How can the order in which votes are counted matter?

I have encountered several scholars saying things like "since in Rome voting takes place beginning with the wealthiest classes and centuries, a voting majority of the people to achieve before the hunger citizens are consulted." Pierre Manent, Metamorphoses of the City, p. 198

How can this possibly matter? If one needs, say, five centuries out of nine to carry the day, how can the order of the vote matter, assuming one century's vote is not influenced by seeing the existing results? Sure, if in a vote where there are five yes's and four no's, if all four no's go first, no will have a four to nothing edge. Then the next five votes will be yes. How does voting order make a difference?

Perhaps I have missed some detail of Roman holding, however, since Manent is far from the only one who I've seen make this contention.

6 comments:

  1. A passage in Livy suggests that once sufficient agreement had been obtained, the remaining centuries would not be called upon to vote at all. See Liv. 1.43: "For the knights were first called, and then the eighty centuries of the first class; and if they happened to differ, which was seldom the case, those of the second were called: and they seldom ever descended so low as to come to the lowest class."

    That may be what Manent is reacting to (though one can debate whether this robbed the already defeated minority of anything real).

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    1. Clearly the issue turns on what it means for the earlier centuries to agree: if less than a majority of the centuries can carry the day simply by getting so far ahead at the beginning of voting, then clearly voting order does matter.

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    2. "Clearly the issue turns on what it means for the earlier centuries to agree"

      If we follow Livy, there were 18 centuries of knights, plus 82 centuries in the first class. There were 194 centuries in all, so if the knights and the first class were unanimous, the dissenting side was already doomed.

      One can also take Livy's words less literally as meaning "If there was sufficient disagreement for it to be worth continuing the process..." In that case, the result is the same—a minority of centuries cannot prevail.

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    3. I dug up a passage from Dionysius of Halicarnassus's Roman Antiquities which may shed some light on our problem:

      "And the first centuries that he called to express their opinion were those with the highest rating, consisting of the eighteen centuries of cavalry and the eighty centuries of infantry. As these centuries amounted to three more than all the rest together, if they agreed they prevailed over the others and the matter was decided. But in case these were not all of the same mind, then he called the twenty-two centuries of the second class; and if the votes were still divided, he called the centuries of the third class, and, in the fourth place, those of the fourth class; and this he continued to do till ninety-seven centuries concurred in the same opinion. And if after the calling of the fifth class this had not yet happened but the opinions of the hundred and ninety-two centuries were equally divided, he then called the last century, consisting of the mass of the citizens who were poor and for that reason exempt from all military service and taxes; and whichever side this century joined, that side carried the day. But this seldom happened and was next to impossible. Generally the question was determined by calling the first class, and it rarely went as far as the fourth; so that the fifth and the last were superfluous."

      See book 4.

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    4. "there were 18 centuries of knights, plus 82 centuries in the first class. There were 194 centuries in all, so if the knights and the first class were unanimous, the dissenting side was already doomed."

      So then order would make no difference. The puzzle remains unsolved.

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    5. Ah; I see now that I was unclear. Sorry about that.

      I did not mean to suggest that the order itself does matter. The dissenting minority would, however, be deprived even of their protest vote. I think this may be what Pierre Manent is driving at with his language about "before the hunger [other?] citizens are consulted."

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