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Vote early, vote often: How to fulfill the promise of American democracy.


INSTANT RECALL I think California has it about right: Every election should be treated like a first date. After all, when you ask somebody out to dinner for the first time, you don’t know if it’ll work out. You’re shooting in the dark. You drive to the restaurant full of high hopes--at least your date looks good, you think, and you’ve got a few things in common. But then, after you’re seated at a well-placed table away from the kitchen, she starts to chatter about gardening, or he starts to jabber about baseball, and your heart sinks. Then she chooses some ridiculously expensive wine or he decides to go with some weird Australian beer, and what’s left of your heart plummets. There’s a good chance that before the salad course is over, you know that this relationship is headed for a cliff. Two hours later, somebody drops somebody off at home, you say you had a good time, you promise to call, and that’s the end of it. They’re out of your life forever. That’s politics in California. But I don’t think California has taken the idea of political recalls far enough. The technology now exists to speed up the process. It’s called the Internet. Thanks to the Internet, we can make the whole elect-and-eject enterprise as quick as a bad first date. Quicker, even. Here’s what I propose: Henceforth, Californians get to vote every day. Each morning, between coffee and commute, they will be able to go on the Internet and vote, not just for governor, but for their congressmen, their state legislators, their mayor, their school board, and as many Propositions as they can propose. While nibbling on their toast, they will simply log on to, type in their password, and vote. Tuesday's winners, for example, will then take office on Wednesday. We shall call this “Instant Democracy”--ID, for short. If ID is successful in California--as I have no doubt it will be--it will then be brought to the rest of the states and the nation. Instant Democracy has many virtues:
  • It will free our political leaders from the burden of actually leading. Instead, it will force elected officials to pay constant attention to their constituents’ desires, knowing that if they don’t, they will be replaced tomorrow. For most politicians, this will change nothing. Besides, who needs leadership when you can have true representative democracy?
  • It will give nearly everyone the opportunity to hold public office. In fact, when you wake up in the morning, there’s a chance that you yourself will have been elected mayor or governor or State Supreme Court Justice that day. This will take participatory democracy to its natural next level and spur citizens to keep up with current events, so they don’t embarrass themselves in office.
  • It will mean that politics will at last be free of Big Money. Without long run-up campaigns before elections, there will be no time for extended media blitzes and hence no need for huge campaign war chests. The Average American will finally gain political leverage over the money-spewing corporations, PACs, and Fat Cats.
  • It will reinvigorate the media. With fresh election news coming in by 10 a.m. every morning, the news channels will never lack for real news, and the talking-heads will never lack for something meaningful to talk about. The stale air that now fills most air time on the news channels will be fresh and fragrant once again.
  • It will end the inconvenience and uncertainty of voting booths and punch cards. You may ask: Is the Internet safe enough to handle the solemn act of voting? Of course it is. Any technology sophisticated enough to handle an eBay transaction can certainly handle something as simple as an election. (I don’t know why no one’s thought of this before.)
  • It will end the need for political polls. Every day’s election will be a poll--one that actually means something.
  • It will satisfy the American demand for instant gratification: Elect today, eject tomorrow.
  • For all the above reasons and more, Instant Democracy will double or triple voter participation. Instead of only 30% of eligible voters trudging hopelessly to the polls once every couple of years, knowing they're about to make a decision they'll have to live with for a long time, now 90% of voters will head eagerly to their laptops every morning to exercise their precious electoral privilege, knowing they can undo tomorrow what they're about to do today. Imagine: 90% of eligible voters actually voting. America will finally be as fully engaged a democracy as, say, Latvia. Instant Democracy will soon apply to all elections--local, state and national. Think of it: You will be able to vote for President every day, so the president had better behave, doggone it. Of course, some may carp that ID would lead to political chaos. No legislation would be passed, they say, because politicians would be afraid that anything they did Friday might offend the voters and thereby leave the politicians unemployed Saturday. And it would be inconvenient, they say, for foreign nations to negotiate treaties with a president who might be back, say, tending bar by next Monday. But on the contrary, I think Instant Democracy would improve legislation and give the president immense flexibility. Without the safety net of 2- or 6-year terms, our congressmen and senators will no longer spend years doing nothing but raising money for their next elections. Instead, knowing that they could be ousted tomorrow and that everything they do could be overturned by the weekend, they will be free to pass truly daring and innovative legislation that might actually tackle some of the nation’s problems. As for the president, he can deal with foreign nations in the full knowledge that, as of this very morning, he had the full support of a plurality of American voters. That’s a powerful weapon to bring to any negotiating table. Besides, candidates who please the voters can potentially stay in office for years, maybe forever, dead or alive. This will be known as the Strom Thurmond Phenomenon (STP). To keep it running smoothly, we will of course have to put ID under the control of information technology experts. This should be no problem for them; they are accustomed already to controlling our lives. We shall call this group of rational computer engineers the "Everyday Government Organization" (EGO). Instant Democracy is a wonderful idea, if I do say so myself. In fact, when I mentioned it to my lady friend the other night over dinner, she lifted her glass of very expensive wine and toasted my wisdom. I looked down and sipped my Fosters humbly.
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