Voting in governmental elections and various processes associated with it have long been identified as an ethical issue. It is generally considered to be morally significant due to the influence citizens’ voting has on the future of a country. It determines, at least officially, who ends up in power and thus has the potential of benefiting or seriously harming a community. This process becomes even more contradictory and emotionally charged in societies with a long-lasting history of corruption and power violation, with new entirely dilemmas surfacing. This paper examines the particular dilemma of vote-buying and the ethical problems associated with it. It discusses this phenomenon in the context of Jamaican politics, provides an overview of ethics as a field, and attempts to outline the potential solutions for the problem.
Recently, a study of voting behavior in Jamaica has identified the widespread phenomenon of young voters selling their votes for the equivalent of 5000 dollars and above. The article reporting on this matter pointed out it is a repeated offense and commented on the inflation in the votes’ price (Scott, 2021). The unethical nature of such commerce is rather easy to understand since its transactional nature compromises the integrity of exercising one’s civic duty. The nature of voting is such that one person’s decisions hypothetically have the capacity to directly and substantially affect the lives of everyone who lives in the same country. It is, therefore, possible to claim that individual voters have a moral obligation to vote and to do so in their best faith.
The precise incident of vote-buying discussed in the article occurred during the General Election of September 2020. It was estimated that a large number of funds raised for electoral campaigns were used to bribe the voters. Vote-buying, however, is not a new phenomenon, particularly in Jamaica, where it has been present for a long time and, until recently, was conducted at relatively cheap rates. When this is the case with the breach of democracy, any election’s integrity can be called into question at any moment. When media refers to the process of voting as an “open store,” the state of democracy itself is evidently fragile (Maitland, 2020). Hypothetically speaking, widespread vote-buying may lead to power usurpation or violation by either of the political parties involved. On a moral and philosophical level, it also indicates young voters’ lack of fate in the possibility of a brighter future for Jamaica. With these statements in mind, it is now important to clarify the nature of ethics and the details of the ethical dilemma that stems from the issue in question.
Ethics is an area of philosophy that involves description, systematization, and relative evaluation of various theories of what constitutes morally right and morally wrong. It is concerned with such concepts as good and evil, moral and immoral. Applied ethics is a field within ethics that discusses and studies what would be a permissible thing to do for a person in various ethically complex or charged situations. Voting behavior ethics can be attributed to this segment, as the election process is a specific example from real life that involves direct consequences and reprehensions. It is important to specify that ethics rarely provides a definitive answer to the questions it examines, which gives way for ethical dilemmas to exist. The concept of an ethical dilemma refers to a situation or a question that involves a difficult moral choice between two or more options, both of which involve serious ethical drawbacks.
The ethical dilemma originates when the votes buying comes into play, as it is difficult to determine who would be at fault for such a breach of ethical voting behavior. Doctor Jermaine McCalpin, a lecturer at the New Jersey City university, insists that those who buy votes are just as culpable in the breach of ethics as those who sell them. Considering the specifics of the question, it is incredibly difficult to determine who is more at fault for the vote-buying phenomena in Jamaica (Cantú, 2019). The dilemma lies in whether the politicians or the voters are to blame for the vote-trading, and one’s response of choice might significantly shape the way they think about the issue’s resolution. For the purposes of the assignment, let’s first consider the approach of vote buyers being the party at fault.
As politicians violate electoral integrity by providing monetary compensation for what is supposed to be an example of a free will of a citizen. Such compensation is illegal and is justifiably considered bribery. These actions give an unfair advantage to the parties with a greater amount of financial resources at hand that has nothing to do with the actual policies these parties plan to implement when in power (Charles et al., 2021). Jamaica specifically has a history of voter suppression and coercion, with the ruling parties engaging in cycles of corruption and violation (Scott, 2021). In particular, it has been noted that politicians use the resources their privilege grants them access to in order to remain in power for longer periods of time and get re-elected. In societies with high levels of inequality, such as Jamaica, politicians tend to have a great advantage over the general public when it comes to social and economic privilege (Cantú, 2019). Due to the aforementioned privilege, they are to be held more accountable for the vote-trading breach of ethics, even though no vote-buying would be possible without the sellers.
Now, let’s consider that vote sellers are at fault for the phenomenon of vote-trading in Jamaica. They agree for their civic duty to be turned into an illegal commodity and disregard the ethical aspect of voting. By selling their votes, they demonstrate a lack of awareness or care for the negative repercussions this kind of behavior might have on their fellow citizens and the country at large (Scott, 2021). One might argue that voters enable and perpetuate the cycle of corruption by providing a supply of votes in response to the politicians’ demands. As power corrupts, it may be expected of politicians to conduct a breach of trust and ethics to remain in power (Cruz, 2018). From the public, however, one would expect to follow its best interest and vote honestly to protect the system that attempts to represent its people. By doing the opposite of that, voters betray themselves and, if one was to take this leap, their country.
As is typical for ethical dilemmas, both of these points of view are true to a certain degree. In any trading relationship, including as unethical as one of the vote market, a buyer and a seller must be present for any deal to occur. Both parties are at fault, and the solution should concern and target the action of both sides. It is unclear which side the media should take in the debate when discussing the state of democracy in Jamaica, and it is not up to this paper to speculate. Overall, as always, both sides of the coin should be considered and addressed in order for any lasting changes to be possible.
The solutions to the dilemma and the situation involved, first and foremost, an improved package of social benefits available to the most disadvantaged citizens of Jamaica. People are more difficult to persuade into any sort of corruption-related deal when their financial situation and employment are secured, and they may get access to a safety net if possible. The introduction of greater social benefits would grant a higher level of voter integrity by covering the people’s basic needs and allowing them to focus on moral questions and ideas about the future.
Furthermore, supervision mechanisms might be implemented throughout the campaigning period. To avoid creating another breeding ground for corruption, the rivaling parties might be obligated to supervise each other, with an independent observer assessing their reports. As with any other political matter, corruption can never be avoided with a hundred percent certainty, but it can be effectively reduced by ensuring the lack of conflict of interests. Similarly, a diversity management expert may benefit the integrity of an election campaign by ensuring the more balanced appeal of a party. When studied through the lens of the theoretical principle of ethics and morality, this practice would comply with the ethical principles of beneficence, justice, and deontology (Awad et al., 2020). As Jamaica is a multi-racial country, its citizens might feel more attached to the candidates and more motivated to vote fairly if they feel represented by the politicians. Finally, a non-profit organization could be developed to address the issue of a vote-buying spree in Jamaica and educate the general public on the true consequences of such deals.
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Cantú, F. (2019). Groceries for votes: The electoral returns of vote buying. The Journal Of Politics, 81(3), 790-804. Web.
Charles, C., Dempster, D., & Welcome, T. (2021). The role of the economy, security and party leader acceptance in forecasting the 2020 general election in Jamaica. SSRN. Web.
Cruz, C. (2018). Social networks and the targeting of vote buying. Comparative Political Studies, 52(3), 382-411. Web.
Maitland, J. (2020). Vote buying an open sore in Jamaican politics. CVM. Web.
Scott, R (2021). Vote-buying spree; Electors demanded hike for COVID polls – ombudsman report. Jamaica Gleaner. Web.