[16 May 2010]
Here in the United States, democracy is more of a noun than a verb. It is so often discussed as an exportable commodity, a line on our national résumé, or a put-down to other ideological beliefs that we sometimes forget that only about half of the voting populace casts a vote in most elections. In the 2008 Presidential Election, voting age turnout was still less than 63 percent, more than ten percent lower than Minnesota’s states-leading turnout.
Our founding fathers created a splendid electoral system, but they had no way of anticipating how technological evolution would impact society in the ensuing centuries. America has continually attempted to improve voting tabulation systems over the recent decades in order to ensure that every vote cast gets counted, but it’s time to start improving the methodology, not just the mechanics.
A possible solution came to mind recently when two unrelated statistics caught my attention: First, there were 125,225,901 votes in the 2008 presidential election. Second, Facebook currently boasts more than 400 million users, with approximately 120 million residing in the United States.) Of course, many of Facebook’s users are not yet of voting age, and a random search reveals a small percentage of canine or feline users, but the converging numbers begs the question: Is social networking the future of voting?
According to WebProNews.com,“78 percent of teens and 77 percent of those 18 to 24 have (social media) profile pages, 65 percent of those 25 to 34 and half of those 35 to 44 (51 percent) also have profile pages.” These numbers are on the rise, so amidst the family photos and resume postings and myriad Mafia Wars hits, America could put the Internet to good use and create MeltingPot.gov, a new social network designed to easily, efficiently facilitate and manage the voting system and the government.
Everyone in America will get a MeltingPot account based on their Social Security Number (SSN) and become eligible for voting in national, state, and local elections. (State and Local eligibility will be confirmed by cross-referencing the SSN with IRS residency records.) Voting will require nothing more than logging in and clicking the programs and priorities you support.
How will we pay the exorbitant cost of ensuring Internet access to every American? First, we eliminate Congress. MeltingPot.gov will connect everyone in the nation in one interactive forum, so it will no longer be necessary to have professional politicians representing the people. On a national level, the salary savings on 100 Senators and 435 Representatives is approximately $75,800,000. Add the savings on staff costs, security, travel, amenities, as well as the income that could come from leasing their historic Capitol Hill offices, and there should be enough funding to supply a simple laptop to every eligible voter in the nation.
(To ensure reasonable costs, the acquisition of the laptops would be negotiated by the brass at Walmart, not the Federal government. It will never work at standard government procurement rates.) Similar cost cutting at the state and local levels will result in additional savings.
The cost of hosting and maintaining MeltingPot.gov will be paid for by lobbyists, who will direct money currently spent wooing legislators toward the purchase of advertising space on the network to encourage support of particular legislation. As legislation comes up, it will appear on every voter’s homepage like a typical social network post: voters could click on the post to learn more about it, add a comment to the discussion (140 character limit), and then click “Like” or “Dislike”. That advantage to the voter is significant: not only will relevant posts appear on every voter’s home page, they will remain visible for a reasonable duration, allowing a voter to change their mind prior to the deadline as new information sways their decision. When the duration expires, the Likes and Dislikes are tabulated and the bill passes or fails by the people’s will.
MeltingPot.gov will solve the problem of an uninformed populace crash-coursing in political information every other October—and disengaging the day after Election Day—by adding interactive applications to generate regular participation. Groups like “I bet Missouri can find one million people who support healthcare reform” will compete with other states to get out the vote; groups like “Can this pickle get more fans than healthcare reform?” will likely continue to get more support than any serious efforts, but c’est la vie: we’re changing the voting method, not the voters.
Most essential of all, MeltingPot.gov will feature an interactive social gaming platform called SimGov.gov. Combining bits of online social games like Second Life and Farmville, SimGov.gov will allow users to manage one or more virtual government agencies. SimGov.gov will allow armchair pundits who claim that they have the inside track on how to run the government properly will be able to step up and demonstrate. Participants will compete at managing various agencies to provide maximum benefit for minimum cost. The prize for superior management of your virtual network? The winner gets the job of running that actual government agency for a year. No promises from politicians asking us to take their word that they can turn ideas into action: SimGov.gov will enable the best and brightest to demonstrate their capabilities, and benefit the nation in the process.
There are a few details to be worked out, but it’s time the nation stops giving lip service to the power of democracy and creates a framework for efficient, full voter participation. In an ideal world, every American would make the extra effort to get their vote tallied, no matter how inconvenient it may be; but this isn’t an ideal world, so perhaps we should stop making “inconvenient” a requisite part of the voting process. America has pioneered the science of making things easy. It’s time we apply that ingenuity to politics. MeltingPot.gov will do exactly that.