considering voting – technology and new paths towards democracy

I voted today, just an hour ago. The outcome of the election is unknown. There no reason for me to be cynical at the moment. In this moment, I’m happy.

Voting is one part of a participatory democracy – a clear path to being involved, belonging to something larger. However, Democracy, for me, is to be independent, educated, creative and unify around specific causes. These causes change depending on the world around us. This perspective on the purpose and meaning of democracy leads me to question voting as the best answer we have to creating democracy. Follows is a brief outline on how the internet and related technology offers new options for what government is, and does.

  1. Open Source voting machines:

    Paying private companies to write bad software on unsecured hardware is obviously crazy when we are talking about one of the most basic components to the infrastructure of democracy.

  2. Semantic Web and Open Government:

    If I am honest with myself, I have to admit that no matter how much research I do, I doubt I really know what is going on in our government. I’m pretty sure there is waste, but the waste is likely systemic as much as it is caused by corruption. There are complex organizations spending most of their energy just being complex. Institutional complexity can be reduced when there is insight into on what that organization is even up to – ie “transparent government”.
    Putting all government documents online isn’t enough to make Government transparent. When single laws are 800 pages, being able to search through the mountain of data is critical. But, even more difficult than finding what you want is summarizing and co-relating data. I won’t elaborate on specifics here, but if the the whole of our public government is open, searchable, and easy to collect and reorganize into digestible pieces of knowledge, then we’re all better off.

  3. Game Theory:

    Voting is not simple. Votes aren’t just counted, they are grouped, reassigned, allocated, recounted, averaged, rounded, molded. The game theory behind different voting mechanisms is a very well researched field. William Poundstone’s book gives a great intro into other voting systems. Hopefully on this day, November 4th, 2008, we overcome our flaws.
    Check out Ubuntu/OLPC contributor Benjamin Mako Hill’s online voting site Selectricty to try out other voting systems and the Ruby Vote voting software.

  4. Taxes:

    The internet can make where money flows more dynamic and accountable.
    Paying into the system is not, currently, the same thing as buying into it. My libertarian friends feel the pain most acutely. With 1 billion dollars spent on the election, each vote cost roughly $8. A billion dollars seems like a lot, but when all those voters pay $10,000 dollars or more in taxes a year, that’s a pretty good profit margin.
    So why can’t we vote on every little thing our money goes towards? Perhaps, because the world is too complex perhaps, or perhaps taxes are as sure as death. Death usually isn’t questioned. Well, with progress in genetics, there are folks questioning death too. I don’t have an answer, but I do think it’s fair to question our tax system and how the money gets spent when technology could make the flow of money more impactful, and provably so.

If you are cynical, I get it. However, while technology is nothing without people changing behavior, having safe and trusted options can open the door.