If you're living in the United States right now, chances are you're sick of hearing about elections and politics. That's why I'm writing this today, instead of last week. I want to ride the coattails of that nausea and make a suggestion for the future of voting. The problem, I think, is that politicians do not care about you. They are ignoring you, and right they should. You don't matter. Your issues don't matter. Your concerns don't matter. Politicians only care about one type of person, and it's not you, because chances are, you didn't vote.
[Image credit: Amelia E]
I haven't seen official estimates on voter turnout this year, but I'm guessing it was embarrassingly low. I know it seems like there was more interest in a mid-term election this year than any year in the past, but that doesn't mean much, because mid-term elections are very unpopular with voters. The last presidential election, in which record numbers of people voted, only drew 56.8% of the population to the polls, according to this page at infoplease.com. That was the highest percentage in 40 years, since 1968, when Nixon ran against Democrat Hubert Humphrey and segregationist George Wallace at the height of the civil rights movement and the protests against the Vietnam war. Before Nixon's first election, voter turnout for the presidential election was just a bit more than 60%.
So, my guess is that voter turnout for this mid-term election will be less than 50%. When I make the assumption that you didn't vote, I've got a better chance of being right than I do calling a coin toss.
It was the most expensive mid-term election in history, with candidates dumping millions of dollars into their campaigns. Some of the richest candidates lost, of course, but that doesn't mean that money can't help you win an election. Because of these expenditures, you might think that money is the most important thing to a politician. It seems like politicians follow the money interest, and that's what controls their voting and behavior. But that's not true.
There is one thing politicians want more than money. They want votes. Votes keep politicians in power, and power is the most addictive drug imaginable. Politicians can have all the money in the world, but that doesn't guarantee they will win elections. To win an election, they need votes. That is why the only people who matter to politicians are people who vote.
The money is important, sure. But most of that money is spent on television commercials. It's not used (hopefully) to buy fancy cars and big houses. The money isn't a luxury, and political donations are not how politicians end up getting rich. The money from political spending pays for TV ads, and those ads exist to convince the voters.
I'm not making a campaign finance reform argument here, though I think the argument practically makes itself when you realize how much money it takes to run continual television ads during the long campaign season in this country. If we could take that incredible expense out of the mix . . . but I digress.
If we can't fix the money problem in politics, maybe we can fix the voter turnout problem. One of the most annoying trends in this election was the constant bombardment of voting and political messages from all of my friends and colleagues on Facebook and Twitter. I'm not going to rehash them here, you can imagine the most partisan or the most tenacious of these, and I'm sure you had to deal with them yourself. Clearly, they didn't work if voter turnout ends up as low as I predict.
One message did catch my eye, however. At first it annoyed me, but then it made me reconsider. Someone on my Twitter feed (I apologize to my readers and my source for not remembering who exactly) retweeted a messages saying something like: "If voting was as easy as signing up for Twitter, I would vote today."
It makes you nauseous, right? You might argue that voting is as easy as signing up for Twitter, and more secure about privacy. But in fact, it's not. Voting is an annoying process. It takes a lot of time. It's a hassle, because too often there is a paperwork problem. I have been voting regularly for the past 16 years, and in the past two presidential elections, my voting eligibility was challenged at the polls by the workers there who could not find me on the voting rolls. I was registered, I had received confirmation, I had my driver's license on me (once I even had my passport), but they still gave me trouble. In the last election, I had to submit a special ballot, and I was given the promise that if they ever found me on the voter registration logs, my vote would be counted.
Gee, I feel so . . . enfranchised?
Here's my suggestion: we need to vote electronically over the Internet. Forget about voting booths, electronic voting machines and all the paperwork that accompanies them. We need to vote the same way we do everything else today. Why do we not trust the Internet for voting?
We trust the Internet for everything else. Voting seems like it demands the least privacy of all the private things we use the Internet to accomplish. I manage all of my finances over the Internet. I have never been to the actual bank where I have a credit card account, a car loan, or student loans. I manage all of those accounts electronically. I've received health records electronically. I send the most intimate and personal of correspondence over email without a second thought.
If we can manage our sex lives over the Internet, surely we can create a system for voting.
I don't believe any of the obstacles to Internet voting are insurmountable. Security concerns about hacking and voter fraud, voter identification, all of the issues that would cause problems in a national election are problems we can tackle and defeat. It's not like the paper balloting and electronic voting machines have been even close to flawless. How could we make things worse by moving voting online.
If we could vote online, we wouldn't have to take time off of work to vote. We wouldn't need to stand in line with our kids in tow, or stand in line behind someone with their screaming children. We wouldn't have to explain to the stupid person handling the voter registration logs for the third time that our last name is spelled B-E-R-N-E, not B-U-R-N-S. Is that so hard to remember? It's Berne, like the capital of Switzerland, not Burns. Do I look Scottish?
Again, I digress. I've tried to avoid taking partisan sides in this column, but if there is one theme we can all take away from the last election, it is that a great number of voters feel like their elected officials are not representing their interests. I don't disagree, but it's not because the politicians don't care. It's because you don't vote.