing to pay to stop radicals taking over. Obviously I have no proof of this but I suspect if the UK government had paid people not to vote the Brexit result would have gone the other way and surely quitting a 40+ year relationship is more radical than staying in it. It's largely true that people with money tend to want to preserve the status quo so I can see companies countering the governments offer and paying people to vote. – Eric Nolan Feb 14 '19 at 12:09
  • @EricNolan Politicians used to hold parties and give out free alcohol to encourage people to vote for them in elections and this was banned as it was considered a bad thing to give material incentive to vote a particular way. Now you are suggesting a slightly different version of that to get people to not vote instead as being a good thing? – Roy Feb 14 '19 at 15:33
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    Part of what you describe is already the case. How can our leaders say that they are ruling based on the will of the people when only 20% or less voted for them? That problem is already there, though the suggestion here does make it even more pronounced, yes. We might go from 15-20% of the population voting for the winner down to less than 5%. – Aaron Feb 14 '19 at 16:48
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    While these are all very good reasons why this isn't a good idea, the question specifically asked for "online resources about this idea" and "a theory, a study, paper etc." – Philipp Feb 14 '19 at 17:46
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    This doesn't answer the question, which is "Is there a theory, a study, paper etc. to provide more insight about such an approach to voting?" – RWW Feb 14 '19 at 22:04

Democracy isn't about making the correct decisions, it's about making decisions that are supported by the people. You are mistakenly conflating how much I personally value my own vote (i.e. how much you'd have to pay me to not vote) with how much my vote is worth in the democratic decision-making process. The two are unrelated - in a true democratic system, everyone's vote, by definition, is worth the same amount. It doesn't matter if you're rich, poor, well-informed, or just making a gut decision about which candidate you'd like to have a beer with. Right or wrong, everyone's opinion is valued equally in a democracy. If you want a small cadre of well-informed individuals making the decisions for everyone, then democracy it ain't.

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    While these are all very good reasons why this isn't a good idea, the question specifically asked for "online resources about this idea" and "a theory, a study, paper etc." – Philipp Feb 14 '19 at 17:46
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    This doesn't answer the question, which is "Is there a theory, a study, paper etc. to provide more insight about such an approach to voting?" – RWW Feb 14 '19 at 22:03

What you're proposing is a prisoner's dilemma variant. Receiving the benefit of keeping your vote depends on other people who share your interests also electing to do the same; assuming a portion will act greedily and take the money, the rational choice is for you to do the same. This is of course assuming the money is an amount sufficient to be significant to you. In practice, it's only significant for the poor, so the effect is to make the rational choice for the poor abstaining from voting.

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    This doesn't answer the question, which is "Is there a theory, a study, paper etc. to provide more insight about such an approach to voting?" – RWW Feb 14 '19 at 22:01

The biggest flaw of them all:

It can't be proven they didn't vote

The reason most democratic systems have countermeasures against notifying who you voted for, is so people can't buy votes. Obviously, the people paying need evidence they actually bought the vote (and you didn't simply steal the money and vote for whoever you wanted anyway).

In the given situation of paying not to vote, how would a voter prove they didn't vote to the 'buyer'? Who voted for what is kept private, and searching millions of vote records to determine who didn't vote would be such a mammoth task as to be rendered not possible. There's nothing stopping a voter from taking the money and voting anyway.

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    Not sure for various countries, but where I live there an electronic system that checks for double votes based on identification number (national ID). If you can check for this, you can also check for vote / no-vote, assuming the payer has the appropriate access to this data. – Alexei Feb 14 '19 at 14:54
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    In the United States, at least, whether an individual voted is public record. Only who they voted for is secret. There are even apps that will tell you whether your friends voted. – Chris Feb 14 '19 at 16:36
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    In my locale, you have to sign in when you show up to vote, so they know who voted, but not for whom. The "who voted" is apparently public record, because last year some entity scraped the information and mailed out mailer cards to people's physical mailing addresses. The mailer cards listed your neighbor's names and addresses and whether they had voted. Vote shaming. Yep. – shoover Feb 14 '19 at 16:37
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    I live in the United States, and every voting place I have voted at keeps track of who voted but not who they voted for. I have to sign in, the fact that I am voting is recorded, then I am given a ballot which does not identify its user and I cast an anonymous vote. – Aaron Feb 14 '19 at 16:55
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    While these are all very good reasons why this isn't a good idea, the question specifically asked for "online resources about this idea" and "a theory, a study, paper etc." – Philipp Feb 14 '19 at 17:46

From a different point of view, and let me stress that I Am Not A Lawyer, I'm not at all convinced that (at least in the US) such a contract would be enforceable. Just as you cannot sell yourself into slavery, I suspect very strongly that forfeiting your franchise for money is also not something the courts would uphold.

Presumably the payments would be made by an organization connected to one major party or another, let's call them the Republicrats. Then the opposite party (the Demicans, of course) would encourage their rank and file to sign up, take the money, and then vote anyways. The joys of revenge might well increase the Demican turnout.

So, the Republicrat policy would have to be to make payment after Election Day.

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    This doesn't answer the question, which is "Is there a theory, a study, paper etc. to provide more insight about such an approach to voting?" – RWW Feb 14 '19 at 22:01
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    This whole answer can be shortened to the first and last sentences: This is not enforceable by contract, so has to be based on paying after the fact. Everything else is just irrelevant distraction. This also ignores the fact that this could be an official government program, rather than a political maneuver. – Bobson Feb 15 '19 at 12:40

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