I currently live in a condo in the state of Washington. This makes me a minority as 67.2% of voters live in single family homes. Even in Seattle itself 51.3% of units are single family homes or townhouses. The majority in the state government gets to pass laws governing condos and each year there's more and more regulations on their construction and management.

Are there jurisdictions where this is not the case and only people directly affected by a certain policy get a vote on it? In my hypothetical example above there would be a separate governing body for condo regulations, elected by people who currently reside in one.

Update: here's a specific example of such a regulation. As per the estimate of an engineer I've talked with, the costs of fixing and installing elevators in Seattle has gone up 2-3x (adjusted for inflation) in past 30 years due to all the new rules. No one living in SFHs or townhouses has to foot the bill as they almost never have an elevator.

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    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jul 8 at 21:52
  • How has the cost of accidental injury or death in a elevator failure changed over the same period.
    – Jasen
    Commented Jul 9 at 11:57
  • Jonathon, historically (I think including the US?) the concept "You can only vote if you are a landowner" was relatively common. (In fiction of course, Heinlein has "only vote if you've served in the army".) So what you're saying is actually IMO a common idea, but, just not in our time period, I'd say. (FWIW politically, I think "You can only vote if you are a landowner" is a perfect idea; or "You can only vote if you worked enough to pay taxes that year.") (A topical example is, in Japan with the current population crisis, only under-40s should be allowed to vote for obvious reasons.)
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 10 at 12:29
  • Interesting related discussion here
    – Curt
    Commented Jul 10 at 14:01
  • @Curt yep, the unions are stronger in other areas in Europe but sadly they've got a horrible stronghold over the construction industry in the US. Commented Jul 10 at 17:08

8 Answers 8


The issue (this answer basically amounts to a frame challenge) is that drawing bright lines around who is properly understood to be impacted by a policy change is, as a practical matter, impossible. This is for two reasons: 1) constituencies that either cannot be realistically identified (or may not yet exist) and 2) any line between 'this person is impacted, but this person is not' is arbitrary by nature.

Using condo-owners vs. detached single-family (vs. renters, etc) as our example:

Case 1: How do we determine who the future condo-owners will be so as to to solicit their vote? They are assuredly impacted by the change in policy. Many don't yet know they will become condo owners, (they don't yet have the job offer that would prompt their move wherein a condo would be the optimal available property that satisfies their needs best) and far, far more have yet to be born.

Case 2: Changes in building codes impact the economy, making every person who interacts with that economy in any way whatsoever impacted (if only in the most vanishingly small ways) by that policy change.

Systems like this have existed in history, both Greek and Roman voting systems held (and consequently it was the founding assumption in the US) that only those who owned real property had a rightful claim as stakeholder in any policy decision. Obviously those schemes disenfranchised people who were obviously impacted by decisions, but in so doing they highlight issues 1 and 2 from the other extreme.

In short, the described objective is impossible to achieve and a judgment of 'good enough' is purely subjective and unlikely to be shared by all - any such change to voting systems, of course, impacts everybody who would otherwise be eligible to vote (the overwhelming majority of which haven't been born yet) and so by it's own standard the structure is a bit hypocritical to adopt.

Instead, the general assumption is that all members of society have a stake in that society's rules and thus deserve input. All systems also fail to deliver that level of agency, but we're only human.

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    One of the more modern political theory criticisms of land use regulations (e.g. zoning codes and building codes) is that they are passed by an electorate predominately made up of existing landowners who want to increase property values, rather than prospective landowners who want affordable housing prices, creating an built in political bias towards unaffordable housing.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jul 8 at 17:04
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    @ohwilleke yes, I think this is a great point and sort-of invalidates my theory. Commented Jul 8 at 18:17
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    "far, far more have yet to be born." - To be fair, we don't give unborn people votes on anything that will impact them. We don't even give minors votes. Commented Jul 9 at 8:10
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    Regarding case 1, why does it matter who future condo owners are? Those that haven't committed to buying one will be able to assess and take into account any new building codes before they buy one?
    – Sam Dean
    Commented Jul 9 at 10:35
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    @SebastianRedl No, but we do give votes to the ancestors of those unborn people, and those voters have the freedom to consider the impact on future generations. That is lost if we limit the vote based on specific issues.
    – JBentley
    Commented Jul 9 at 10:58

Almost no such systems exists and those that do exist are not very significant or are non-governmental or "meta-governmental" (i.e. between multiple governments or in internal governmental decision making processes rather than elections).

