Impractical Solutions to Intractable Problems
Impractical Solutions to Intractable Problems
December 1, 2010
Today’s impractical suggestion is to make all voting online. My theory is that this simple change could solve just about every major problem in the world. Is that an exaggeration? You be the judge.
Imagine we set a target date for online voting, five years out. That’s enough time to solve any voter identification issues and other logistics. For voters who have no computers of their own, the local high school could provide iPads and human helpers for walk-ins. In ten years, that service would be phased out. By then, if you don’t have access to a computer, voting is probably going to be low on your list of priorities.
The first benefit of online voting is that more people would vote, especially the young. When you can vote from your cubicle, or from your bed, you might bother to take the time, at least for the issues that you care about.
When young people become a larger voting force, change becomes easier. For example, it would be easier for politicians to support cutting the military and Social Security budgets if they had lots of young voters on their side. The young have a natural tendency to shake up the status quo, and that’s necessary for a society to evolve and prosper. The alternative is the deadlock and death spiral we seem to be in.
Imagine that this future online voting interface has links to the best arguments for each issue, with simple supporting graphics. Voters could peruse the candidates’ voting records and positions. All relevant information that a voter needs would be clearly presented, and compared and contrasted, in a way that traditional media can’t handle. As a result, voters would become far more informed, even if it only happened minutes before the actual vote.
My observation is that voters often unwittingly vote for candidates that disagree with their own positions. Imagine that voters could answer questions about their own political preferences and then the system would color code the candidates that most closely match their own views. Such a system would alert voters when they are voting against their own interests, while still allowing the option to do so. Online versions of what I’m describing already exist but they aren’t integrated with the actual voting interface. That’s a big difference. Convenience matters.
Imagine, as part of this voting interface, an online model of the national budget that you can tweak on your own, so you can see how much difference it makes to raise taxes on the rich, or cut specific budget categories. (Such models exist online, but I haven’t seen a great one yet.) Before you vote, you could fiddle with the online budget model to get a visceral feel for what sorts of budget cuts and tax increases make the biggest difference. In my view, understanding the budget, at some high level, is the minimum knowledge a voter needs to cast an informed vote.
In our current political model, candidates take advantage of what I call (usually in a business context) a confusopoly. They make general philosophical comments about the budget that are logically and mathematically impossible. Everyone else is doing the same, and because the budget is complicated and confusing, candidates can get away with it. But a viable third-party candidate with a specific budget plan would make the confusopoly candidates seem like empty suits.
In our current system, viable third-party candidates rarely emerge. But online voting would make third-party candidates more viable. Voters could easily see each candidate’s background and views on the issues, plus video clips of speeches. A qualified candidate could run for president on a shoestring budget. All he’d need is a lot of Facebook friends to get things started. Social networks would replace primaries.
Our current system, which features massive traditional advertising aimed primarily at older voters, would become obsolete. With online voting, the average age of voters would shift dramatically lower. The young are less susceptible to advertising because they use technology such as DVRs and ad-blocking software to avoid ads. And they avoid traditional print media altogether. When big advertising budgets become less effective, special interests become less powerful because their money can’t help politicians get elected.
I started this post by claiming online voting would solve almost every problem in the world. My observation is that our planet doesn’t suffer from a lack of resources, just a lack of competence in managing those resources. Online voting could replace a broken government with one that allocates resources efficiently. And that one change, in time, could stimulate and release the economy to solve almost every problem in the world.