Comments: A few more thoughts


OK, that sounded flakier when you said it than when I thought it. But let's face it, the error rate for our current voting system isn't exactly great.

My two problems with the current system are: winner-take-all votes and the "winnowing" system which excludes 80% of the interested population from having a voice.

Yeah, internet systems are terribly insecure. That's why they are used for financial transactions, personal exchanges.... wasn't the Internet designed as a medium for military communications?

I think we can fix these systems. Give me a day or two to think it over (and for HNN to fix the blogposting scripts) and I'll get back to you.

Posted by Jonathan Dresner at January 24, 2004 12:53 AM

Awww, I'm sorry. I was only teasing you a little, you know that, right?

Anyhow, I know that on-line polling (in the voting sense) is a thing that's coming at us. And I'm actually okay with that. Kind of. Sort of.

Except, you know, totally not.

Part of me sees that it's (we're now presuming a system as securing as the banking, etc., that you referenced) inevitable and that it will make voting easier and increase voter turnout. And that's good.

Except, you know, it's just not.

What the hell are we running here? A democracy or a nursery?

Do I, in fact, give a shit if some idiot who doesn't care enough to drive a few blocks and stand in line for fifteen minutes in order to participate in this country's democratic process votes?

Actually, I do not.

As if it's not already bad enough that most people can't even identify the states on a map of the country, much less pick out the locations of other major countries around the world?

As if it's not already bad enough that most of these same people don't pay enough to what's going on in the country to know, without being told, at election time which office-holders they want to re-elect or defeat?

As if it's not already bad enough that only a small fraction of the population, and you have to scoop in wingnuts and extremists to even get that many, understands the roll they play in this country's government?

Now we want to encourage every couch-potato, uninformed nitwit, and reactionary to jump on-line at the last second on election day and toss a vote to whichever candidate's commercial they found the most entertaining?

Are we really that crazy?

The problem with on-line voting is that it's just too easy. It requires nothing. No commitment, no information, not even the most trifling inconvenience. That's why you get such a phenomenal 'voter' turn-out for on-line polls. Any idiot can do it, and idiots are something we have in abundance.

Is it too much to ask that people donate fifteen minutes, or even an hour every year or two to proactively participating in the country's future?

You know, I really don't think so.

I think everyone should have the right to vote, as provided for by law. And no one should be barred from the polls, intimidated, or unlawfully harrassed from voting.

At the same time, I don't think it's too much to ask that they have to actually show up at a specific location on a specific day, maybe even use the time they spend standing in line to consider who and what they're voting for, and then spend sixty seconds in a polling booth pulling the blasted lever.

I can live with sitting down with a paper ballot at home, reading it, filling it out, and mailing it. It requires more work, and more thought, than on-line voting, anyhow. You have to bestir your lazy ass to get the thing mailed , which is more work than online voting usually requires. I've done it myself. I don't really like it, though, so I don't do it any more.

It was convenient but, in the end, there's a symbolism about showing up at the polling booth on the day and voting along with the rest of the citizens in line that I think people underestimate.

I have a good friend who still does the mail-in ballot and every year she complains that she doesn't really feel like she voted because on voting day, she has nothing to contribute to the process as it happens. I don't know if she'll keep doing the mail-in ballots. When I go to the polls in November, she's almost jealous. She sees the, "I voted" sticker on my coat and wishes she'd waited, voted and the polls, and gotten a sticker of her own to flaunt.

I'd like to see a lot of this energy and interest we're spending on developing on-line systems devoted to something that's going to be a lot more important to this country int the years to come.

I'd like to fix (wait for it, it always comes back to this when I'm talking) the educational system in this country so that the next generation can not only find their own state on a map of the country, but knows more than a sanitized Reader's Digest version of how we got where we are today and what challenges and opportunities we face, both domestically and internationally (if a line can be drawn between the two any more).

Okay...I'm restraining myself and I'll spare you the rant. My point is that the low voter turnout could, yes, be solved by allowing online voting. And that we'd have primaries that reflected the will of more people across the country than just those states that hold primaries, yes.

But how much would those votes be worth? We'd get more votes per candidate, but would we wind up with better candidates?

Isn't it, in the end, better to have the votes of the people with enough commitment to actually leave their blasted living rooms for a few minutes to make a contribution?

I'm all about democracy, yes, but there are moments when I find myself wishing that more of those of us gifted with living in this democracy were worthy of it.

(Yes, yes, yes, I know. Living in a democracy means you have options, including the option to opt out of the process if you choose to do so. It just infuriates me that so many people choose opting out because they have no real understanding of the difference they could make by opting in.)

Posted by Anne at January 24, 2004 12:34 PM

You're right, too, as the Rabbi said. I once saw, and have been searching for ever since, a Pogo cartoon (and I now have a pretty impressive collection of Pogo cartoons as a result): one of his traditional blowhard politicos is ranting about "making the world safe for democracy!" and Pogo is asking, quietly, "but who'll make democracy safe for the world?" That's what I do: I teach, and I try to make democracy a little more viable every day.

On the other hand, why shouldn't the technology make things easier? Sure, there's virtue in being an informed and eager participant, but what about the informed and eager participants who have (or will soon grow older and have) difficulty with the current polling system for a variety of reasons?

