Tuesday 6 January 2015

Online Voting? Not If You Value Democracy!

And Where It Goes Nobody Knows: Security issues aside, Online Voting strikes at the inescapably collectivist character of the democratic process. Reducing the act of voting to the electronic identification of a purely individual preference replaces the active "us" of participatory democracy with the crass solipsism of reality television and The X Factor.
DEREK HANDLEY bubbles over with faith in the future. As a precocious inductee to the Silicon Alley Hall of Fame, he is blazingly confident that capitalism, information technology and the entrepreneurial spirit are never going to encounter a challenge they cannot rise to – or overcome.
Like the failure of close to half of New Zealand citizens aged under 30 to engage in the electoral process.
On this subject Mr Handley is typically forthright:
“Everybody under 30 has grown up with the internet and mobile devices to do practically everything online yet they still can’t vote online. [This has resulted] in an entire generation being pushed to the sidelines of democracy not because they don’t care, but because it hasn’t kept up with them.”
Setting aside Mr Handley’s bubbly confidence in all things “online”, this is utter tosh. An “entire generation” has not been “pushed to the sidelines of democracy”, they have ambled there entirely of their own accord. Not only do they not “care” about democracy, but an alarming number of them would also struggle to tell you what it is.
Far from democracy failing to keep up with the needs of the younger generation, one out of every two New Zealanders under 30 has failed conspicuously to keep up with the most fundamental facts of political life.
The most important of these is that politics (and elections) are activities to be participated in collectively – not individually. The moment this central fact of political life is forgotten, the logic of participation collapses in on itself.
A recent article by Fairfax journalists Paul Easton and Simon Day vividly illustrates what happens when the prospect of casting a vote is viewed through an individualistic, as opposed to a collectivist, lens.
Asked why he didn’t vote, Johnny, aged 20, and described simply as “dad”, declared:
“I didn’t see the point. My life is good as it is. I don’t like John Key, but I thought he was going to get in anyway so I didn’t vote. I would vote if it meant getting stuff I was keen for.”
Would anyone vote, I wonder, if they looked at their ballot paper in this way? Unless the respective political blocs were registering 50.000 percent to 50.000 percent, what possible difference could the casting of a single ballot ever make?
As for the naked appeal to self-enrichment: in which democracy is turned into one of those “goody-bags” that public relations firms and party hostesses pass out; it is difficult to conceive of a sentence which sums up more succinctly the tragically distorted values of Mr Handley’s side-lined generation.
Hey Kids! Want stuff that your keen for? Just slide your ballot paper into this box. See? Easy-peasy! Have a nice day!
Would digitising the process, as Mr Handley urges, solve the problem? Of course not. If anything, it would make it worse.
Online Voting represents the ultimate step towards individualising – and hence trivialising and debasing – the collective act of voting in elections. Even more than it does now, the conduct of politics would come to resemble a television show. The nation’s political future would be decided by a slightly less revved-up version of The X Factor. (With Mike Hosking playing the part of Simon Cowell!)
But, of course, the “kids” would soon get bored. The contestants would be too old, too ugly and too serious to hold their attention for more than one “season” of the “show” – if that. Having sampled the “Politics” app, and been disappointed, they’d move on to something more exciting – like “Tinder”.
Which means, Mr Handley, that it would all have been for nothing. Whatever slight upward tick in participation the initial introduction of Online Voting might produce would soon dissipate – just as the “beneficial” effects of Postal Voting all-too-rapidly faded away.
Even worse, we would have traded a system of voting that is admirably secure and extremely difficult to subvert (without “the fix” very quickly becoming obvious) for a system that could be hacked into as easily as the “Guardians of Peace” hacked into the hard-drives of Sony Pictures. The crucial difference being that we’d never know it had happened.
That five minute stroll to the nearest polling-booth every three years is one of the very few opportunities for meaningful civic engagement still available to New Zealanders. The sight of black and white, women and men, old and young collectively determining the future of their nation never fails to move me to tears. Because those people, my fellow citizens, are not voting for themselves, or for “stuff” they might be “keen for”. They know that their single ballot paper will not, of itself, make very much difference. But that’s not the point. The point is that out of the great and mysterious gestalt of democracy a decision emerges – and it is ours.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 6 January 2014.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Interesting article, but a statistical sample of one voter doesn't really do much for me. How many of the people that didn't vote have no stake in the outcome – or think they haven't? Perhaps with some justification. I think this deserves a little bit more depth. Although I agree that Internet voting is to put it bluntly going to be crap. :-)

Sanctuary said...

I agree.

1/ Fix the election date to be the first Wednesday 1095 days after the last election. Why Wednesday? See #2.

