Like the horseless carriage 100 years ago, Internet voting is coming to the USA. Not only is it convenient and green, but security has been proven manageable by e-commerce.
An Internet voting system, rightly organized, can even neutralize the power of Big Money in all US elections. Democracy in the US can be enhanced immensely. But how would that work?
Stories about campaign fundraising by presidential hopefuls have begun showing up online, in print, and over the air waves. Mitt Romney raised $10.25 million at one event in Las Vegas early in May this year. A month later, President Obama began his appeal to known top Wall Street contributors. The 2012 election is almost a year and a half off, but the initial candidate selection process is well under way.
Only those who have garnered the funds needed to pay campaign expenses will appear before the electorate in the primaries and caucuses to be held in the first few months of the presidential election year. That is when the second round of candidate selection will take place – although it will be the first time ordinary voters will have a say in deciding who their party will support.
Why do presidential candidates need so much money? Why must they engage in the undignified act of publicly asking other people for money?
The short answer is, to pay mostly for campaign advertising.
Most of the Big Money spent on political campaigns is meant to impress, persuade, and even manipulate the decision of the voters. The theory is that if a voter repeatedly hears a lot of positive information about one candidate’s name, and negative information about the names of others, the voter’s mind will be conditioned to vote for the name with good stuff connected to it when he or she goes in to the voting booth.
Is this the kind of scenario that the Authors of our Constitution originally intended for the selection and election of our Chief Executive? Far from it! As I have argued elsewhere, they meant, above all else, to set up a process that was deliberative and conducive to Reason. Aside from what it has become, the Electoral College was originally envisioned as a meeting of from 3 to 12 prominent members of a state.
These “gentlemen” (sorry ladies!) would discuss a short list of other gentlemen who were known to be of “continental character.” No money would be spent on political campaigns, because men of continental character did not campaign for office in those days. Indeed, no provision is made in the Constitution for reimbursing Electors, because the Framers assumed such gentlemen would pay their own minor expenses of travel, food, and lodging in order to choose the President of the United States. The proceedings would be as orderly and deliberative as a personnel selection meeting in a modern corporate office.
Little need be said about how poorly current practices fulfill those original intentions of an orderly process, free of costs and campaigning.
But, imagine this: You are watching candidates debate online or on TV. After each debate you log on to your state’s secure voting website, using your own PC, cell phone, or other electronic device. Your voter registration is checked, and then the voting window comes up. You enter your rating of each debater’s performance, from 0-9.
What could be more orderly and conducive to reason and deliberation, than to watch debaters trying their best to perform at a presidential level, and then to have each voter vote his or her considered assessment of each debater’s efforts?
With secure Internet voting, there is no time for campaign advertising to try to persuade or trick you, or to condition your mind like a pigeon trained to peck on the blue button rather than the red one. You watch the debate. You form your own opinion of what you have just seen, and you vote strictly on that basis. All the advertising before or after the debate will be useless, because everyone will vote while their own views are fresh in their minds – a virtual end run around Citizens United v. FEC.
Internet voting, rightly organized, can greatly improve our presidential election process. Among other things, it can a) fulfill the original intentions of the Framers for a rational and deliberative presidential selection process, b) raise participation rates by making voting really convenient, and c) eliminate the need of candidates for contributions because showing up in the studios for the debates is cheap, and campaign advertising will be useless. All that is necessary to make this happen is a letter to your local election official asking that an Internet voting system be implemented. They will be happy to hear from their constituents, because they already know that online voting is a far less costly process than the polling place and paper-based process currently in use.