November 12, 2012 1:52 pm
For all the hubbub and craziness of the election cycle, we can always count on one thing. On the first Tuesday in November, we all vote. And on Wednesday, in theory, it’s all over. But if these computer scientists have their dastardly way, the election season will be extended by a whole week. Popular Science explains:
Now comes some computational science experts who say we should draw it out even more: maybe vote on one thing at a time–president one day, the U.S. House the next, local library tax districts later that week, and so on. Theory suggests this would be effective at not only lowering costs, but increasing voter turnout.
“You can’t say, ‘Today you’ll come in and vote on the first issue, and then we’ll announce the result, and tomorrow you’ll come back again and vote on the second issue.’ That’s too costly,” says Lirong Xia, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “But if you can build an online voting system and make it secure enough, then people can stay at home and just log in at the right time. It would reach a better solution and reduce the cost of holding elections.”
If the idea of even more election, even more stress, more campaigning, more advertisements, more robo-calls and emails, makes you want to curl up in a ball, you’re not alone. But extending voting is supposed to do the exact opposite, says Xia. Harvard’s website puts it this way:
Consider, for example, a fictional town whose residents must choose whether to fund the construction of a new school, a playground, or a community center. On the ballot, they’re asked to weigh in on each option with a simple yes or no, and a majority vote wins. A parent in the town might prioritize the school, and only support the playground if the school is also built—but the ballot makes no provision for an “if-then” type of choice. With three interrelated ballot questions, the number of possible results and strategies is high enough that the town could end up with an undesirable outcome, such as a bad combination of options, or perhaps none at all.
And this all depends, they write, on what exactly you’re hoping to get out of an election:
“The goals of the [U.S.] election system are many,” says Stephen Ansolabehere, Professor of Government at Harvard. “If I were to choose the two most important they would be (1) to produce a democratically chosen leader and set of representatives and (2) to have a democratic process that the nation as a whole recognizes as producing legitimate outcomes and that leads to peaceful transitions of government.”
Or, as Xia puts it, “You want people to be happy. But in these low-stakes, online applications, you really want to figure out what is the truth.”
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