Natural Elections Using the Internet

Re-Districting

After every census, US states have been compelled to re-define their electoral districts. District lines are supposed to be drawn in such a way that each district has about the same population. Ideally, most people in a district will share common political needs, so they can elect a representative who will take care of those needs. Latinos want to be in a district with majority Latinos. Gays want to be together with other gays. Well-to-do people are more comfortable in a district where most of their neighbors are also well-to-do.

This is fine, except that people do not conveniently settle geographic areas the size of a district, to form a homogeneous group. Cities in particular have a diverse population.

A district can be defined to be diverse, with a democratic representation of all kinds of people. Political parties prefer to define districts so that the majority of voters will select candidates from one party. Neither object is easily achieved by drawing boundaries round large districts. It might work if districts were gerrymandered, laid out in twisted ragged forms with holes like Swiss cheese, but even that isnt really fair, nor is it stable if people move around a lot.

Neighborhood Districts

Here is a way to define election districts not on the basis of geographic neighborhoods, but based on social and political neighborhoods. It would be fairer to let people form districts by choosing their political neighbors, rather than be compelled to accept geographic neighbors, based on a map drawn by a committee. Districts could be defined by a friend-list rather than a map.

This scheme could be employed right now, making use of available Internet technology. We dont need to stay with 19th century style horseback circuit riding elections. Today we have cars, highways, computers and the Internet.

In this dream scheme, instead of registering to vote with a county office, you join a Neighborhood, which is made up of people (Neighbors) who have chosen each other. There is no particular limit to the number of people in a Neighborhood. Neighbors may live anywhere, even far away from others in their Neighborhood. A Neighborhood district is more like an extended family, rather than a city, county or a state. It has no geographic boundary.

In this scheme, redistricting happens steadily, between elections, as people move from one Neighborhood to another. There is no need to wait for a census. Moving does not necessarily mean a physical change of residence. You may change to a different election Neighborhood because your political attitudes have changed or your circle of friends is now different, but you keep on living where you were.

The Registrar and Election Central

One person in each Neighborhood is designated as the Registrar of voters. This is the local administrator for voting and managing election Internet technology. The Registrar defines the list of Neighbors and collects their votes. The Registrar is something like a Notary Public. He knows all his Neighbors personally and vouches for their legitimacy as voters. This requirement may set a practical upper limit on the number of people in a Neighborhood.

Each Registrar has secure access via the Internet to Election Central, a government-appointed body which collects votes from all the Neighborhoods and compiles the overall election result for publication.

Voting

Each Neighbor communicates his votes to his Registrar -- fills out his ballot -- in one of three ways:

In some cases, a Neighbors vote may be delivered by another member of the same Neighborhood, acting as his agent, especially when a Neighbor is sick, disabled or traveling out of contact. The Registrar has the responsibility of ensuring that the votes of all his neighbors are collected.

Each individual Neighbor casts a secret ballot. The combined votes of each Neighborhood are public information; but it is just totals, with no identification of individuals. Only the individual Neighbor and his Registrar definitely know how he/she voted.

From time to time, Election Central will randomly select a few voters and tell their Registrars to report that voters ballot contents to the voter, who will certify that the ballot was filled out correctly.

Neighbors and Neighborhoods

Generally, Neighbors share some group of interests, which may include family, religion, involvement in a business or simply friendship or locality of residence. Election Central must authorize the founding of a new Neighborhood. Election Central may remove authorization for an existing Neighborhood under some circumstances.

The residents of any geographic territory, however small, can be split among any number of Neighborhoods. You may join a Neighborhood if none of the Neighbors object. Just tell the Registrar you're there.

In order to vote at all, you must belong to at least one Neighborhood. In principle, one family could form a Neighborhood, or even one person, but in most cases a larger group will be more efficient and convenient.

It is possible for a given person to belong to more than one Neighborhood. However, it must be understood that multiple Neighborhood membership definitely does confer the privilege of multiple votes to that individual in an election. Normally, if none of the Neighborhoods involved object, then it is OK, but somebody else involved in the election may legally challenge a multiple Neighborhood membership.

