Why I’m voting for Chris Daggett

Actually, I already voted for Chris Daggett. Sent in my absentee ballot the other day.

To my New Jersey friends, I urge you to take the pledge, vote for Daggett, and declare independence from the corrupt and incompetent party politics of this state.

I’m a life-long Democrat but this time, in the race for governor of New Jersey, I’m voting independent.

It’s as if I got three votes in one:

daggettbadgeI’m voting for Daggett because I am confident he is the best candidate for the office. Daggett happens to be a neighbor of mine and I’ve gotten to know him better as I’ve helped the campaign in very small ways in recent days, shooting Flip videos and sitting in on strategy sessions. This is the first time I’ve ever done that; as a professional journalist I bought the doctrines of separation and objectivity and so actual involvement in my community was verboten. But online, I’ve been preaching the new gospel of transparency and interaction and after telling you that I voted for Clinton and then Obama, I’m now telling you that I’m voting for and actively supporting Daggett (I also contributed to the campaign).

Daggett is the one candidate making the tough decisions about the budget and taxation. He has a plan to reduce property taxes while also holding down local spending, which will force municipalities to find new efficiencies through collaboration. He holds a doctorate in education and I trust him to work to improve the schools. Daggett is an experienced manager and a good man. So he has my vote.

At the same time, I’m also voting against the two parties – and there are my other two ballots. Chris Christie is aggressively unimpressive and, worse, a cynic who tried to foist a platform without a plan on the state; I wouldn’t trust him any more than the worst Jersey pol – and that’s saying a lot in this place. John Corzine is a smart and decent man and has made tough decisions, I think, but he has not proven to be a good manager (I wish he’d stayed in the Senate). But as the Star-Ledger said in its endorsement of Daggett, it is time to repudiate the parties. They deserve it. We deserve better.

Daggett has had incredible momentum in the polls, passing the 20 percent mark more than a week ago while both of his opponents fall into a dead heat. All Daggett needs to win is 33.1 percent. But his biggest challenge is that people who want to vote for him fear that he can’t win or that they’ll be helping the person they don’t want get into office. Daggett’s answer: “It’s never wrong to vote for the right person.” He really can win.

It has been frustrating watching a campaign with little money fight the guys with too much money. I had no magic digital buttons to push. On my Guardian podcast (out next week), I said that I fear Joe Trippi is wrong: The revolution won’t be televised because campaigns will still be televised and that’s why there’ll be no revolution.

Oh, me of little faith. I’ve learned a big lesson about politics and revolutions in the last few days, thanks to Micah Sifry, who wrote a post suggesting that the Daggett campaign should overcome the I’d-vote-for-him-if-he-could-win threshhold by starting a vote-pledge site: If 100,000 people sign up with me to vote for Daggett, then I’ll vote for him. The Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran said on Radio Times Friday that if people thought Daggett could win, he would win. That is, the state wants to vote for Daggett. So this was Micah’s idea to demonstrate that to the voters.

Before the campaign could do a thing, a supporter, Alex Higgins, put up his own pledge site at DaggettPledge.com. Isn’t this precisely how politics is supposed to work today: rising from the people. The voters are organizing voters for Daggett. They are using the internet, not huge war chests of party dollars. They are connecting online, without the interference of media. New Jersey voters are rallying behind Daggett and declaring their independence. It is inspiring to watch.

[* See update below.]

Go watch it. Really. The counter is ticking off more voters for Daggett every few seconds. Their names and towns are scrolling across the top of the screen. You’re watching the new democracy in action. Of the people. By the people. Thanks to the internet.

So if you’re in New Jersey, please go take the pledge. I know you’re not enthusiastic about Christie or Corzine. No one is. I know you’re not loyal to either state party organization. How could anyone be? We threw around the word “change” a lot in the presidential campaign. Well, this is real change, change you can count on, changing the party structure in our broken state. This will send a message not only to Trenton but to Washington. This will be a blow for independence.

Take the pledge.

: MORE: I asked Micah for more of his views on this and he sent this.

I’ve long believed that we need more competition in politics–in 2002, I wrote a whole book about third parties in American politics called Spoiling for a Fight, which argued that independent candidates and third parties can play a healthy role in putting new ideas into circulation, shaking up the system and opening up new political coalitions for change. Unfortunately our current system is rigged in favor of the two major parties. It shouldn’t be that the only way to get rid of one of the major party’s incumbents is to vote for the other major party. That just leads to a cycle where no one really has to take responsibility for anything, they just have to blame the other guy. Sometimes you want to vote for a third choice and say no to the other two! It’s long past time that we figure out a system that enables you to vote positively for what you want, instead of worrying that you might “waste” your vote. But that’s how winner-take-all systems work.

The thing about the internet is that it’s really good at solving the dilemma of collective action. That is, lots of us often hesitate to get involved because we think our individual vote can’t make a difference; our $25 or hour of volunteering can’t, by itself, change anything. It’s only when all those votes or dollars or actions get aggregated that we can see their impact. Deciding to risk your vote for a longshot candidate is a classic collective action dilemma. You want your vote to count, and you don’t want it to do harm. So very often we get candidates who try to run outside the two-party framework, and they sometimes get a flurry of attention, but when push comes to shove they fade because most voters rationally worry that the candidate they really want “can’t win,” and that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But New Jersey voters don’t have to wait til next Tuesday to signal to each other what they’re thinking. When I heard that Daggett was polling at or near 20%, it occurred to me that if his numbers went up another 5% of the vote–roughly 100,000 people–that would put him into full contention. And 100,000 isn’t that large a number for the internet. You can get 100,000 views on YouTube or 100,000 hits on a blog post pretty quickly. If enough people talk to each other in New Jersey over the next few days, they could convince each other that there are enough switchers out there and the whole race could swing pretty fast.

That said, I have no idea if the Daggett Pledge will work. I think it’s great that Alexander Higgins just took the initiative and got it going without asking anyone for permission; it’s probably better that way. But people are probably going to have to do more than just sign their name on a website; I’m sure the major party campaigns will try to spread as much FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) among the public about how authentic this is, and it is the internet–people should ask for more proof that this trend is real. But the net can make that easier too. If voters want this badly enough, they can make it happen.

* UPDATE: I don’t know what’s happening with it, but the pledge growth seems a bit too linear, even overnight. I sense a clever geek at work. So I don’t know what the numbers are. Doesn’t much matter; the only numbers that do matter come Tuesday. Pledge or no pledge, I’ve cast my lot and vote.