It's 2008 and it's time to vote again. For all sorts of things, be they pink, peach or yellow. Or Red, Blue or Gold for that matter. In 2001 when it was hotter than hot to think that everything would be on the Internet in no time at all, we all (well, most of us) imagined that voting would also have succumbed to the online wave by the end of 2005 (along with every other UK public sector service) and certainly, if not by then, by now. But today I'm looking at the postal voting form that arrived, handily, in the post.
I've got 4 different voting forms (there's a by election here too). I have the mayoral vote, the London Assembly one for my area, the LA one for London as a whole and a local councillor form. Pink, Yellow, Peach and White. I've also got 2 envelopes, both white but usefully named A and B. Perhaps this is why it can't be put on line - it's all too hard. No point paving the cow path, got to simplify the process and put that online.
I've also been looking at the VoteMatch site - if the mayoral candidates are all too similar for you, alleged corruption and clownery claims aside, it's worth taking a look at and seeing if the vote you have in your mind matches the way the issues are addressd by the candidates. Assuming VoteMatch has the facts and the weightings right - and it could all be a clever stunt by Ken or Winston (but probably not Boris) then it really might surprise you.
It would be pretty cool if, at the end of the 25 questions, it said "do you want to vote for the candidate that most matched your preferences? Click here to enter your government gateway ID and vote." It is, in many ways, a great shame that there are so many blockers to achieving that (it would be a long list: linking the gateway ID to your actual vote, security issues, the risk of someone pressurising you to vote for their chosen candidate rather than yours and so on - there are ways out of all of those but the electronic voting process is pretty heavily tainted and I don't see anyone fixing the issues soon).
But I wondered whether there might be a better way to do it, harnessing both the excitement of a poker game (seemingly the fastest growing indoor activity after, well, after sitting watching TV) and a bit of Internet voting technology.
I'm a pretty terrible poker player but I like to play it, for small stakes at least (when you know you're not going to win there seems little point in playing Vegas stakes). The build up of the game is what fascinates me:
There's information in the middle that everyone has, and then gradually more information is made available that is both true and inevitable (more cards laid on the table) and potentially false and misleading (the chips that each player bets with).
The game unfolds a little at a time. Little is learned in the first hand, but after a few, you start to pretend that you know how the others are thinking. Your own bets get bigger as you get bolder (drunker?).
Money moves from player to player until, in the end, one or two players have most of the money and duel to see who comes out on top, winner takes all.
Now that sounds to me like an election.
If we compare the US primaries to our own Mayoral election, why wouldn't we do something similar for London?
Primaries in every borough. Spread over a few months, or even a few weeks. The candidates get the chance to persuade small sections of the total London population what they're going to do for them. The other boroughs get to watch with interest. They can let one candidate get an early lead and then rope them back in later. They can see what promises are made for, say, SW2 and compare them with promises made for SW6. Over the length of the campaign, more and more of the issues would be exposed and voted on; candidates would not win or lose in a big bang, they'd have a chance to tailor their policy to different areas and win votes on a more local basis. I imagine the actual borough councils would not be so impressed with these idea, after all it's they who run the boroughs, but what then is the point of a "London Mayor" if he can't interact at a local level as well as a macro-level.
So how would that work on the Internet
- Sign in, using your super-duper yet to be developed "I'm an online voter" (as opposed to a postal voter) token
- See where the votes cast so far stand. See who is up, who is down, who is fastest growing this week, this month, this hour, this minute
- Check the forums to see who is saying what about which candidates. Browse the press gallery. Check for the latest rumours
- Test your vote preference against votematch or any one of a dozen similar services that would be developed (perhaps as facebook widgets, although I probably hope not)
- Make your vote
- Check back next day, next week, next month and see how things are going. Is your candidate gaining, or losing. Do you want to pull your vote and tactically vote for someone else to prevent another candidate getting it? Of course, your vote alone isn't going to make the difference, but every vote counts. And maybe there's a tool there where you rally your friends to vote with you, kind of like establishing a proxy system
- In the countdown to the decision, the votes will move back and forth faster; maybe blocks of votes can be traded in return for the candidates agreeing a significant policy change. Maybe the losing candidates can donate their votes to another candidate who is ahead of them - tactical voting again. Maybe candidates can join together and form a coalition.
Pie in the sky I know, but so much potential. This would be a like an uber-rolling poll system like those conducted by yougov. Real people casting real votes day to day; maybe borough by borough, maybe in London as a whole.
On a related note, I was surprised to see this entry for Winston McKenzie when I googled his name. Winston is an ex-boxer from Croydon and so very loosely you could argue in the "demolition" business I suppose. The demolition-related words are in the source code of his site. I wonder whether whoever did his site reused a template from some other site?