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The Problem With Voting

Introduction

As noted in The Role of Government, perhaps we have nobody to blame for our over-inflated government except ourselves. The decision-makers were either voted into office by us or appointed by those we voted for. However, oddly enough, this doesn't mean that their decisions are condoned by most Americans. Do you suppose that most people would really vote for a proposition on the ballot that simply said, "Raise my taxes?" I believe that most people would usually vote in favor of reduced spending and lower taxes. If so, then why does government keep growing, and why do taxes keep going up? I'm afraid that most elections are decided by less than 10% of the registered voters, and many people are not even registered to vote. Often only 3% of the electorate votes in local elections in my community. We are suffering from a democratic phenomenon, that policy is being created by a minority rather than a majority.

Voting Anomalies

There are a couple of psychological factors that greatly influence elections. The first anomaly that occurs in elections is that some uninformed people will vote for anything. If we voted to give computers to the homeless, some people would vote for it, based upon their compassion for the poor, despite the fact that homeless people don't even have electrical receptacles.

Despite the record turnout in the 2008 presidential election, the fact remains that turnout is still very low in most local elections. It follows then that another anomaly with voting is that the small percentage of people who are politically active are aware of how to manipulate the system. I've seen this happen in my own community. Suppose there is a community of 50,000 people with 25,000 registered voters, and one man decides he wants a public swimming pool where his children can swim. He circulates a petition, collects maybe 100 signatures, and uses this as proof to the city council that there is a lot of interest in a public pool. The city council decides to put it on the ballot and, if approved, pay for it by raising taxes for everyone. The man then rallies his 100 troops to each persuade five others to vote for it, by targeting families with children who might like to swim. They also ensure that these voters know when and where the election is. The election is held and the result is 500 votes for the pool and 400 votes against it. This man just succeeded in his cause even though he had the support of only 1% of the people. How is this possible?

There are several reasons for this. The man may have timed his actions such that there would be minimal time for anyone to organize a campaign against the pool. This man campaigns by advertising only the benefits of the issue; i.e., a nice swimming pool, without even mentioning the tax increase. The tax increase would have been targeted by an opposition group, but there was little time. In other words, the aggressor has the advantage (Luke 11:5-9). It's relatively easy for a committee to grow tired of a persistent plea even from a small group of people. However, we have few watchdog committees specifically protecting the interests of the tax payers.

Another related reason it is possible to win elections with only a small minority of the population is that most people don't realize that the issue affects them. The retired couple down the street does see the announcement about the election in the paper, but they won't use a pool, they don't focus on the tax increase, they have compassion for the children that will use it, and they decide it's best just to let the young folks decide the issue. In other words, almost all of the people in favor of the pool (maybe 10% of the electorate) are very likely to vote, while those opposed or not particularly in favor of the pool are not very likely to vote.

Convenience

Even if people were more informed about elections, I don't think that voter turnout would rise significantly. Why don't people vote? I believe it's because it is too inconvenient, and I'm afraid that the people who are politically active also understand this all too well. We live in a world of conveniences. Everything is made to be easy and convenient. This is a credit to innovative ideas and technology. Companies build and market products based on their convenience. They are in competition with other companies to make their products the most convenient ones on the market. In the 20th century, we quickly moved from radio to television to color television to cable television to the Internet. We found it inconvenient to get up and change channels, so we were given remote controls. Then the cord on the remote control was found to be a nuisance, so we were given cordless remote controls. Then we were given VCRs with remote controls, and it was inconvenient to switch between the remote control for the TV, the one for the VCR, and the one for cable, so we were given an all-in-one remote control. Now our cordless all-in-one remote control doesn't help us with our computer, so soon the TV and the computer will be integrated into a single entity.

