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Published on Tuesday, October 17, 2000 in the Cape Cod Times
Flocking Over To Democracy?
by Sean Gonsalves
It's not so hard to understand why millions don't vote. Actually, non-voters, unwittingly in most cases, make a good point - a point articulated well by the noted historian Howard Zinn.

Regarding presidential elections, Zinn points out that "we get high on trivia, and forget that, whether presidents have been impotent or oversexed, drunk or sober, they have followed the same basic policies.

"Harry Truman was blunt and Lyndon Johnson wily, but both sent armies to Asia to defend dictators and massacre the people we claimed to be helping. Eisenhower was dull and Kennedy witty, but both built up huge nuclear armaments at the expense of scIhools and health care. Nixon was corrupt and Ford straightforward, but both coldly cut benefits for the poor and gave favors to rich corporations."

Imagine this. In this epoch of hi-tech communications, we could have in-home voting machines. They could be rigged to the television set, since just about every household in America has at least one. (Those without a TV could be given a subsidy to purchase one.)

This voting machine could have a voice, eye or thumbprint scan to ensure that there is truly one person, one vote, with not a single fraudulent ballot cast. The computerized machine would reject any duplicate votes.

Then, each night, around the time all the TV news programs come on, there would be a nationwide, all stations, C-Span like broadcast of debate on the issues. The bills before a new people's Congress could be debated by representatives of various viewpoints.

There could be background briefings on technical questions with Q & A sessions to follow. Committees of experts might be set up to gather data, make recommendations and write any necessary legislation. After a certain period - a week, a month, maybe in three-month intervals - a voting session would be held.

Mob-rule! That's too much democracy, many would object. Hold that thought.

A few years ago, in a Las Vegas conference room, an experiment was conducted. After playing some simple Pong-like video games on a huge screen at the front of the conference room, it was time for the flight simulator. Loren Carpenter gave the instructions, reports Wired magazine executive editor, Kevin Kelly.

The plane is airborne. The pilot? Five thousand novices. They're controlling the plane with their colored wands, linked to the flight simulator computer - red wands on one side and green wands on the other. "You guys on the left are controlling the roll; you on the right, pitch. If you point the plane at anything interesting, I'll fire a rocket at it," Carpenter instructs.

The plane is heading in for a landing. "There is something ludicrous about the notion of having the passengers of a plane collectively fly it. The brute democratic sense of it all is very appealing. As a passenger, you get to vote for everything; not only where the group is headed, but when to trim the flaps," Kelly observes.

As the plane makes its approach, the deafening hush that had taken hold of the 5,000 wandwavers comes to an end. Shouts and commands are flying across the auditorium - a cockpit in crisis!

"Greeeeen, greeeeen!" they shout.

No, "Red, red! REEEEEED!"

The plane is flying wildly, dipping and diving. Suddenly, and sensibly, the 5,000 novice pilots abort the landing and pull the plane up. They turn around and try it again.

"How did they turn around? Nobody decided whether to turn left or right, or even to turn at all. Nobody was in charge. But as if of one mind, the plane banks and turns wide. It tries landing again. Again it approaches cock-eyed. The mob decides in unison, without lateral communication, like a flock of birds taking off, to pull up once more. At some magical moment, the same strong thought simultaneously infects 5,000 minds: 'I wonder if we can do a 360?'

"Without speaking a word, the collective keeps tilting the plane. There's no undoing it. As the horizon spins dizzily, 5,000 amateur pilots roll a jet on their first solo flight. It was actually quite graceful. They give themselves a standing ovation," he writes.

Perhaps with a voting machine and a people's Congress, people would learn, like the amateur pilots, that their vote counts and it makes a visible difference. I don't think there's anything that better promotes a sense of responsibility than the awareness that one's choices actually make a difference in the lives of real human beings.

If you're worried about too many idiots voting, that probably says more about elitism than it does about democracy. As long as the system stays as it is, low voter turnout will continue unabated.

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and syndicated columinist.

Copyright 2000 Cape Cod Times


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