Sunday, December 11, 2016

Technology & The 2016 Election part 5: Voter Beware

This is the last in my series of posts on how Technology influenced the 2016 election. As I write this, new articles keep streaming out in relation to Fake News, Russian hacking and transition appointments. While we may have hoped that after the election had finished, things might cool down – it seems that presumption may have been premature. In the previous posts, I discussed specific technologies, trends and tactics but what does it all mean for us the voters? Few of us wish to be or are qualified to be pundits, we just want to do our civic duty with the least amount of drama and hassle possible – yet drama and hassle seem to be looming large in everyone’s future. What if anything can we as voters do?
In some ways, such as how candidates are selected, things have changed little...
This is probably the toughest question of them all and we know it’s one that’s not being answered as more and more people get turned off from the political process. I think there may two tracks here in terms of the types of things we as voters can do to prepare for and ultimately (or hopefully) improve the process…
Track 1 – Voter Beware
This is a slight turn on the phrase “buyer beware,” but the analogy seems a good one. In coming years, we ought to try to get more savvy in regards to how all politicians – from every side – are trying to manipulate us one way or the other.  Politicians and ideas are products in many ways; they’re advertised like them, we buy them to make ourselves better and when we’re sick of them we discard them and trade up for newer models. Now, maybe I’m being a bit too cynical here, but there are some upsides to viewing this as a Consumerism. Consumers, for one thing, often take more time investigating which brands to buy and actually comparison shop as opposed to sticking with the same thing out of loyalty year open year. Consumers even use unbiased guides to help them wade though the false claims of many products to get at the truth because ultimately, buying the right product can save you a lot of money.
The saving money part is actually an even better analogy to the political process given that the choices we make in elections probably effect our pocketbooks more than all of the comparison shopping we’ll ever do. This year has given us some valid and interesting motivations for perhaps becoming a little more skeptical and judicious when we listen to the political promises of politicians. This year we’ve seen how much pure propaganda has been used to confuse or manipulate us, we’ve seen that raw sentiment (either negative or positive) might not always be the best basis for making a decision. Another way of putting that might be, that if you’re voting against something chances are you really don’t appreciate or understand what it is you’re really voting for. That’s a bit like buying a Jeep instead of a F150 when you really wanted a Prius – it just doesn’t make any sense and if everyone does that it is quite likely that most people will end up unsatisfied to some degree. Here are a couple of other pragmatic suggestions:
  • Don’t get all of your news off Facebook
  • Look for unbiased sources and combine those with the ones you trust already and see what the comparisons really look like from different perspectives
  • Don’t let anyone think for you. Take the time to research yourself.
  • Don’t let anyone discourage you from voting. It’s not just a right or a privilege – it’s an obligation. If the majority of Americans hold their nose in disgust but choose not to participate, then they’ve lost the right to complain about the outcome (which of course they likely will).
  • Demand more of your candidate or party. Don’t let them sink further into ambiguous, abbreviated explanations. They will continue to try to win you over with Twitter but we all know that no one can hold an intelligent conversation using 140 characters or less and no one should treat the American people as if they’re too dumb to go beyond that.
Track 2 – What Could We Change?
If I had to pick one problem which looms above all others at least at the presidential level, it wouldn’t be the electoral college (although that’s not so great), rather it is the way we choose candidates in our party system. There are several huge problems here, including:
  • A closed system that prevents the vast majority of interested, qualified people from ever participating
  • The same system also prevents of us from participating until after all the real choices are made – and then we’re just stuck with it
  • A lock on the main two parties with almost no ability for 3rd parties to gain access. A perfect example of this are the uneven rules that nearly every state requires for candidates to get on the ballot – 3rd party candidates typically require 1,000’s more signatures making it nearly impossible for them to even join a national race
I’ve highlighted these issues specifically because I think one of the most annoying aspects of our system seems to be the lack of actual choice we have as voters, which in turn leaves us with the feeling that it’s the same cast of characters over and over again. And truthfully, that feeling is pretty accurate – for a nation of over 300 hundred million people, we’ve got a tiny handful of what seem to be the same people running everything. Those of us who want change and see the same people doing the same things across administrations and across parties once they get elected, tend to get frustrated. That’s perhaps one explanation for what happened this year.
I’ve got another suggestion though, one that could be fueled by technology but hasn’t happened yet. Most states and districts allow for “write-in” candidates. If the traditional parties do not want to open up (and occasionally they do but usually only for billionaires, otherwise it seems as though the Backroom approach is still going strong); then why not translate the practical experience gained from all sorts of Internet activism and turn that into a new form of political party – a Logical Party. “Logical” not because it makes any particular sense (although hopefully it would), but Logical in the sense that it would be “Virtual” and exist only as an online community. This Logical or Virtual party could then have an open and online selection process (and to be fair there are some places that have started doing this, it’s not entirely new) and it could field candidates both in the presidential race and in state races. Now that would be some real Populism.
And why not? It couldn’t be any worse than 2016, right?

Copyright 2016, Stephen Lahanas


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