The main dividing line is by geography and not by interest. Elections of local and other sub-national governments narrow the group of people eligible to vote, but not in the manner suggested by the OP. But there are some notable exceptions:

  • Some U.S. special district governments (e.g. water and sewer districts) have their boards and resolutions elected by property owners in the district rather than by residents. See, e.g., the Big Sky Fire District. The U.S. Supreme Court approved this practice in a 1981 case discussed in the linked law review article. This is authorized by statute in Colorado, and in nine other U.S. states.

  • In the United States, financial accounting rules called the "Generally accepted accounting principles" are devised by a self-governing body of certified public accountants, called the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), which are then incorporated by reference by governmental agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission.

  • Similarly, Uniform Building Codes were first published in 1927 by the International Conference of Building Officials, have been updated from time to time, and are incorporated by reference by mostly local governments with only minor modification.

  • Some joint ventures of multiple governmental entities (usually local governments, but also multi-state and multi-national governmental joint ventures) are elected by the member governments. These range for Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) at the low end which carry out joint ventures of local school districts, to the board the built and operates a bridge between the Michigan and Canada, to international organizations such the the European Union (in part), the United Nations, and the World Bank.

  • Non-governmental home owner's association boards are elected by unit owners; some have quasi-governmental authority comparable to local governments in many respects and they are sometimes formed in unincorporated territory to discourage the formation of local municipal governments. See, e.g., here.

  • Non-governmental corporate boards are elected (in theory at least) by their shareholders. In the U.S., this is regulated in publicly held companies by the Securities and Exchange Commission's proxy rules, and in closely held companies by state corporation statutes and the governing documents of corporations.

  • Many non-governmental private colleges have board that are elected by alumni. For example, Oberlin College in Ohio has such a system.

  • Many non-governmental union boards are elected by dues paying union members only. This is regulated in the U.S. in private sector unions by the National Labor Relations Board.

  • Many synagogues have non-governmental governing boards elected by dues paying members of the synagogue. This is typically governed by state laws governing unincorporated associations and/or non-profit corporations, as well as the governing documents of the synagogue. Most Protestant churches are likewise governed by elections of their members in good standing. The Roman Catholic Church, and most mosques, Hindu shrines and Shinto shrines, however, have self-perpetuating governance systems traceable back to a founding individual or group.

Adjacent to this concept is the system present, for example, in India and Israel, where family law and inheritance matters are governed by a code particular to the religion of the people involved, rather than by general laws. In principle, these religion specific family laws and inheritance laws, are the product of leaders in the individual's religion although the members of the religion can't vote on these codes.

Also adjacent to this concept was the historical British concept of having the alleged crimes of aristocrats judged by members of the House of Lords, rather than juries made up of commoners. It is discussed at Law.SE and was abolished in 1948. In the same vein, in the Uniform Code of Military Justice in the U.S. (and many other military justice systems), officers can be charged and tried with offenses only by comparable senior officers, in order to prevent mutiny by court martial. And, of course, private arbitration also removes the application of the laws from a government official to a private official.

  • A fascinating answer, good one
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 10 at 12:30
  • Also education districts
    – david
    Commented Jul 11 at 13:04
  • @david I am not aware of education districts in the U.S. that have elections held only by people affected by them. Is there some place that has them?
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jul 11 at 18:10

I am posting this answer as a frame challenge.

Looking at the example you provided it should be clear that the voters had nothing at all to do with that regulation.

Seattle Elevator and Escalator Code 2019

You are talking about the elevator code which is written by the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections. These codes are written by professional engineers and then approved by the department which likely includes elected officials. The only part the voters play in this process is to elect the member that represents their districts.

