Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gadgets

Gadgets are cool, fun and can either be great time savers or great time wasters. I was particularly interested in learning more about this week’s announcement of GoogleTV. Soon we’ll be able to buy a TV that connects to the Internet and using GoogleTV we can check on sports stats while the game is going on, watch what we want when we want, look up celebrity news about the actor in a movie we’re watching – really potentially cool stuff.

I’ve always been drawn to technology – from my stint as the Editor-in-Chief of my high school newspaper where I converted the article submission process from manual typewritten pages to discs! Many clients and employers have either been in technology or have utilized technology to streamline operations and maximize what humans can do versus what machines can do.

There are many areas where technological improvements have made tremendous differences in the day to day living of most Americans, helped businesses achieve or maintain profitability and created huge opportunities for a new generation. There is, however, one area that seems committed to doing things in the least efficient, most cumbersome and illogical manner: the California Voting system. (It’s probably true nationwide, but I know best about California.)

For the past decade or so I have been a “permanent” absentee voter – so I get to fill out my ballot and mail it in at my convenience. I started doing this after one particular election where I went to the assigned polling place and the wait was nearly 40 minutes. 40 minutes for my civic duty was somewhat justified in a “brussel-sprouts-are-good-for-you” way. I had my sample ballot – and showed the volunteer my name/address. I tried to help the octogenarian by pointing to name in the reams of computer print outs in front of them only to have my knuckles whapped by a ruler! Then I went into the rickety “booth” to punch holes into a card.  Silly!  I now punch the card at my leisure, mail it in, and know that in a contested or close election my vote might make the difference as absentee votes tend to be the ones that tip the final count. Isn’t there a better way?

Trillions of dollars exchange hands every day. Millions of people pay bills, mortgages and car payments on-line. Health records are moving towards electronic storage and dissemination. Grades are converting to secure online distribution. Why is voting largely still by punch cards, paper and mail?

There are 207,643,594 eligible voters in the U.S.  122,394,724 voted in 2008 election, a record.

42% of the people didn’t vote. Some may be lazy, some may not care – but perhaps the process is too cumbersome. In California you have to register to vote 15 days before the election: and then there’s no guarantee it will work. I have a friend who filled out the paperwork at the DMV and 14 months later still hasn’t gotten confirmation and has missed several election cycles as a result, despite contacting the Registrar. Should my friend have to take more steps to vote? Shouldn’t registering and voting actually be the simplest, easiest process imaginable? Don’t we want to incentive as many people as possible to participate? Of course not!

The status quo between the various parties survives and thrives by hampering participation. This way the candidates and parties have control. The nastier and stupider that elections become, the fewer who will participate. The fewer who participate become those who are easiest to identify. Then the effort of targeting/converting/convincing that smaller group is achievable. And democracy continues its descent.

Imagine if every eligible voter just could vote. Vote over a weeklong period at their leisure. Vote at the Supermarket. Vote at the bank. Vote at home on their computer. Of course there are logistical and fraud concerns – but in a country where we trust electronics to launch and track wars, where technology manages the stock market and the majority of the country’s GDP I’m fairly confident there is a way to make it work.

The result would be a total upending of the status-quo. We might actually move towards representative democracy again. What a concept! Now that would be a really cool ap.

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