For example, here are two multiple-membership situations which may arise:

One is when a persons residence or other affiliation changes. During one election, he may end up temporarily voting in both of two different Neighborhoods, because during the move, the person temporarily belongs to both interest groups. After the election, the voter resigns from one of the Neighborhoods.

The other situation involves conferring an honor on a distinguished individual. The people of more than one Neighborhood highly respect this individual, and all involved think that that he/she should cast more than one vote. It is possible that a person with multiple Neighborhood membership may vote one way in one Neighborhood and a different way in another Neighborhood.

In any case, multiple memberships must always have the approval of all the Neighborhoods involved, and there can be disputes which need to be resolved. Registrars talk to each other, and will usually be aware when somebody tries to join more than one Neighborhood. Also, Election Central runs spot checks. Beyond this, there are Watchdog Groups, people who are ready to call attention to any abuse of multiple Neighborhood membership.

When an election comes up, each Neighbor should fill out his ballot as soon as it is available, even if he still regards his choices as provisional, that is, he hasnt made up his mind; this is the usual situation in the early stages of any election.

Poll Dates and the Default Ballot

In this dream election scheme, votes are taken on more than one occasion. The early votes are called Poll Dates. Votes on these dates are provisional and are not used to settle an election. Only the votes cast on the Final Date settle the election.

If a Neighbor does not get around to filling out his ballot by the time of a Poll Date, the Registrar will cast a default ballot for him. In this scheme, election turnout is always 100%.

Election Central needs to run checks to make sure that dead Neighbors do not continue to cast a default ballot.

Defining the default ballot gives special power to the Registrar, but a good Registrar knows the general political leanings of his Neighborhood, and sets up the default ballot accordingly. Practically, the default ballot will vote no choice for some issues and offices. An individual Neighbor may verify how his ballot has been filled out by calling up the Registrars website.

Or he can go visit the home of his Registrar. No voter is required to have a personal Internet connection in order to vote.

Sub-Elections

If a Governor is to be elected and at the same time members of the State Legislature or a City Council are to be elected, then this may require a split into two or more sub-elections.

The election for state Governor involves all the Neighborhoods considered part of the State, but the election for a member of the Legislature involves only those Neighborhoods which the legislator will represent.

Local ballot measures, such as bond votes, are also run as sub-elections.

Using the Internet, there is no problem running many of these sub-elections in parallel during the same time frame.

Operation of an Actual Election

A Jurisdiction is the governmental administrative unit which calls elections. Examples are a State, County or city. A Jurisdiction is operated by elected representatives or their appointees.

The normal course of events during a dream scheme election would be as follows:

