American Democracy Repaired

So, I’ve been sitting around for the last day or so feeling all depressed. In part because Obama lost in New Hampshire and my dreams of a tidal wave of unity sweeping the nation were dashed but mostly because of my lack of faith in the system. As has been reported elsewhere, Clinton performed significantly better in precincts that were counted by the Diebold optical scanning machines than she did in precincts that counted votes by hand.

After a long history of disliking Diebold strongly and a short period, prior to New Hampshire, of being nervous about their involvement, it was a kick in the guts to see those results. The most stressful thing is that the results might be 100% accurate, but I have no way to know that. So that got me to thinking. And thinking. I should have been sleeping, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I have come to the conclusion that the secrecy of the process is the problem. If secrecy’s the problem, let’s provide an option to remove the secrecy. Let’s allow allow people to vote publicly if they choose.

In my proposed system, if you want to vote secretly, nothing changes. You do everything just like you would right now. You walk into the polling place, your name gets checked off and you go do your thing. However, and this is where it gets interesting, if you want to publish your vote, you go through a different process. Your vote gets associated with your name / ID number / whatever, you get a printed receipt with details identifying you and how you voted. Your name goes up on a big, public screen for you to cross check against your receipt and off you go happy that, once again, you’ve done your bit to protect democracy. There can be as many levels of verification here as are necessary, I haven’t really thought about it that much. The important thing is that your vote is recorded publicly and that you verify the vote that is recorded.

There doesn’t seem to be any downside for the people who don’t wish to have their vote published. They’d be in the same situation they’re in now. That being said, I think that many, many people would happily publish their vote to safeguard their democratic system. I would. Most young people I know would do it in a heartbeat. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t have their vote published.

Anyway, it’s really not that different than having political signs in the front yard of your house, is it? When you have bumper stickers or posters or signs, people know who you voted for anyway. This way not only will others know who you voted for, you will finally be confident that you know who you voted for.

I have received a couple of criticisms of this idea and I think they’re both pretty weak.

Firstly, someone claimed that votes could be bought because the buyer would be able to verify the sale.  This could feasibly happen on a small scale, but it just wouldn’t be worth it.  If we look at the New Hampshire situation, we’re talking about a discrepancy of tens of thousands of votes.  For a vote buying scam to be a serious threat you need to convince me that someone can make contact with tens of thousands of individuals, offer money for their votes, pay the money after the election and not come to the attention of any authorities anywhere.  So, when it comes to vote buying, I ain’t buying it.

The second concern was about voter intimidation.  If people’s votes are public then they can be threatened, or strong-armed into voting a certain way.  Again, I’m not buying.  The numbers of people involved are the issue again.  You need to be able to make a credible threat against tens of thousands of individuals and not have anyone report the blackmail to the authorities.  That’s simply unrealistic.

I think the problem here is that people are sweating the small stuff at the expense of the massive.  Yes, you might have some tiny incidents of voter manipulation, but there will be vastly less potential for vote manipulation than exists today, under the broken, secret system.

Shine the light in, let the cockroaches scurry away.  Down with secrecy!

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One Response to “American Democracy Repaired”

  1. The Website of Rob Vitaro Says:

    Would you want your vote publicly recorded?

    I never thought about it before, having your vote publicly recorded.  darwinator over at Cathartic Relief brings up this interesting idea in his post American Democracy Repaired.
    Obviously the concept of the secret ballot is an important one, as it …

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