What regulations get approved, removed or changed is up to that department and the voters don't have much of a say in it other then petitioning the board and trying to change the elected members.

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    But, of course, voters aren't competent to say anything about that regulation. Politics is not just power, it is also choice. Making reasonable choices requires more expertise in many cases than elected representatives, let alone voters, have available even with massive effort. In those cases, elected representatives appoint people who they trust to do the right thing and communicate that values that are important to them to the people capable of figuring it out. Representatives can communicate new values to expert intermediaries if they don't like the results.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jul 8 at 21:32
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    That's not the public's only recourse. The elevator regulations could be preempted by a local ordinance, state regulation, state law, Federal regulation, Federal law, or a state citizen-initiated ballot measure.
    – user71659
    Commented Jul 10 at 6:15
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    @user71659 The problem with that idea is that sort of thing doesn't get on the ballot very often if at all. Just because something can be done doesn't mean that it happens.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jul 10 at 12:09
  • @JoeW There's plenty of examples where several legislators override regulations because something happened to somebody, look at stuff with names in it. For example, Kari’s Law (PL 115-127) forced FCC to issue regulations to 911 call routing in PBXs. Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act (PL 110–189) is what forces NHTSA to require backup cameras in cars.
    – user71659
    Commented Jul 10 at 17:35
  • @user71659 But that isn't the voters doing that it is the people that they elected, just as it is the people who they elected creating the regulations in the first place. It is a rare thing for the voters themselves to make any of the regulation decisions.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jul 10 at 17:53

I'm unaware of anywhere that currently has such a policy but I have seen lawbooks pertaining to ancient jurisdictions that did. Unlike the US that has a policy of "no taxation without representation" they took the oppisite approach in regard to fiscal policy. There was no representation without proportionate taxation. Those societies were concerned that since ipso facto there will always be more people in (say) the lower ninety percent of wealth owners and income producers than in the top percent, what is to prevent the lower ninety percent from forcing the top ten percent to pay for everything and then redistribute their own wealth to the lower ninety percent? Therefore their policy was that when it comes to fiscal issues your vote was in proportion to how much you yourself will actually be paying. If you were so poor that you paid no tax then you also had no vote on fiscal issues, if you were so wealthy that in theory you would have to foot the majority of the bill for some new fiscal proposals then you also had the majority of the vote about whether it should be implemented or not .

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    Rome briefly had something similar. That is the only example of which I am aware.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jul 8 at 21:27
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    @ohwilleke Not exactly this, but similar: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prussian_three-class_franchise
    – Toffomat
    Commented Jul 9 at 7:09
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    The fact that the people who decided on this principle at the time all happened to be in the top 10 percent of wealth is probably a coincidence.
    – armand
    Commented Jul 10 at 1:16

In places where there is strong direct democracy (i.e. one can have referenda on nearly any issue), then this will implicitly happen:

  • People who are affected will vote
  • People who are not affected will most likely not vote.

But regulations quite often affect a lot more people than it may seem at first: it may have an influence on costs and thus taxes (or other services). It may have safety or environmental implications for neighbors. It may affect (positively or negatively) the value of their homes. Etc.

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    I tend to disagree, as direct propositions are often combined with a minimum threshold (either of participation or affirmative votes) in an attempt to demonstrate there is a significant interest in the general public. Are you aware of systems that purposefully forgo a threshold to give those interested in a question more weight than those who abstain out of disinterest?
    – ccprog
    Commented Jul 7 at 16:30
  • @ccprog haven’t found evidence of it, but I believe there is no such requirement in Switzerland, at least at the federal level, and probably both at cantonal and communal level as well. There is a threshold on the number of signatures required to hold a vote, but it ranges somewhere between 1 and 3% or so.
    – jcaron
    Commented Jul 7 at 16:59
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    Note the double majority of Swiss federal and cantonal yes votes needed for some federal referendums.
    – ccprog
    Commented Jul 7 at 17:14
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    ...and apart from changes to the constitution, federal referendums are always either confirmations of challenges to existings laws passed by parliament. Initiatives are proposals that need confirmation by parliament.
    – ccprog
    Commented Jul 7 at 17:27


In Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario, in some areas there are two 'public' school boards. One is a non religious public school board, while the other is a religious school board. (Usually Catholic, rarely protestant) Both recieve public funding.