  1. The Jurisdiction calls the election. It identifies the measures and the candidates. Separate sub-elections are defined, as many as are needed.
  2. The Jurisdiction then appoints an Election Central authority to administrate and regulate the elections. This is usually the same bunch of experienced, technically capable people who ran the last election. Election Central finds out which Neighborhoods want to vote in each sub-election, and sends this information to the Jurisdiction for approval. There can then be some back-and-forth involved to settle details. Election Central designs the ballot web page for each sub-election.
  3. Supporters and opponents of each candidate set up their informational websites. The same happens for each ballot measure. Neither the Election Central nor the Registrars are involved with this.
  4. Citizen Watchdog Groups will be looking over the shoulders of everyone.
  5. Election Central sets up a website for each sub-election and installs a ballot page in each one. An email is sent to the Registrars when this is complete.
  6. Working with the Jurisdiction, the Election Central defines multiple Poll Dates and one Final Date. The poll dates and final dates are the same for all sub-elections of a given election.
  7. The Registrar defines the default ballot for each sub-election in which his Neighborhood will vote.
  8. When the ballots are ready, each Registrar alerts his Neighbors. Each Neighbor has the opportunity to view the ballot and fill it out provisionally.
  9. On the first Poll Date, each Registrar processes his Neighborhoods ballots, counting votes online. Any Neighbor who did not fill out his ballot will automatically have cast a default ballot.
  10. Total result figures are sent to the Election Central. The Election Central adds together the totals from all the Neighborhoods and then executes the ranked-choice algorithm where appropriate.
  11. Election Central then generates an election result summary web page, which indicates how the sub-election would have turned out if the Poll Date had been the Final Date. This information is made public.
  12. Several more Poll Dates go by, and each time, the ballots are processed in the same way. People can begin to see how the elections will turn out. The public information includes the details of each step where the ranked-choice algorithm was used, to show how the 2nd, 3rd etc. choices folded upward to produce an instant-runoff winner.
  13. Voters react to each set of intermediate results. Some Neighbors will change their votes on the next Poll Date. Ballot measure supporters may frantically change the language of their measures, to clarify the intent and to eliminate confusion. It is the responsibility of voters to correct their ballots if they now wish, on the next Poll Date.
  14. No candidate may drop out or enter the race once polling has started. A candidate may effectively drop out by urging his supporters to switch their votes to another candidate. Candidate biographies and political positions are available on websites separate from the sites used for balloting. This information may be changed anytime.
  15. Watchdog Groups keep track of all changes and alert the electorate if it looks like an attempt is being made to fool or confuse voters.
  16. At the end of the Final Day, the poll results are made official. If a sub-election result is challenged, Election Central staff works with the challengers and the Registrars to correct any problems, and then another vote count is executed. No votes are allowed to change at this point. A challenge has to be based on a technical issue in ballot processing. Issues of misrepresentation and voter confusion have to be dealt with before the Final Day. When all challenges are seen by the Jurisdiction as satisfied, the final sub-election results are certified and the details made available on a web page.
  17. It is possible that the sub-election for a member of the Legislature may not be certified at the same time as the sub-election for Governor.

Downsides: Gaming the System

It is of course possible to play games with this dream election scheme:

Groups of people may collude to cast poll votes different from what they plan to cast as final votes, in order to disguise how the election is going.

If polls show that results are going the wrong way, propagandists can frantically urge people to change their vote before it is too late.

Demands can be made to schedule extra Poll Dates to correct perceived voter errors. The Jurisdiction has the responsibility to decide how to handle these situations. The Final Date may be redefined and the certification of a sub-election may be held up.

There is some potential for a Registrar to become a Ward Boss, controlling a block of votes. His Neighbors might let him vote a default ballot for all of them. That is their choice.

Upsides

Because the Internet and the Registrars are used to collect and process votes, there is no need to set up polling stations on an election day. The home of the Registrar may take on some aspects of a polling station, especially if many of his Neighbors dont have a computer with Internet access.

The multiple Poll Dates give each voter a chance to test the waters by casting a provisional vote, which is easy to change on the next Poll Date.

After each Poll Date, Election Central will randomly select a few voters and tell their Registrar to report that voters ballot contents. Someone from Election Central will show this ballot to the voter and get a sign-off that this was indeed how he intended to vote. If too many ballots are determined to be wrong in this way, the Registrar might be replaced.

The Jurisdiction officials are appointed either by an elected official such as the Governor, or by a legislative body. A Registrar is usually a volunteer, chosen by his neighbors; one or more backup assistant Registrars may be designated.

Policing this kind of election is primarily the responsibility of Watchdog Groups, who are self-organized volunteers. Watchdog Groups are led by prominent community members; there are no restrictions on how many watchdog groups may form. In some cases, elected officials may need to curb excesses by a particular watchdog group, if the group is disrupting the election or spreading actual lies.

One man one vote is preserved, with the possible extension of the right to vote multiple times in some situations.

Cities and counties dont have to go away under this dream scheme. They still operate as administrative management units to provide public services. City leaders and councils are chosen by the Neighborhoods for which the city is a common interest. Political parties can still operate. Some people may form Neighborhoods in which everyone belongs to the same party.

Glossary of Specialized Terms


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