My Digital Democracy Wish List

by John Adams

I'm hearing lots of good stuff today, but there are things I want that I don't think I'll get. Here are a few of them:
  1. More tools for local races. There is a lot which can be done at the local level.

    Voter canvassing, for instance, could be a whole new ballgame. Set an hour or two during every day of a campaign during which the candidate is available, and canvass during that period, with each canvasser able, when necessary, to connect the voter directly to the candidate. Currently, candidates have to find physical crowds of hands to shake--this creates a virtual crowd, not of supporters, but of voters. MeetUp has proven to be a success in gathering a candidateís core supporters. It has not shown--nor should it be expected to show--an ability to gather uncommitted voters for the candidate to work.

    Right now, something very much like this is happening in (for example) Nevada, when the AFL-CIO has canvassers in the fields with Palms. Those candidates synch their information up with the campaign database every night. Itís probably not necessary to synch voter data up transaction by transaction--thatís amenable to batch processing. Live voter interactions happen in real time, and currently they are one-way.

  2. More attention to the processes surrounding voting. Thereís more to consider than the insecurities of e-voting.

    The same tools which can be used during voter canvassing can be used on election day in getting out the vote. Traditionally, activity at the polling booths includes marking off voters known to be committed to a candidate; then, as the day goes on, an effort is made to bring voters not yet seen to the polls. Here we do find a use for real time transactional processing.

    Of possibly greater importance, at least in some areas, is tracking and, when possible, countering voter suppression tactics and questionable activities at the polling place. These borderline legal dirty political tricks sometimes have a decisive role--voter suppression by the Republican Party may have provided the margin for their win in the 2000 Florida presidential voting. While some activities--roll purging, deliberate confusion and intimidation about polling places--happen in advance, others happen in real time during the voting process. Itís not enough to expose these activities--they have to be countered and beaten back as they happen.

  3. Attention paid to tools for constituent services.

    Every successful politician that I know of does good constituent service. A few legislators, mayors and council members in larger cities, a few others have governmental resources to support constituent services. The rest are dependent on what resources they can bring of their own; this gets us back into the trick bag of money.

    What tools can we place in the hands of less well-heeled politicians, as well as in the hands of community groups and county committees of political parties, which can help them both in delivering constituent services and thus in building the credibility that established politicians have?

  4. Less concern about the completely new. More attention to augmenting existing processes. Fewer complaints about the existing order, particularly the media.

    Much as Iíd like it to be different, people donít change drastically, and human nature changes even less. I have no faith in the completely new political campaign.

    The question I'd've liked to have asked Joe Trippi is: Dean for America and UAW political education during the Reuther era: Compare and contrast. Discuss.

    There's a reason for that question: That UAW program was one of the most effective long-term political projects in recent American history, one which reached into nearly every liberal project of the last few decades. I want to believe we're talking about something with that level of impact--otherwise, I'm going to do something else.

    In particular, given that I'm not a Republican, and given that the Greens have clearly demonstrated they don't have the skills to pay the bills, I'd like to know how to use these tools to build the Democratic Party. For instance, how can state and local party organizations be motivated to work with the national party in building the Demzilla data warehouse? Is it possible for this information--the lifeblood of political parties--to be shared, given the competition among individual Democrats? (There are similar questions Republicans and Greens may care to ask, and I encourage them to ask those questions.)

What am I missing? Am I just an old sourpuss?