As a perennial non-voter (although I did actually vote once back in the seventies and I did vote yesterday), I feel in a good position to provide unbiased comment on the current system and to propose a way forward appropriate to twenty-first century Britain. I did actually send this to the Electoral Reform Society but I got no response!
As I see it, elections are about identifying issues, taking positions on them and grouping them into convenient bundles called political parties. These parties propose various ways to achieve objectives related to these positions and then spend vast amounts of time and money trying to persuade us to vote for them and give them real power.
Good reasons for not voting can be summarised as:
- I am not impressed by the vast majority of people whose position on many things is determined by an ill-informed gut reaction or the regurgitation of tired old dogma (Facebook provides too many examples of this). I seldom feel qualified to actually vote on any issue; this is hampered further by the fact that even if I know where I stand, I don’t feel right voting for purely selfish reasons; I have to consider the greater good, which takes a lot of thought.
- As for political parties, I just can’t get interested enough to care who wins an election. They’re mostly about personalities and vote-catching sound-bites. They all have good and bad points, usually middle of the road, differing only in implementation and presentation. As a result, I don’t know enough about the parties or their champions to determine whether any of them represents my views sufficiently well to vote for.
I won’t propose anything as radical as dismantling the party system, rather a pragmatic and more high tech approach for enhancing the existing democratic process.
So how do we make things better? How can we make people like me go out and vote … meaningfully?
Preparation for Voting
To be well informed enough to take a stand on any issue requires a certain level of engagement: your own personal experiences, paying attention to the media, discussions with friends, relatives and colleagues, doing your own research through reading and looking things up on the internet etc., above all keeping an open mind until it’s time to form an opinion. There is no way round this, it is everyone’s basic homework; even I can do that.
After that it gets a little trickier so, rather than writing a thesis on the shortcomings of the existing democratic process, I will cut straight to the chase. Consider a website with the following features:
Personal login. Create your own profile by filling in a questionnaire on a range of issues addressed by political parties and politicians. Create your own issues. This information is kept private but is used in creating statistics which are public. You can update this any time. You can see issues created by other people.
Political parties have a similar profile, reflecting their manifesto. This knowledge is public.
Actual and prospective politicians also have profiles which are public knowledge.
Profile matching. Using technology developed for internet dating, you and the politicians are matched against the available parties and each other so you can see how well you are matched, the differences and commonalities. You can see how well politicians and parties are matched to the general public (assuming membership of this website is extensive). This will give a much better indication of who to vote for than conventional methods.
The software can provide “what if” scenarios, suggesting new parties and alliances, changing politicians from one party to another and keeping track of the quality of matches. This makes it possible to design new parties that reflect the interests of the public, rather than historical precedent, and their likely success in an election. The possibilities are endless.
Virtual elections and referendums. Statistics compiled from user profiles will provide a continuous referendum and polling mechanism. To make things more interesting, you can take part in virtual elections and referendums on a regular basis. The results are presented in real-time as the votes come in.
Standard social networking features such as news feeds, forums, discussion groups, activities, dating, advice etc.
This kind of website would make disinterested people like me sit up, take notice and feel part of a developing culture which is evolving in real-time right in front of your eyes. Democracy in action as the ultimate social network.
We already have the technology for doing this, so I’m not going to go on about online voting, digital signatures and internet security etc. or anything else that requires radical re-engineering and education. There is an infrastructure in place for collecting the votes of millions of people all around the country and processing them in real-time every week. It is called the National Lottery. Using this could put an end to traditional polling stations, polling and the endless speculation and commentary by overexcited pundits and politicians. Of course it would need modifications and measures to limit fraud, but it is basically already there. The following modifications would be enough to ensure a smooth, accurate, open and fast process for voting in elections and referendums:
People on the electoral register receive a bar code by post or email.
Voters take their bar code to their local National Lottery outlet and get a card printed with the voting choices on it.
Voters mark the desired boxes and hand the card back to be read by the National Lottery card reader.
New software in the National Lottery database collects the results and publishes them in real-time on the internet.
That’s it!! Simple. I’d vote for that.
© 2019 Carl Nicholson. All rights reserved.