Digital democracy. (humorous account of electronic voting in the future) (Column)
by Steven Anzovin
"Don't forget. Voting is on after ~Simpsons: The Next Generation,"' remarked my wife as I recycled the dishes.
"Who's running tonight?" my daughter asked.
"Oh, it's for the presidency again, dear," said my wife. "You know that the first Tuesday of every month is president's night."
"Did they teach you in school yet about the 29th Amendment?" I asked, hoping to squeeze in a little American history lesson in the kitchen while the kids recharged the dog's batteries. "You know, the Declaration of Digital Independence, the Voters' Rebellion, and all that? When the American Patriotic Conglomerate--the Perot Data Party, Newvideo, Turner/Whittle, McDoulpia-Busch, and LottoNet--got together to create the, world's first instant electronic voting network?"
My son chuckled. "Dad, please. They don't teach AmHist in school anymore."
After dinner we all trooped into the vidroom. We don't have much of a setup, just the standard 5- x 10-foot high-definition screen with a dozen ISDN feeds and an AppleCray controller. Bart's grandchildren were up to their usual antics on center screen, but no one paid much attention. My daughter got on the right-hand screen with a few of her friends to play the latest Newvideo game, the one where Super Zeppo decides whether to run for the presidency while hungry PACs try to gobble him up. Along the way the kids answer questions about the weekly family expenditures; if your mom or dad has bought Newvideo products, you earn extra games. My son took the left-hand screen to browse through tonight's preteen voting roster. He seemed to be especially interested in the details of the National Skateboard and Sneaker Rights Act. My wife, meanwhile, was playing the Instant Law Lotto numbers according to a system she'd worked out involving our PIN numbers. Since the Cray could generate a billion or so PIN variations every second, she felt we stood a reasonable chance of winning at least a small prize The winners don't get cash like in the old days; they g votes instead. I could see t the jackpot was up to nearly 200 million votes, enough to determine the fate of every legislative action pending tonight. I remembered one night two years back, when a grandprize winner forced through a law banning sex. Luckily, the next week's winner overturned that one.
At 9:00 sharp, center screen flashed a waving American flag. "Welcome to America's Electronic Town Meeting," said the simulated voice of Don Pardo, "brought to you by APC, the folks that say, ~It's up to you!"' That corny Reagan simulation gave the opening monologue again. Everyone groaned, but it was all part of the ritual, and we really wouldn't have it any other way. After that came the text of all nine party platforms; the words scrolled by so fast that I simply captured them for later, knowing no one was likely to have the time to read any of it. Then the kids joysticked in their votes for video of the week, junk food of the week, and so on; as each vote was cast, eager product managers in stores from sea to shining sea rushed to fill their waiting shelves with cases of the winning products.
Finally, it was time for the main event. The nine presidential candidates flashed on the screen all at once, giving their 15-second spiels about what they would do for the country in the coming month. At the same moment, the phones began ringing with calls from pollsters, and all four fax machines began to spew reams of position papers, press releases, vote sweepstakes tickets, and direct mail asking us to open accounts in each party's name.
"Daddy!" the kids yelled. "You forgot to turn off the faxes again!"
"Sorry," I said. "I'll clean up later. Here comes the vote."
We all stood in anticipation with our infrared Vote Remotes at the ready. With one press of the button, we and 300 million other red-blooded Americans would determine the fate (and marketing plans) of the free world--for the next month, at least. No more Congress, Supreme Court, primaries, debates, conventions, campaigns, or any of that old, time-consuming, expensive, boring political rigmarole. As the choices again flashed on the screen, our thumbs did their patriotic duty.
Democracy in action.