If the internet could vote…

In my latest Guardian column (registration-free read here), I wonder:

Does the internet hold an inherent political worldview? Does this medium have a message? I wondered that after I read BBC correspondent Justin Webb arguing that the American left had lost its way and its means.

“The worlds of entertainment and news (which used to pipe a vaguely leftwing message into the nation’s homes) have been blown to bits by technological changes which render them powerless,” he wrote. “The Democrats need a message and a new way of communicating that message to a mass audience. They have neither.” That made sense: mass media were perfect for the old, populist left, but they are mass no more. And the next media phenoms – cable news and talk radio – turned out to be the right vehicles for US conservatives. They used these niche channels to hammer home their angry arguments and fight back at what they saw as the liberal hegemony of mass media (and Hollywood).

So what, I wondered then, is the political nature of the latest medium, the internet? When I started blogging in 2001, I was puzzled by the apparently disproportionate number of libertarians around me, until I came to see that perhaps they had found a home in a medium that enables and celebrates individual liberty.

But perhaps it’s not that simple.

Then I argue that the internet is none of the above.

  • If the Internet could vote, a lot of politicians would be out of office.

  • Maybe if all “progressive” bloggers would stop making sense for a moment, post an “Out of Office” message, get up off their fat butts, take a shower and go vote this year we’ll see the power of the Internet, and not be reduced to just blogging about it.

    Until we can vote online, the Ralph Reeders are still going to clean our clocks… least that’s how it’s shaping-up here in GA — again.

  • chico haas

    Re: online voting. Should never happen. My interior mental survey says it’s too juicy to hack. And even if it isn’t, the perception will be that it is.

  • Toblerone2

    I had to paste this in, am getting a 404 error when trying to paste in the url….

    Single Transferable Vote
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    This STV ballot for the Australian Senate illustrates group voting tickets. Voters can either rank every candidate individually or use their preferred party’s preferences by voting “above the line.”
    This STV ballot for the Australian Senate illustrates group voting tickets. Voters can either rank every candidate individually or use their preferred party’s preferences by voting “above the line.”

    The Single Transferable Vote, or STV, is a preferential voting system designed to minimise wasted votes and provide proportional representation while ensuring that votes are explicitly for candidates rather than party lists. STV achieves this by using multi-seat constituencies (districts) and by transferring votes that would otherwise be wasted. STV initially allocates an individual’s vote to their most preferred candidate, and then subsequently transfers unneeded or unused votes after candidates are either elected or eliminated, according to the voter’s stated preferences.

    As of 2006, STV is used for elections in Australia, the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Malta. It is also used for some local government elections in New Zealand — see History and use of the Single Transferable Vote.

  • Actually SpaceyG has a point. And I might add that taking a shower isn’t a requirement for voting… it’s just helpful if you’re waiting in line before going into the voting booth.

    Oh, and as a Metro-Atlanta resident, I share Spacey’s concern about Reed. The threat is real. That’s why people need to get off their duffs and V-O-T-E!!

  • Online voting isn’t necessarily bad if the code is open source and they use strong encryption. When they only have one database audits become much easier than sifting through stacks of punchcards and dangling chads.

    I personally was a diehard democrat until I started reading blogs about economics, history, etc. which over the course of about four years converted me into a libertarian. The more people educated about economics the fewer converts the democrats will win.

    I’m not saying there is an intentional Left wing agenda but they generally don’t talk about the benefits of free markets much because they simply haven’t figured out a way to make it interesting.

  • It’s sad to see how quickly the commentary on the Internet’s influence on politics heads off into the weeds of crazy voting systems and the like. Let’s see if we can get a discussion going that’s grounded in reality.

    Politics today is dominated by parties, as parties are the traditional aggregator of money and votes. The average voter doesn’t take the time to learn anything about the candidates until he sees the names on the ballot, and he makes his choice based on party affiliation. Politicians know this and draw districts that are safely Democratic or safely Republican. This makes the primary the most important election, and voters are even less well-informed during primary season than they are in the fall, and turnouts are extremely low. So the primary is the election most easily influenced by the Internet, and verily it only has to increase turnout by a little bit to be successful.

    Our political system would work better if we had more pro-business Democrats and pro-environment Republicans in the mix. If the Internet can make this happen, by energizing campaigns with money and volunteers during the primary season, our whole system could change radically.

    Third Parties are a huge distraction in the American system, for the reasons already outlined.

    So here’s what the Internet has to do: discourage people from joining third parties, and instead encourage them to bring centrist views into the majority parties. Encourage centrist candidates in primary elections who aren’t dependent on labor or business money. Raise volunteer corps to knock on doors and drive people to the polls during primary season. Knock off the extremist elements that dominate the two parties.

    The Internet does have its own politics, and those politics reflect the values of the mainstream of American life: they’re more moderate and more libertarian than either party. Wake up the sleeping giant that is the apathetic center and the world can be yours.

  • Richard are you saying you think a third party is a bad idea because the current system is better or just that a third party is impractical because of the lack of education of the typical voter?

    If a centrist third party emerged the other two would still have to fight for their alleigance by moving to the center and it would scare both parties into getting their collective acts together.

    It’s not a big leap to switch from being a moderate Democrat to a moderate Republican or vice versa. But once you go libertarian a lot of things just seem to fit. You don’t have to choose between a bloated, tax crazy government or puritanical warmongers.

    Of course the other option for a centrist party would be some form of religious socialism which would entail very high taxes to pay for the high tech bedroom monitoring equipment. I think the Neocons are pretty close to filling that niche.

  • Third parties are impossible because of the way the maps are drawn for voting districts. Education of the voter and “what’s better” don’t enter into the discussion. All that third parties can do in America is drain votes off the party that is closer to the third party.

    It’s basic arithmetic.

  • Let the internet vote. Sounds interesting. Latest political nature is internet and it might end up cleaning the political front. Then it is not that simple and easy as said it above. Easier said than done.

  • How do I trackback here? I posted on my blog about the column, and I’d like the trackback to show up here.