However, how convenient is it to vote? At one point in recent years, I voted in three elections in a three-month period, and all three voting places were in different locations. The municipal election was at the City Hall, one mile north of my house. The state/county primary was at one of the eight elementary schools in town, one mile south of my house. The runoff for the primary was at the city hall in a neighboring town ten miles away. I learned about each election by reading three different newspapers. Although it was relatively easy to determine when each election would be held, nobody I called seemed to know where I should vote. I got lucky on two of them, based upon where similar elections were held in the past. However, for the runoff, I was stumped, so I unsuccessfully tried the two locations where I had recently voted. The third person I was sent to at City Hall finally made enough phone calls to be able to direct me to the city hall in the neighboring community. I made the twenty-mile round trip through cross-town metroplex traffic in about an hour and a half.

Some counties have helped the voting situation by incorporating early voting or mail-in ballots. However, most still put voting off until election day. Many people need to be at work before the polls open at 7:00 AM, and many are still at work when the polls close at 7:00 PM. Many might squeeze out some time during the day, but probably not if they believe it's going to take a couple of hours. Our daily jobs are so important that we can't miss work. Voting, though very important, is not an event that fits easily into our day-to-day schedule. We sometimes feel that we have to choose between our jobs and voting.

How to Fix Voting

How can we make voting convenient? I think that the answer is obvious, and the solution is quite easy: Use the Internet. Today it's convenient to use the Internet to purchase and receive groceries and other merchandise without ever leaving our homes. Of course, we're all aware of the many illicit activities on the Internet which are as close as our fingertips. Why is it then, that the very first Internet activity devised by the government was not voting? With all of the other activities we have on the Internet, why can't we vote there? Of course, if Internet voting was implemented, the polls would still remain open as they do today, as an alternative method of voting.

Imagine the convenience of this scenario: An election is approaching on November 2nd. One week earlier, on October 27th, I open my e-mail and notice a ballot sent to me by my government. I open the ballot and see that I have one week to complete it. I have a few minutes, so I make a couple of informed choices, but then I see a name with which I'm unfamiliar. I click on the name, and I'm presented with a personal profile for this
candidate. I click on "Issues" and I read all about where this candidate stands on the issues that are important to me, if this candidate chose to tell me. I go back to the ballot and make another informed choice. My wife reminds me of our dinner engagement, so I save the ballot and go to dinner. Two days later, when I logon again, I'm reminded about the pending ballot, and that I have only five days left to submit it. I open it, finish voting, and select "Vote". I have just voted. I can't vote again because the same cryptography used to encode and protect credit card transactions is used for voting. Furthermore, I can go to the Election URL and view the election results so far. I can also review my ballots for the last ten elections, and I can review the total results and demographic breakdown of those elections. At the Voting Registration URL, I can register to vote, re-register if necessary, or change my status between Republican and Democratic for the next primary, if I'm legally allowed to do so.

If our government is justified by its massive size, then why can't we vote on the Internet? Why is it ten years behind in technology when it has such inflated budgets? Why have we put the Internet in classrooms and libraries, but we still can't vote on the Internet? Well, I'm not sure they want voting to be that convenient. The voter registration drives spearheaded by certain politically-active groups may seem noble, but more often than not, they are one-time efforts to promote a particular cause. They don't want everyone to vote. They want only the ones who will vote the way they're voting to vote. They use the political tactics described above to influence elections with a small group of inspired troops. I believe the morally right thing to do in a free republic is to encourage everyone to vote, and that voting on the Internet would result consistently in increased voter turnouts.

Polls

A final word about voting concerns polls, such as Gallup polls. Because of peculiar polling techniques and sample sizes, we should take the results of these polls with a grain of salt, as we learned during the exit polling of the 2004 presidential election. There is a possibility that the people conducting the polls are adding their own bias, whether intentionally or not, because they don't seem to be polling a representative cross-section of the constituency. I recently had a discussion with a friend who leans toward the left politically, while I lean toward the right. It is very peculiar that my friend had been asked to participate in six to eight political polls recently, while I hadn't been asked to participate in any at all. I realize this is a small sample size, but some news reports have confirmed that this is indeed a problem.

Owen Weber 2009