Is the Majority Always Right?


Majority rules, right?  But is “majority rules” always right?

In a council, a majority can change policy, make policy, and determine how a city, district, or school is governed.  That’s a lot of power for a council of say, seven, where a “majority” may actually be a three-to-three tie, and one wavering vote changes policy.

Raised under the idea of democracy and “majority rules,” we are conditioned to believe that the majority vote is fair.  And generally, that’s true.  True, if all conditions are favorable to a cohesive, thoughtful vote.  But conditions in a board meeting or council meeting can get intense, volatile, passionate, and hurried–all factors that can flaw the process.

Arguments against “majority rules” policy making, suggest that an environment of majority rules can create a tyranny of majority, a super-majority, or more laxly put–group think or herd mentality.  In order to avoid this, many governing bodies have installed limits on terms and power to help mitigate an undemocratic super-majority.

But what can be done, on an everyday basis, to ensure that the minority is being heard and defended in policy-making meetings?  May’s theorem, a highly-regarded societal theory, suggests “majority rule is the only reasonable decision rule that is ‘fair’”, given that the decision was made in an environment that fosters fairness, anonymity, neutrality, decisiveness, and monotonicity.

If this theory is employed, you and fellow council members/policy makers, can ensure a more just majority; and one easy way to do this is to ask yourself and fellow members the following questions during a council meeting:

  • Was adequate time given to address both sides of the issue? Was an advocate present on both sides of the issue?
  • Is there any new information that needs to be discussed?
  • Is there any self-interest among members that could possibly be making them bias towards one side of the issue?
  • Who is the aggressor in the debate?  Who is not being heard?
  • Was every member’s vote given the same weight, and treated identically?
  • Was there a clear and unique winner?
  • Were each of the choices clear?
  • Did each choice stand independently, or were additional decisions or policies attached to certain choices?
  • Was there a rush for a decision to be made?  Was the debate ended prematurely?

Keeping these questions in mind when enlisting a majority vote will help ensure fairness, equality, and true democracy, as well as help create an environment for successful and lasting policy making.

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