It can be healthy to differentiate between process and purpose. Voting, for example, is a process: its purpose is to gauge the will of the electorate. Presently, we can vote at polling places, and by mailing in ballots. Some military personnel have had access to online voting, and I think it’s time that we seriously considered it for everyone.
If we determine a purpose could be realized more effectively, and more efficiently, we’re entitled to augment the process. Perhaps it’s our obligation, to refine and replace less useful ways of achieving a desired outcome. So long as we authentically believe in the value of the outcome.
Furthermore, when there is resistance to adaptation, especially with so much at stake, it’s worth asking a simple question about the status quo: “Who benefits?”
Who benefits from cable television?
In the Year of our Lord, 2012, the concept of “regularly scheduled programming” is no longer useful. The idea of a show being “broadcast” at a certain time, on a certain day, is antiquated to the point of (being) ridiculous. When we consume series programming in this way, tuning in at a certain time on a certain channel, there is a tinge of sentimentality; but that’s not enough to justify its existence
We hold onto things in West Michigan, sometimes only because they are “tradition.” But traditions are useful only so long as they are useful.
Think about what would happen if all programming were designed to be made available for download (i.e. via iTunes) on demand, a la carte? In an instant, the cable industry would become nearly irrelevant. All those boxes and converters and subscriptions and packages and hundred-dollar monthly bills for service… pointless.
The cable industry is a broken epoxy holding together a false paradigm: an industry motivated by its loosening grip on billions of dollars in centrally controlled revenues. The idea that series programming needs to be “broadcast” was once a fact, but now it’s a construct, propagated by the people who benefit most from it. And let’s be clear: when a tiny sliver of the population benefits entirely at the expense of the majority, we have a problem.
Online voting advances a good purpose
Online voting would improve the goals of direct democracy, and it’s not only doable – it’s way overdue. It wouldn’t have to “replace” polling places as we know them, but it could exist in harmony with onsite or by-mail options.
There is an understandable perception of nobility about the tradition of polling places: physical locations where we participate directly in our democracy. But at the end of the day, it’s a process like any other: it’s designed to achieve a purpose.
We’re represented by a lot of 50+ year old white males. There’s a direct correlation with the way people get elected. More choices for consuming and acting on ballot questions would result in elections that reflect a wider and more diverse set of the electorate.
Centralized polling places once were the most logical and useful means of achieving the purpose with fidelity. Not to say polling places were ever free from fraud (remember “hanging chads”?)
Almost every category of finance – and even national defense – have significant assets with virtual interfaces. If Chase Bank and the Pentagon have found a way to conduct business online, we have to ask the question about the status quo: “Who benefits?”
“Work ethic” is a bogus barrier
You might hear this if you proposed online voting:
If you can’t get your lazy butt to a polling place, you don’t deserve to have a say in the direction of this country.
I don’t know the exact date or time when “convenience” and “virtue” became mutually exclusive interests, but apparently we ought to contrive some weird obstacles and difficulties to voting. Like the show “Fear Factor.” Maybe we should have people lift barbells of a certain weight, and do jumping jacks, before casting their vote.
Look, if we’re going to talk about “work ethic” as a standard for participating in our democracy, let’s consider that many people need three jobs to get by, these days. Because we don’t have access to livable wages, anymore. Because we’ve been represented by people who have no clue about life in the real world (half of our Congressional leaders are millionaires; the average annual income of a U.S. Senator is $2.5 million.)
The point is, a lot of people don’t have time to go to a polling place during its hours of operation. So one could say that “work ethic” is exactly the reason we need more convenient options for voting. And one could say “voting” is more important than ever, because the fact we need 2-3 jobs to get by… is something we could correct, if we removed barriers to participation in the decision-making process.
Ballot question: yes, exactly
Think about the number of times you’ve been approached by people with clipboards, touting ballot proposals. Sometimes one person carries half a dozen clipboards, and explains them in a sentence, if that. Many times the so-called advocate for the ballot question… barely understands what he or she is suggesting you sign. So what’s the point?
But it’s the only option, right now. And why? Because there was a time when pen to paper was the only means available for gauging the will of the people. And there was a time before that when quill pens were used, on parchment. The advent of the internet has not occurred as a triviality on the margins: the internet has redefined everything, everywhere, for almost everyone.
Having the ability to consider and vote on a ballot question (at home) is vastly superior to being approached at the entrance to a supermarket, when you’re rushing in for diapers or milk. Especially when people are getting paid to collect signatures about ballot questions they couldn’t otherwise give a damn about, we’ve got next to nothing to measure against.
The plain fact is, many of us consume and interact with issues on screens. Say what you will about this, it’s our reality. The availability of online voting would complement the way we individually research almost everything else. A process that results in more voters who are more informed… seems categorically positive.
If we really believe in democracy’s purpose, and I believe we do, we have to be agile with its process. Means of voting, as a process, has got to be considered fungible, malleable, fluid, dynamic – with integrity as a prime directive, of course.
It wouldn’t be hard to establish a high threshold for gaining an online identity, and keep it. In many ways, it’d be easier to verify the results, because sample verifications could be trackable and random voters could be contacted to confirm their submission, in random surveys.
The internet is a tool in the toolbox, and it’s got a lot going for it – especially consider that the status quo, as the only means of polling the electorate, filters out a wide swath of the electorate.
This grand democracy certainly can withstand, and possibly obligates us to (some examination of process.) It is after all an experiment we are running, and an art we are practicing. It is a thing intended to serve the people.
So let the people have at it.