Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Online Voting Discussion

O'Reilly interviews CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen, on the topic of online voting.

As California resident Ryan Alfred observed during Bowen's conversation with Tim O'Reilly, open source voting platforms sound great in theory -- but can technology increase the percentage of citizens who vote?

I object to the implicit message that getting more people to vote is virtuous. The act of voting is only the final steps, in the duties of a civic-minded person to stay informed and participate in our processes. Why aren't we paying more attention to how we communicate issues, from government to the people, and from the people to each other ?

Part of the problem is likely that communication analysis isn't natural. People seem to think that the way they communicate is the way they always have communicated and that our changing media (even as they change before our eyes) don't have an effect on the message. McLuhan taught us differently, though.

Information has been reduced to bytes in all media. If you doubt me, see if you can watch a television newscast from 20 or 30 years ago, and notice how long and information-rich the stories appear to be. That's television. On the web, we actually pay for our information on a byte-by-byte basis so shorter is always better. O RLY ? Yes, really.

The electoral process is always changed by changing communication practices, but there are things we (and they) can do to promote deeper consideration of issues, more even discussion. Turning the voting process into another internet online poll is not one of these changes, however.

We should be approaching the problem as writer Jane Jacobs approached traffic problems in big cities: challenge all assumptions, and don't assume that the most volume of throughput is the best answer. One way streets, and speed bumps regulate traffic, and prevent neighbourhoods from becoming freeway scenery. Small obstacles to voting, such as having to physically walk a few blocks to do it, may represent a small control on the quality of the voter.

It seems counter-intuitive but more isn't always better. Sometimes better is better.

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