OK, so here we are, the final (?) entry of my ongoing discussion on the efficiency issues of the US electoral college, and now we’re at the good part, hope. If this is your jumping on point for this discussion I recommend that you go back and start from the beginning. It’s not a huge amount and will provide some valuable context. With that said…
Imagine, if you will, election day rolls around. You get out of bed in a leisurely fashion, at your normal time, head to your kitchen and prepare breakfast for yourself and your loved ones. You’re such a good person. While those loved ones get ready for their day you take your breakfast to your home computer. You log in with a secure account you set up weeks ago, and you start to vote as a cold rain falls outside your window. The major positions are easy decisions, you’re an informed voter after all, but some of these other ones… Auditor General, you know what those words mean, but what exactly is this person’s responsibilities? How long is their term? Who are these people who are running? The Prohibition Party still exists? Why?
Now if you were in a voting booth you’d probably file these away as questions to get around to answering… eventually, and then just vote along party lines. No one would blame you. If you listened to the news the only time a political position that wasn’t stationed in DC existed is when it popped into being just in time to be the embroiled in a scandal. A lot of these positions are doing work that’s invisible to most people, just up the exact moment when it becomes the most important thing in the world. But that’s OK, you’re at home, on your computer, a quick search will tell you everything you want to know about the position and the candidates, even their previous experience and voting record, if any. Maybe the voting page even has convenient hyperlinks to make this easy. So as an informed voter you place your votes on a case by case basis and hit enter, and while you are there, enjoying your breakfast and coffee in your slippers and robe, your votes go directly to the state and federal servers and count for… exactly one vote, just like everyone else’s.
Hardly seems like something you need to imagine. I mean, as far as futurism goes, it’s fairly banal. That’s kind of the point. We’ve reached the levels of scifi futurism that makes a system as inefficient as the Electoral College unnecessary. Remember when I said that the greatest thing the founding fathers ever did was make the Constitution a living document so that we could adapt to the changing times. In some ways we’re dishonoring their memories by not taking advantage of that and instead choosing to wallow in an outdated system that modernity is just making more bloated and expensive and divisive with every cycle.
So let’s talk a little bit about what information age tools can do for us if we just replaced the Electoral College, and then after that I’ll address some of the inevitable protests.
It will save time and money. You’ll recall my discussion of the election cycle and how the primaries turned the entire thing into a long expensive slog, as well as some of the other superfluous junk that goes along with them. Well, what if we only had one primary per party. It could be held online. The would-be candidates are free to campaign wherever they want, with their own money and what they can raise, but they don’t get any taxpayers money on this. They don’t need that money to rent any grand halls full of bands and balloons in every state over a 6-month period. They don’t need these things to get the message out. They have the internet, social media and the 24-hour news networks willing to turn anything they do into “news”. This way, sometime around the end of summer we can have our online NATIONAL primaries with results viewable in real time and go into the presidential race proper less exhausted and with a little more cash in our national pockets.
It will make your primary vote matter. Hey, you know what that idea doesn’t have room for? Super and unbound delegates. That will make the Bernie supporters happy, no more risk of a popular candidate getting locked out for not being “core party” enough.
It will make your actual election vote matter. What I’m talking about here is true democracy, one person, one vote and all votes are equal. If you read my “your votes don’t count” article you’ve seen that the actual value of a person’s vote is a factor of things like where they live and what time they cast it, with Zero being a possible value. Removing the College from the system and making it a true democracy means that every vote will be worth the same as it will be applied directly to the election and not filtered through electors and such.
It might increase voter turnout. OK, bear with me on this. Where I live in Pennsylvania the weather at the beginning of November can be a bit of crap shoot. This year was nice but that’s certainly not a given. Also, many polling places around here have only a limited number of booths/machines and are working on the old-fashioned paper flip-books for check in. This leads to long lines during peak time, frequently going outside. On the day, many polling centers around here were reporting wait times of 45 minutes or more. While I’m sure that my readers are all dedicated utterly to participation, you can totally see how some individuals who might be deterred by the possibility of having to stand in horrible weather for a long time would be more willing to participate if it were as convenient as checking their email.
We’d never again have to hear about the disparity of electoral votes vs popular votes. The winner of the popular vote would be the winner. By extension this would also close the anomalous 22% popular vote victory possibility that I talked about from the CGP grey videos.
Now the complaints…
BUT HACKERS ARE EVERYWHERE! WE CAN’T TRUST THE COMPUTERS!…. While it is true that cyber security is a big issue right now and certainly will be for the foreseeable future there are a couple of things to bear in mind. First we are saving a lot of money by gutting the primaries, and of we in any way deserve to still be a country we will take a chunk of that and hire the best people we can find to set up and maintain this system. The idea that would shouldn’t try to move forward and modernize because it would offer challenges is ludicrous, and you should be ashamed of yourself straw man, you luddite. Nothing will ever be 100% safe, but with the right people and a commitment to supporting them and listening to them we can get pretty close.
Also as an aside, two words, Hanging Chads. That little bit of our national nightmare was a mechanical problem caused by a very human problem of someone forgetting to clean out the waste trays, proving once again the most untrustworthy part of any machine is the coffee fueled bit that bleeds if you cut it.
This system marginalizes the poor and elderly! That’s a very valid point. This year the Pew Research Center released an updated report stating that 13% of American adults do not use the internet. That 13% skewed very heavily towards the elderly, the poor, the undereducated and the rural. Now, it doesn’t really matter who it skews to, setting up a system that institutionally locks out 13% of your population is unforgivable. So clearly there needs to be allowances made. The easiest and most obvious answer is also one that would be the least jarring for those individuals who may be resistant to change. It’s a modified take on the polling places they are used to.
There would have to be a study about how many were needed per region, but that’s just part of the initial set up cost for a new system and to be expected. Once you knew how many you could set them in places like libraries, community centers and retirement communities, places convenient to the people you are serving. You would have to have people available both in advance to help them set up their secure account, and on the day to help them get logged in and answer any questions. Ultimately though that’s no different than when they have to register to vote, or go to the polls now, just with fewer people. One key thing, the people designing the site will need to have a very intuitive user interface, no electronic “butterfly ballots” here.
That’s pretty much it. If it sounds simplistic, it is, in principal, but that’s what efficiency is all about, taking the convoluted and making it elegant and simple. In practice, however, this is anything but simple. We’re talking about overhauling a massive system with a lot of people invested in it. Even if you can convince them to gut the system that put them in power there is a huge amount of groundwork and infrastructure that needs to be put into play before my vision of banality can come to fruition.
So why do I even bother and why should you care? It’s a good question. Initially this started off as basically a thought experiment in applying my analysis to something topical. As I worked on it, however, it became more than that and I started to feel very passionate about what I saying. There were times when I was writing this that was genuinely in the grips of powerful emotion and I wanted to do something about this system.
If you want change you have two choices. You can wait for someone else to make it happen or you can do something, even if that something is just talking to people. Start a conversation, share ideas, get people fired up because the only way anything is going to really change is if enough people are loud enough and we collectively remind those people we sort of elected that they work for us. They’re the help and they need to start taking that part of their job seriously.
This is my whisper into the night. I hope that people are listening.
On that note, happy holidays everyone. I’ll see you all in the new year and we’ll talk about something fun, I promise.