Archive - July 2017

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Voting Assumptions Gone Awry
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Citizen Disengagement

Voting Assumptions Gone Awry

I have been advocating for making voting easier and more convenient for a long time. Give us more options of when and how to vote and, presumably, more people will vote. Two mechanisms for doing this have been the vote-by-mail (not male!) and early voting.

And yet, both of these mechanisms have just proven to have enormous drawbacks. Here is how:

Vote by Mail

The Barbara Lee Family Foundation in Boston has been doing fantastic research on gender and politics. Their findings from the 2016 election included the fact that husbands/partners influence the voting of wives/partners. Of all of the things women have to wrestle with to make their households work, the one they often don’t want to fight about is politics. Traditionally, this left open the option for women to vote their conscience in the privacy of the voting booth. However, vote by mail generally happens around the kitchen table as a family, which cancels out the option of voting differently from men for many women.

Early Voting

Well, we recently witnessed the worst case scenario for early voting – Montana. Over 250,000 people had already voted by the time Greg Gianforte was charged with assault for throwing a reporter to the ground. Of course, it’s impossible to know how many voters would have changed their minds and votes had they voted in person, but it seems reasonable to assume that at least some people regretted their vote.

Our mechanisms and practices for voting are a mess right now. Where new technology is being used it has been outsourced to private companies with proprietary technology, rather than open, public systems. And, of course, voter registration and participation is under assault by Republicans.

I remain in firmly in favor of online voting (the advent of bloc chain technology since I wrote this essay in 2008 makes online voting even more possible as both secure and distributed.) Someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, we will have the political and public will to build the best, more secure, private and efficient voting system int he world. Someday…

 

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Citizen Disengagement

Governments have lots of choices about when and how to engage with the public. They can open the doors wide and be in conversations with citizens about what they do and why, or they can keep the doors tightly shut and engage only when absolutely necessary. I just received an example of keeping the door tightly shut that also represents a huge, missed opportunity.

Here is a report from a local government on water quality.

 

I don’t understand a word of this document and clearly I’m not supposed to. It is entirely off putting in design and language and the only purpose I can glean from it is that the water department was able to check off it’s to-do list that they sent out the water quality update.

Most people believe that their water is better than that of Flint, MI. At least we hope that it is, although we don’t have evidence to back up our hope and hunch. This report could have been a great opportunity to prove to residents that the local water is safe and healthy.  Instead, this government agency chose to hide behind bureaucratic, scientific gobbledygook and hope that we are so dazzled by the nonsense that we don’t storm the fortress demanding any more information. They’re going to numb us with technical detail and hope no one complains.

Let’s imagine a different kind of effort. Imagine if the local government asked on a social media platform where they were having regular discussions and conversations with citizens if anyone with graphic design and writing skills would volunteer to help turn the technical report they received from the water testers into an easy-to-read and understand primer on where our water comes from, how we know that it’s safe and how the government intends to continue to keep it safe. I believe that people want to help and are waiting to be asked to contribute in meaningful ways. And they’re still waiting to be asked.

The Resistance will be won by remaking the relationship between government and citizens will begin by changing the conversation one, little step at a time.

 

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