The online thing is really a sideline, a technical issue (at least that's all it should be, but Diebold makes me nervous). I've put in Xs and I've pulled levers and I've filled in bubbles (never got to do punch cards, though), and they're all fun, but they're just means to an end. But I worry about the legitimacy of our government when we have a minority turnout. What's really bugging me is not the voting method, but the voting system. More on Cliopatria shortly.

Posted by Jonathan Dresner at January 24, 2004 02:00 PM

"Well," she said impatiently, "Get on with it already." Heh. I'll be watching Cliopatria to see what you have to say on the subject.

For what it's worth, even as I was typing that rant, I was asking myself, "what about people who depend on public transport and what about disabled people and what about elderly people or sick people and what about single, working parents with no child care?" I know there are advantages to online polling for a significant percentage of the population.

Maybe I'm just getting old? (Those darned kids have no idea what it used to be like, walking fifteen miles to the polls in a roaring blizzard and then home again, uphill both ways.)

But. It does seem to me, quite seriously, that there's a problem in that nuts who will spew stupidity on-line and fancy themselves amazingly astute are ten times as likely to 'vote' if they never have to leave their computer or the safety of their living rooms. There's a peculiar anonymity about the internet that seems to bring out the worst in a significant number of people.

I'ts like...the whole "popularity contest" aspect of a campaign is magnified online. Things like the Dean campaign achieve a trendiness that has nothing to do with the worthiness of the candidate.

I'm not casting stones as Dean's worthiness as a candidate, just pointing out that there's a significant difference between his online support and the support he had in Iowa with actual voters.

The internet is very...very faddish. There was this huge run on Dean as a candidate that made him look nearly unstoppable, but who, in the end, who were these people making him look so amazing? A media enchanted with this new campaign tactic and a staunch body of supporters that seems, at least so far, not to be the same people who actually go out and vote.

At this point, it's nearly impossible to tell if he ever really had the kind of momentum the media was marvelling over or if it was all an illusion.

I guess I'm just saying that I don't want candidates elected by people who seem to be following a fad more than anything else.

It's already bad enough that so many people doubt their power of their individual vote.

How are sensible people going to react when a bunch of wingnuts start some online campaign, for instance, to vote for that unsavory lunatic David Duke when he gets out of prison and fifty dozen equal nitwits who don't have the sense to figure out who the candidate is cast their votes for the guy because they vaguely recognize his name and, hey, if that many people like him, the guy must be good?

You know...I think I'm getting online voting too tangled up in my head with online campaigning. I do realize they're not necesarily synonymous.

Posted by Anne at January 24, 2004 10:06 PM

My understanding is that a surprising number of people show up at real, physical, no-electioneering-within-fifty-yard polls without a clear idea of who they're going to vote for. I suppose the advantage of having an "election day" is the chance (note, chance, not requirement) to think things over before making a decision. On the other hand, perhaps a shorter, more gut-level process would tend to emphasize issues rather than "electibility polls" and "earth tone" reporting. Maybe not.

And the reason I haven't posted my thoughts on Cliopatria yet is that HNN is taking a bold stand against anonymous nutcases by instituting a registration system for comment posting: no more pseudonyms! Unfortunately, the blog-posting page is down as a side effect, but they promise me it'll be back by the end of this weekend.

But I don't doubt that same highly motivated anonymous posters are also voters. They have too much energy and too much faith in their own opinions to let it slide. What I'm hoping is that using the technology to simplify voting will bring more of the middle ground into the process.

Look, I'm an idealist. I think the US should require every citizen to cast a vote (though I think "none of the above should be an option") and penalize anyone who can't give a darn good reason why not. I think everyone should be outraged that elections are being won and lost because one party has better organized busing on election day. I think it's shameful that we have the lowest voter turnout rate and the highest rate of incumbent reelection of any industrialized democracy. I think districting should be done by non-partisan professionals, and any sitting politician who had a hand in redistricting to their own advantage should be thrown out of politics, preferably from a high window.

It's a bit radical, but I really believe that reform is possible, and that it could really improve the process. The problem is that incumbents have no stake in diversifying and complicating a process that has worked to their advantage. There are times when I'm honestly tempted to get into politics myself, but my wife keeps reminding me that I'm not very good at politicking and I probably wouldn't enjoy it anywhere near as much as punditry.

Posted by Jonathan Dresner at January 25, 2004 02:16 AM

I had no idea about the Hubble until I read it here. Especially with the Mars rover news, this should be front page headlines. If you were really interested in space exploration, why would you let an expensive space telescope that is essential to astronomy -- and has paid for itself many times over in the wealth of information it has yielded to scientists -- die?

Not one thought in his head.

Posted by Tom Burka at January 25, 2004 06:43 PM

Tom - How odd. By the time I posted that about the Hubble, it was classified as "old news" in my head since I'd first read about it several days before.

I'm not surprised you hadn't read it elsewhere, though. For the most part, the major, national media was so busy discussing sending a man to Mars that they ignored the simultaneous announcement about the Hubble.

Smoke and mirrors. There's not a chance in h*ll that the Bush Administration is going to have to follow-through on that Mars scheme with any serious action but they're using the proposal to excuse killing other aspects of our space exploration.

I mean, you do know that we're pulling out of the international space station project, too, right?

Jonathan - Rather than coaxing you to expand on these ideas here, I'm going to wait patiently for your post on Cliopatria.

Posted by Anne at January 26, 2004 09:33 AM