2/ Election day ought to be a public holiday like Xmas day, but it a only a PAID public holiday if you present your "I have voted" certificate to your employer. Otherwise, it is an unpaid day off. Oh, and make it Wednesday so people are not tempted to skive off for a long weekend, paid or unpaid!

3/ Pay $15-20 to everyone who votes, or if they sneer at the amount give them the opportunity to select a political party to donate it to. That way the missing million voters would turn and vote because they could actually do with $15-20, and Tories don't have to sully themselves with such paltry sums of welfare - the right prefers it public money in six figure lump sums, at the very least.

4/ Encourage election day to be a celebration of democracy - councils can fund street parties and public concerts, State TV can show worthy docu-dramas on suffragettes and NatRad can get Kim Hill to interview an an Oxbridge expert on the Chartists.

Anonymous said...

Derek Handley postures as a great young thinker, but bears the heavy burden of being a failed online gambling promoter in his days with Feverpitch. He might like to explain his history in trying to profit from a poisonous gambling culture before he lectures us about democracy.

Barry said...

I think that having MMP has ALREADY ruined the "democratic" system in NZ.

Anonymous said...

Of all the reasons to support or oppose this or that voting system, the impact it might have on the likelihood of participation by people whose attitudes and opinions I don't approve of seems to me to be the very worst

jh said...

so what happens when you go along and vote only to discover the Party had a secret agenda
The attachment of the many intellectuals to this view explains their support for programs of international multiculturalism that deny any difference between people and culture. It also explains their concern for the world’s oppressed minorities, a concern that trumps their concern for their own countrymen. To favor one’s own over others is viewed as a base chauvinism. Therefore, the inconsistency of sup­porting mass immigration while at the same time claiming a concern for the working poor disappears if one defines the working poor in international terms, rather than in chauvinistic, national ones. Put in other terms, a true Marxist should show a concern for all the strug­gling masses of mankind; to be more concerned for your own working classes is a retrograde nationalism, best eschewed. This change of focus explains, in large measure, the left’s abandonment of the workingman and joining with corporate interests on the issue of immigration. It is, of course, also the case that the parties of the left increase their power by importing third-world immigrants who overwhelmingly become constituents of those parties. The net result is that people who oppose massive immigration have no place to turn for support on either the right or the left of the political spectrum

The Perils of Diversity(Book Review)

There is the labour Parties sophistry revealed.

Anonymous said...

We take the kids done to the local school and make a morning of it

Jigsaw said...

Absolutely agree.

Charles E said...

Couldn't agree more.
The idea of voting on line is an abomination. It should be a public act of a proud citizen in a free society to go alone or with family and friends and in public, cast a secret ballot. People in some countries risk getting shot or bombed to do just that.
Those here who cannot be fagged to spend a few minutes to vote at the local school forfeit any right to an opinion on the government I think. Often they will say they find parties are all the same or equally unattractive, yet they manage to choose which bollocks to watch on tele or what stuff to buy at the shops, so surely they could have a stab at which lot standing as their rulers is the lesser evil.
Or as a last resort they could ask someone they know & respect who does vote for a recommendation and support their choice.

Unknown said...

I think on line voting is the way to go but it should go further than voting for phoney groups who misrepresent their mission; we should vote on issues and politicians should have to present clear arguments without avoiding any searching questions. The system is screeming out for improvement.

Victor said...


I agree entirely with your points 1,2 and 4.

But there's something a trifle unwholesome about paying people to vote. So count me out as far as point 3 is concerned.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't matter who one votes for. Once in, they ignore the will of the people and we all become serfs. Overlords, the lot of them. Of one hue and one Marxist agenda, now wrecking NZ and the West.

MMP has been very destructive to what we once had.

Davo Stevens said...

Not sure if Electronic Voting is secure either. Look at the crap that has been going down in the US with it.

Now why is it that so many feel so marginalised that they can't be bothered voting? Perhaps because in the last 20 years or so there has been nothing in it for them to vote for. The only difference between the two main parties is just cosmetic so why vote?

MMP, with all its faults is still better than the old FPP where a party could promise one thing and do something completely different. But like any form of Govt., it can be subverted. One thing that is important is that each party is very open about where their finance is coming from. A $20 donation is just a donation -- but $100,000 is buying a Govt.

If we want people to vote then make sure that there is something in it for them, a reason to vote. Most of those who didn't vote were the ones who felt that they are marginalised and nothing is changing for the better for them.

Anonymous said...

Are you going to stand up and publish that cartoon? Or just say nothing? Kiwiblog has shown courage re this.

When if ever, our our pollies going to fight the evil. Churchill is needed.