November 13, 2000-- Newsletter #106

By Joe Burns

November 13, 2000--Newsletter #106
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors,

I am writing today's newsletter with the grand hopes that it reaches you on either Monday or Tuesday. Listserve willing, the U.S. Presidential election is either today or tomorrow. I've decided to take that into account and put together an election-based newsletter.

I don't care whom you vote for. It's really none of my business. I only care that you do take the time to vote. I have voted every year since I was able because of what my 8th grade government teacher told me. He said, If you don't vote, you're not allowed to complain.

Yes, I know now that it's pure horse manure, but it's kept me a registered member of the voting public for 18 years.

Did you hear

A Nader-Trader vote site was shut down by California authorities earlier this week. The site,, allowed people in the hotly contested Democrat/Republican race states to swap a vote for Ralph Nader with a person in a less contested state. The site was going off of the premise that a vote for Nader was a vote taken from Al Gore. The site was also looking to help Ralph Nader's Green Party get that coveted 5% of the popular vote in order to garner matching campaign funds next time around.

The presidential candidates are Spamming! Both are using mass email to get people out to vote. The most popular subject lines are (written in all caps by the campaigns): ''GETTING OUT THE VOTE IS THE KEY!'' Republican National Committee ''PASS THIS E-MAIL ALONG AND HELP AL GORE WIN THE FIGHT FOR AMERICA'S WORKING FAMILIES. Gore Campaign ''PLEASE HELP MAKE CERTAIN WE HAVE THE POLLS COVERED ON ELECTION DAY Buchanan to party loyalists to get them to hand out pamphlets. The republican committee claim an email database of over 800,000 will receive email in the last days before the election. Wow.

Did you see Ralph Nader's latest and greatest campaign commercial? I'm talking about the one that's a take off on the When I Grow Up Ad. It's a great send up of the original. I'm also pretty sure those were the same kids as appeared in the original.

Now onto today's topic

Each semester, my department teaches a class in ethics. It's a class that students often take with a bit of reserve, but then find themselves talking about nothing else. They start searching for new and interesting ethical dilemmas to work through. Since we're a communications department, the vast majority of the concerns deal with the print or broadcast media.

Here's a good one I have been putting to those students as the election draws closer. Let's say you're the director of a TV network in New York. It's 5:00 PM on the east coast and the polls close there in about two hours. Now, according to your polls and results, you have the ability to predict the winner of the election. You now have the opportunity to open the 6:00PM news with your prediction that a specific candidate will win.

Now the ethical concern, by announcing the winner, you scoop the competition and appear to be a leader in the news game. On the other side of the coin, you basically tell all those voters on the West coast, Alaska and Hawaii that their votes are pretty much worthless. As was once said to me, Thanks California, but we've already elected the president here in east.

Could something be set up so that all time zones could vote at the same time?

Let me throw another variable into the mix. The number of young people voting in this election is predicted to be very low. The reports I've read state only 30% of those under 25 will vote compared to almost 55% of the population.

Can we find a way to remedy this turnout?

A Wake Forest University senior may have hit it right on the head when he stated that today's young people may not be as apathetic as the reports suggest. The student, Luke Fedlam, suggests that given the right forum, young people would offer a stronger voice.

Could Luke have hit on it? I think so. Here's a bit of proof. You can now register to vote online. Since that has been made available, the number of young people at least registering to vote has increased. The Web site reports an increase of 37,000 to over 160,000 from the last election to this election.

But registration is not enough. Last election only 15% of those young people registered to vote actually came out to the polls.

Times change. People change. The way things get done, change. The registration system has upgraded and young people responded.

Could it be that it's time to allow votingdare I sayonline?

Before you offer me a knee-jerk reaction that contains words like hacker, stuffing the ballot box, or not secure, hear me out.

The vast majority of people who did not vote in the last election offered the excuse that there just wasn't any time. Yes, I know that the government demands that employers offer employees time off to go and vote, but that's beside the point. People, especially young people might not see any time to take off even if they're given the time by their employers. Perception is reality and we have to play against that.

Could we set up a system whereas if you registered online that you could also vote online? Furthermore, once you registered, you would be given a vote number. You log in using that vote number and once you vote, the number is dead and your vote is registered. I'm playing off of the American Express system of random card numbers wanting to stop unauthorized charges.

Yes, I know that someone somewhere could pay a huge group of people to register and then give up their vote number in order to sway the ballot. Could we get past that, or at least lessen the impact if we set it up so that as soon as you register, you vote?

Maybe yes.

As for all votes being equal, if we offer online voting then it would seem to me that we could do away with the polls being open in differing time zones at differing times. Why not open the polls all day Tuesday. I'm talking 24 hours.

I really don't understand why we don't do that now. I'll bet people would vote at 3AM. Heck, they do their grocery shopping then. The Home Depot in town is open 24 hours and I've used it to finish a project at 2AM. Why wouldn't I vote at the same time?

If I was online, then I could.

In addition, if the polls were open 24 hours, then the prediction factor could be eliminated, or at least decreased, because it would be quite possible that a voter in Hawaii could cast before a voter in New York.

As it stands, computers are going to play a staggering part in the reporting of the election this year. Some sites are proclaiming they will offer live updates of vote counts as they happen. Others will offer live video feeds.

Computers will be used to gather exit polls all over the country and compile them into a national feel for the candidates.

Finally, computers will be used to predict a winner. Even in a presidential race this close, I'd be willing to say that before all the U.S. polls close, a winner will be predicted. The ethical dilemma won't be a dilemma to the major news organizations once they have enough data to avoid a Dewey Defeats Truman mistake.

We will use computers and the Web to do so many things regarding the election except the one thing it makes sense to use it for.

To vote.

We cannot continue to blame just apathy for low voter turnout. We cannot continue to hope that it doesn't rain on voting day. We need to look around at what is happening in the world and move the process along with it.

Yes, some of you will punch big holes in my theory and cite reason after reason why the Web could not be used for voting, but don't be so quick to point out the faults. Use the energy to think about how we could make it happen. I do not mean to abolish the current process, just make a point of allowing the Web to be an option.

Young people are not voting because, yes, they are somewhat apathetic, but also because they see the process as somewhat antiquated. In four more years we'll do this all again. I would hope that in the year 2004 I'll be able to take a ten minute break from work, shut my door, and cast my vote.

Do that and you'll see voter turn out skyrocket, especially by those who will be spending the most time dealing with the decision they make.


That's that. I rant. Therefore I am.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And remember: Does one vote count? Yes: BY ONE VOTE: Thomas Jefferson won the Presidency over Aaron Burr when the election was thrown into the House of Representatives.

BY ONE VOTE: John Quincy Adams became President in a deadlock between himself and Andrew Jackson in 1824.

BY ONE VOTE: Andrew Johnson was saved from impeachment.

Source: Fact Sheet: By One Vote. Available:

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