Published by the Boulder Sunday Camera 8/2/92
GUEST OPINION by Evan Ravitz
Why is Voting by Phone so controversial, when Americans have accepted
lever-style voting machines, card-punch voting machines, absentee
ballots, all-postal elections and computer vote counting almost
First, a reminder that the Voting by Phone Initiative now seeking signatures proposes phone voting as a choice, like absentee voting. If you want to vote the usual way, fine, but why not let the handicapped, elderly, distant rural residents, busy parents or anyone else have the convenience?
Because voting by phone is the easiest and fastest method, it produces the highest turnout- 94% in the world's first on June 20, a primary in Nova Scotia. This seems to threaten American politicians who only want their own supporters to vote. More voters make their game less predictable.
Because voting by phone is the most economical since it is the most ecological way -no paper, no driving, no machines besides the existing phone system and a computer- it makes practical a real democracy, where citizens vote regularly on the issues important to them. This is now done in Switzerland and in New England (and Ward, Colorado) town meetings, and was most recently proposed for the nation by Perot.
The Heart of the issue is: "whether or not America believes in democracy and believes it can afford the risks that go with democratic life. All of the objections to it are so many different ways of saying 'the people are not to be trusted'."*
Columnist and former City Councilman Paul Danish and others like the NY Times' William Safire fear the "instant" emotional voting the phone might allow. Yet Congress has had electronic voting for years and nobody has complained that Congress is moving too fast--or blames the technology for their moral turpitude. Voting on issues needs to be properly scheduled, which is taken care of by Boulder's existing initiative laws.
Danish says that most non-voters are also disinterested and uninformed. Actually, studies show that most participating voters are uninformed about candidates voting records and vote largely by party, name recognition or looks. A Kettering Foundation study showed that a lot of non-voters are not so much disinterested as disgusted. Give them a regular vote on the issues instead of just personalities and watch them take interest!
The founding fathers settled for a representative democracy largely because most Americans were illiterate and had no time to come together to vote. These problems are solved! As Andrew Jackson said: "If there is a problem with democracy, the solution is more democracy."
Safire and others worry about a "mobocracy" voting to steal our liberty. That's why we have a Bill of Rights and a judicial system to protect us or the J. Edgar Hoovers and Richard Nixons and George Bushes would have stolen what's left years ago. I think liberty requires democracy and so did George Bernard Shaw: "Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it."
If you want teen-agers to grow up, you have to give them responsibility. Same with citizens. America is like an adolescent: high-powered and eating up the planet's resources. But we can blame the President for not signing the Rio Accords. We can blame Congress for our enormous debt. We must grow up and share the responsibility. As the philosopher Goethe said, "What government is best? That which teaches us to govern ourselves."
America's whole history is a move to more democracy- giving the vote to blacks, women and 18-year olds, direct election of Senators, and the establishment of voter Initiatives in 20 states. Now that almost all of us can read and can find a phone, it would be a shame to lose our self-confidence when real democracy is within our grasp.
Canada is already considering a national phone referendum on its new Constitution within 6 months as a result of the Nova Scotia success. The Pentagon is now considering phone voting for servicepeople. Why not us? Is Boulder bolder or just a (c)rock? Please help us pass our petition, raise funds, write letters or do data entry- you'll be making history. But don't delay- we have until August 16 to collect 4000 more signatures. Call 444-3596.
You can also try our free demonstration of phone voting at 444-3596. If you registered in the City limits by July 8, we can identify you by name and birthdate and keep you to one vote. In our first vote, ending July 15, those registered voted 0% for Bush, 23% for Clinton, 20% for Perot, and 57% for None of the Above; 24% approved of the new Community Hospital parking structure, 29% disapproved and 47% had no opinion. The current vote substitutes a question on Syntex for the parking question.
Watching so much of the intelligencia contort themselves to oppose phone voting and/or true democracy reminds me of writer William James' statement: "A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices."
Danish is right- Voting by Phone is no panacea. But it will lead to democracy- that's why politicians have been fighting it since Bucky Fuller first proposed it in 1940. Think what a different country this would be if the voters had been helping run it for 52 years! Isn't it about time we got started? May the best and brightest ideas win!
*Journalist Benjamin Barber, testimony to Congress on the Voter Initiative Constitutional Amendment, 12/14/77, defeated by your representatives. Power concedes nothing without a struggle.