A system unravels?
Thursday, November 9, 2000 by Dave Winer.
A shifting point of view in the US. It's coming over all forms of media. People debate that the Web played a role in this election, it did play a big role, but don't focus on the campaign, look at how information flowed from the vote counters in Florida to the strategists in the Gore campaign. The Florida vote-counting was on the Web, and it was more current than the information the TV networks had. On that basis, Gore justifiably withdrew his concession and our political system went into meltdown mode.
So many threads to follow. Other slim-margin states might do a recount and find that the other guy actually won. Then where will we be? People are asking to be able to vote again. If one person can change his or her vote, shouldn't we all be allowed to?
What if Gore had made a concession speech? Where would we be then? How much re-evaluation can we do now? How many more steps before the whole thing unravels and people act on the realization that we've been electing actors ever since TV became the dominant medium?
Also take a look at our willingness to buy into technology. Before Tuesday few questioned whether the statisticians could really predict the outcome of elections. We mistakenly focused all our Y2K attention on the Millenium Bug, and failed to see the social processes that were at work, that led to what is sure to be the last national election of the TV era. Next time we'll follow the vote in XML and run P2P apps that give us the tools to form our own opinions about who's winning. We almost got there this time.
The exclusivity of information led to the cynicism that's causing the confusion. Our blind adherence to the validity of global decision-making by television has run its course. The parties have gotten so good at fighting for the center, all they need is a blank slate like Gore or Bush to project their null messages on. Fight for being nothing, and you end up with a broken electoral system. The journalists dumb it down for us. This is what you get. A perfectly balanced 50-50 split of the electorate. Our collective Ouija board is telling us that we're not asking ourselves any meaningful questions.
Is Gore pro-choice? I can't tell. Would Bush try to make abortion illegal? He didn't say and as far as I can tell no one asked. Both favored the death penalty. Can either of them do anything about global warming? How do I vote against the death penalty? No choices. Footsy all over the place. (Note.)
Emphatically, I do not want to change the US Constitution, leave the electoral system as-is. I feel strongly that if we go to a flat national election, not only do we avoid solving the problem, but we actually enhance the role of television. All that will matter will be Oprah and Letterman appearances. The money flows to the television networks, and our choices would be even more diminished.
We are already in the process of changing the way information flows. It's so clear that the Internet has changed things, but we're so cynical we don't necessarily want to see that. Now it should be clear that each of us has substantial power. We can use our minds. It's not over yet.
We must all get educated on technology, ask the numbers people hard questions, and insist on understanding. Every story has a technology angle. We have a right to know how the system works and not according to the bedtime stories we tell ourselves.
Let's stop voting for good times or fuzzy math or lockboxes. The world isn't that safe. We've all behaved as children, now it's time to take responsibility for our country.
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