So it’s now unlikely that Clinton or Obama is going to get the 2,025 delegates needed for party nomination. This means the botched primaries for Michigan and Florida are suddenly key. Something is going to have to be done.
There has been a good deal of dithering here. A consensus appears to be forming around the the "mail in" option (see Malcolm, below). No one knows how much this will cost. Estimates for Florida run, at the low end, from $4 million to $10 million. At the high end, the figure looks like like $30 million (Overby, below).
The Democratic party is acting like its 1999. Mail-in? Are you kidding me? American Idol manages to canvass 10s of millions of people in a two hour period with results tabulated within less than 24 hours. You might not like the music that Idol insists on, but the show has done us all a massive favor by demonstrating how quickly and elegantly the wishes of the public can now be canvassed.
Yes, of course, there are differences. On Idol, people can vote more than once and in the world of public representation this is, um, a wee problem. But I cannot believe that there is not some work-around available. With a unique identifier, it should be possible to prevent the Chicago problem of people who vote early, often, and indefinitely.
Here’s what’s strange. In all of the thousands of words inked on this issue, I can’t find anyone talking about the digital option. It’s as if politics is the captive of a time lock. And 1999 is optimistic by about 50 years. The nice thing about this opportunity is that it’s going to have to be irregular and unorthodox and a little unsatisfactory in any case. Which is to say we have a license to try something new.
Let’s solve the primary crisis with a digital response. Let’s get on with the business of disintermediating politics. All we need is a precedent. Once we solve one voting problem this way, the digital option becomes part of the solution set and it will be used again. What we need is not so much a tipping point as a starting one.
Malcolm, Andrew. 2008. Democratic party leaders inch toward agreement on Florida, Michigan. Top of the Ticket. LA Times Blog. March 9, 2008. here.
Overby, Peter. 2008. If Florida and Michigan vote again, who pays? NPR. March 12, 2008. here.
Actually, the momentum is in the reverse direction. Democrats’ unhappiness with the 2000 outcome led to a lot of scapegoating of electronic voting, along with a new appreciation of its actual vulnerability to various forms of hacking. Given that a secure vote is not as important to the republic as a vote that is seen to be secure, expect to see more paper in your voting future.
The key problem with electronic voting versus paper voting — as with most current efforts at computerization of prior business or organizational processes — is that electronic systems typically concentrate and centralize what were previously distributed activities, and thus make malicious or imcompetent behaviours easier to execute and also (a separate issue) vastly alter their consequences. To alter paper votes (even if done by one person) usually requires many thousands of illegal actions, while to alter electonically-held votes may require just one action (eg, changing a parameter in some code). While the probability of vote-rigging may not change with e-voting, the ease with which it can be undertaken and its consequences have both increased markedly.
The issue has arisen with some vengeance here in Britain, where the Government last year mislaid 2 CD-ROMS containing confidential personal details (including names, addresses and bank account details) of 25 million recipients of family welfare benefits. If the Government did not hold a single central database of such data, but instead relied on many local, distributed databases, the consequences of malicious or incompetent behaviour would be much less.