Published in the Boulder Daily Camera 11/19/93

GUEST OPINION by Evan Ravitz, Lorna Dee Cervantes & Vince Campbell

Voting by mail isn't better than by phone

The Camera pro-mail-, anti-phone-voting editorial 11/5 is misleading:

First, the Camera repeats City Councilman Matt Appelbaum and lawyer Karl Anuta's cynical attempts to confuse voters that telephone voting was to be "mandatory" or "required". The ballot title clearly "...REQUIRE(S) THAT VOTERS BE ALLOWED TO VOTE BY TELEPHONE...". It is the City that would be required to give us the option. Required, because the City Council has refused to even consider offering it voluntarily since 1988, even though the City's own Mission Statement says "We promote creative exploration of options and innovative approaches to providing services to the public, including alternatives that involve taking risks."

Second, it is not the citizens as the Camera says, but the scant voters, many confused by the City's negative propaganda, who rejected our proposal. The difference is enormous: 36% voted of the 85% who are registered here: 30.6% of those citizens over 18 voted. The 59% of the voters who voted no are thus 22% of the eligible citizens. With the current voting system, this minority rules.

This is one problem the Voting by Phone Foundation wants to solve, both by offering a modern, convenient voting technology, and by empowering citizens to vote more often on important issues, which the Camera calls a "questionable theory", though they are happy with the outcome in this case! The theory is democracy, Greek for "government by the people". Citizen democracy works well in Switzerland (they vote on initiatives and referenda 4 times a year), and in New England Town Meetings, and towns like Ward, Colorado. Most native peoples use democracy.

City Council counted on this minority rule to defeat us. They could have put us on last year's ballot, but were afraid that when the majority voted (83% of those registered voted here last year) that we would win.

The Camera touts mail voting as being without phone voting's "technical uncertainties". But everyone knows the phone is a more certain way to communicate than the mail-- you get immediate feedback that your message was received. Mail is sometimes lost or stolen (see the Camera front page story 11/6). With 20% of most mailing lists being obsolete, someone at an old address may get your vote if you move. The two Canadian primaries held by phone were described in the media as "flawless", after the initial failure caused by incomplete testing. Many people also aren't aware that their in-person or mailed ballots are already counted by an expensive, obsolete "mainframe" computer.

Finally, the Camera allows that early mail voters "can't withdraw their selections in response to genuinely damaging information about a candidate in the latter days of a campaign." This is possible with phone voting, and was implemented for the NSF-funded advisory phone voting new Boulder resident Vince Campbell directed for the San Jose, California schools in 1974. They determined phone voting would be some 20 times less expensive than the polls or pony express, administrative expenses included.

Phone voting is so much less expensive because it is ecological- like the telecommuting everyone talks about. It is open to the same problems absentee and mail voting is- coercion, vote-buying, etc., but the U.S. General Accounting Office report VOTING among others indicates these problems are nearly nonexistent. The Camera uses telephones and computers together everyday, and preys on people's fear of technology to further their own political agenda.

If people want to read an unbiased, balanced article on the real issue here- whether citizens should have more power over their government- we refer you to the Economist of London's September 11, 1993 story "A better way to vote", available in the library or from us at 440-6838.

Evan Ravitz, Lorna Dee Cervantes and Vince Campbell are members of The Voting by Phone Foundation,