The process to establish a separate school system in Alberta is one example. Only a minority Catholic or Protestant group can establish a separate school system. There are a few different steps, but the final step of establishing a new separate school is a vote in which only members of that religion can vote. Quorum is 25% of eligible voters (which only includes those of the minority faith) and if a majority of the minority votes yes, the government must establish the separate school system.

Additionally, for all three provinces with them, once established, separate school systems in Canada also have separate school board trustees. Only members of the minority faith can vote for trustees of the separate school system, while everyone else votes for the public school board trustee. For Ontario, this is determined by which school board your property taxes go to.


In the United Kingdom in 2014, Scotland had an independence vote where only people in Scotland could vote on the decision.

It could be argued that the rest of the United Kingdom could be affected by the result of the referendum but that does match the criteria of the question.


This answer has to do with why owners of anything be it a computer or a condo are treated differently than those that don't own such items. This answer looks at your question from the view of currency. In this case that's the US Dollar.

You started with this:

I currently live in a condo in the state of Washington. This makes me a minority as 67.2% of voters live in single family homes.

If I'm reading that right, that means that only 32.8% of the population is well-off enough/rich enough to own or live in a condominium, and you happen to be one of those thirty-three percenters. Your question hints at taxation, and tax breaks, and secondarily voting.

The majority in the state government gets to pass laws governing condos and each year there's more and more regulations on their construction and management.

Regulations create oversight, oversight creates government jobs. Government workers are paid with your tax dollars, and then their pay gets taxed again, and the cycle continues. In short, regulations create oversight and oversight creates higher revenue, and the more revenue that's created generates more taxes. I'll use your elevator and a plumber as examples:

  • Both the plumber and the elevator repairman go to a respective trade school or apprentice program, therefore they paid that school tuition or the licensed person must pay them a salary while training
  • The Tuition is paid to the school but the school must follow the regulations set out to them(Education Boards/Commissions etc). The apprentice plumber's employer, along with the elevator technician's now has to pay payroll taxes, social security and others to put the employees in good standing with the state
  • At some point in their career in order to advance, both the plumber and elevator tech will have to obtain valid licensing from the state to advance.

All those fees in this example go to the state's coffer's to be spent either by the respective agencies or indirectly somewhere else in the government sector. Here's where the issue arises:

Hmmm, we don't have enough revenue coming in to support the stuff we need to do at the State Board of Plumber Regulations or the Elevator Regulatory Committee! What are we going to do???

The answer is more regulation, i.e. the above cycle is going to repeat itself. Continuing my example:

  • Hmm, what can we regulate for the plumbers that will increase revenue. Well for starters we can stipulate that any toilet that costs above $300 needs all gold fittings. For the elevator board we'll add any building more than 5 stories tall needs at least 3 shafts and if it's above 10, we can make the elevator fancy (We'll decorate the inside with gold trim).

Now we're back at the condo owners:

  1. Where can we put, or who will buy a toilet over $300,
  2. What kinds of buildings have at least 5 floors, and some maybe 10?
  3. If you haven't guessed it, it's new construction and condos, and now we need regulators to make sure all the ones we just added are observed, and the cycle repeats again.

The repeating cycles are what's raising costs. The reason the state government picks on your sector is because that's where the most money can be gained from. If not, do you think it would be fair to tax a single family (through regulations or otherwise) when they are having trouble paying for what they need or borrowing etc. in the form of food stamps or other assistance?

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    Living in a condo is definitely not considered prestigious in Seattle. All the rich people live in SFHs. Townhouses and condos are mostly for the proletariat or weird people who like walking places. Commented Jul 9 at 23:59
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    Fair, but the premise is still the same. The regulation creates oversight which create taxes and fees. The taxes and fees are then offset by the rising cost of the item or category the oversite is supposed to protect.
    – eyoung100
    Commented Jul 10 at 16:58

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