A week before this historic election, Hive PS participated in a fast-paced competition hosted by the Van Alen Institute in New York City. We were invited, along with two other interdisciplinary teams, to participate in a one-day workshop that culminated with a public presentation, followed by a very interesting discussion with the jury and the audience. The title of the flash competition was 'Open Poll' and it aimed to challenge the problems of the current polling system.
In light of the current elections and the stunning results that have shocked the US and the world, we find it necessary to re-iterate the issues addressed during this workshop, and to look at the strategies proposed in retrospect, as well as to question how they relate to the current election.
Our approach, responsive to real life issues, began by studying the current system to detect its inefficiencies. We found that voting day comes across as a dreaded chore to citizens. Long waiting lines are strenuous, making them non-inclusive to the elderly, the disabled, and pregnant women. The absentee voting process is also time-consuming and lengthy for those living abroad. It occurs on a Tuesday, is wasteful in time, energy, and material, and has economic implications given that, nationally, people have to take time out of work to be at a polling station. Once again this excludes groups of people with lower means and less ability to take that time off. Polling locations are not always convenient for voters, and unforeseen problems at their stations result in having to allocate a different station at the last minute, adding pressure to an already pressurized system. The current system is archaic, inconsistent, and prone to human error. There is also a general lack of trust in result-turnout.
The voting process is perceived as a chore that just needs to be done, which contrasts with the essence of this great democratic process. Our proposal aimed to address these issues to make the voting experience easier, more accurate, transparent, and inclusive, with the goal of changing the voting mindset to one of national celebration.
Our team focused on facilitating the voting process, so that efforts can be allocated to changing the mindset of the elections, into one of celebration of democracy. After this election, we believe it is crucial now more than ever to strengthen social and community ties.
How is each of the proposed strategies relatable to this past election?
1. The first strategy proposed is to Digitalize the Voting Platform, to nationally unify it, to expedite and facilitate the voting process, make it accurate, and free it up from human error.
Digitalizing the platform has multiple benefits: it is more efficient, consistent, less time-consuming, and less wasteful. Rather than using time-consuming manual methods in a world where we are daily surrounded by technology, why not use this vehicle as a facilitator? Multiple steps of identity verification would be employed to ensure a voter’s unique identity. Such technologies are available and are already being used online and digital banking systems. We understand that our main challenge is the potential cyber-hostility that poses a threat to everything digital in a digital age, and that high security information technology systems would need to be set in place, but this proposed new platform can be optimized, fraud free and error-proof.
A digital platform that registers, counts, releases and records the votes on the spot would generate transparency and trust in a system plagued by accusations of a rigged voting system. We also found that for the first time in this election, millennials made up a third 1 of the demographic eligible to vote. Given the current election events and the fact that only half of the population eligible to vote actually casted a vote, one would question whether this demographic would have voted if they could do so on a digital platform?
2. Increase the Number of Polling Stations by including other public institutions as voting centers, such as churches, post offices, libraries, and city halls, giving them an additional civic function and relieving pressure on allocated schools. Voter turnout this year dipped to nearly its lowest point in two decades 2. Candidates aside, one of the main issues is that many people either miss the deadline for registration or are not aware of the requirements. We need to have a system in place that automatically registers anyone who is eligible to vote similar to Sweden or Germany 3. Also, being designated a polling station close to your home might not always be the most convenient for everyone; given that voting is on a workday, a station near the workplace might prove easier.
3. Change the Voting day to Sunday to allow all-day family events. Democracy and the importance of voting are virtues that need to be embedded in education and up-bringing. The fact that it occurs on a work-day limits raising awareness within families on how important it is for their voices to be heard. If it takes place on a Sunday, it would allow families and communities to plan events related to voting. If the platform is facilitated and expedited, it frees up the time to make this day a national celebration that Americans can look forward to. The reason why we vote on a Tuesday dates back to the late 1700s 4. At the time most of the country was agrarian, so November was chosen as the perfect month to vote, since the harvest was over, and winter had not arrive yet. In 1845, Congress passed a law that standardized the date to be the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Monday was not an option, because it would require white men to travel by buggy on Sunday, the day for church. Wednesday happened to be a market day, so farmers would not be able to make the polls. It is time we question the day in which we vote, and recognize that the reasons behind it are out of date.
4. Transform Parks and Public Spaces into Event Areas, engaging in activities, while broadcasting voting results to promote transparency.
This is the perfect opportunity to create and promote events that celebrate and connect our communities. After perhaps the most divisive election in history, we need to renew faith in the system. We need to show the next generations that we should celebrate not only our democracy but also our differences. Public space needs to be used as a place for transparency, democracy and co-existence.
An efficient and consistent system would facilitate voting results to be broadcast in real-time, projected in public spaces organized to host family and community events, promoting public space usage and social activation nationally.
This is the perfect opportunity to create and promote events that celebrate and connect our communities.
5. Utilize Street Infrastructure for Political Engagement. Our sidewalks are the largest existing public spaces, why not use them as such? Existing infrastructure has great potential to disseminate information about candidates. It can be available without any biases to state facts, raise awareness about voting, as well as to broadcast voting results to promote transparency within the voting system.
6. Our final strategy is to Hold National Festivities to Celebrate the Democratic Process.
Think 4th of July, which is seen as a day of celebration and of community gathering. Every American looks forward to the festivities that take place on this day. If the actual voting process is facilitated, it would re-direct the effort (that goes into an inefficient system), into the promotion of Election Day as a day of events and festivities for families and communities, and serve as a world-wide example of democracy and civic pride.
The voting process is the true act of independence, of freedom, and of liberty. Shouldn't Election Day be regarded in a similar way Independence Day is?
At the End of the Day
Regardless of your political preference, this election is surely the most extraordinary in American history. National polls projected a completely different outcome - one that did not count on the Electoral College vote; one that did not foresee the realities in many parts of this country.
Having said that, the mis-match between the electoral college and the popular vote is unprecedented, putting it to question. While it is supposed to ensure a fair election, and that no state goes under-represented, it has managed to mute the voices of more than two million Americans. Has it, in this election, achieved its fair purpose? At what point does the electoral college, which is meant to act as a balance, tip over?
The divisions laid by this election are real and many of us are questioning if the US is indeed the country we thought it was. However, there is perhaps one thing we can all agree on - our current voting system needs to be updated. We need to re-gain the trust, love and pride of our democracy.
1. According to an article by the Pew Research Center titled 'Millennials match Baby Boomers as largest generation in U.S. electorate, but will they vote? ', millennials eligible to vote almost matched the percentage of baby boomers to make up about 30% of eligible voters. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/05/16/millennials-match-baby-boomers-as-largest-generation-in-u-s-electorate-but-will-they-vote/
2. According to an article published by CNN on November 30, 2016, titled 'Voter turnout at 20-year low in 2016', this all time low is at 55% voter turn out. http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/11/politics/popular-vote-turnout-2016/
3. Registration to vote is perhaps an impediment that could be taken out of the equation to facilitate voting. Several European countries like Sweden and Germany automatically register those eligible to vote http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/11/7/13536198/election-day-americans-vote
4. In an interesting video posted by TEDEd titled 'Why do Americans vote on Tuesdays?',
Jacob Soboroff highlights the lack of knowledge among Americans (even those in political positions) about the reasons why Americans vote on Tuesdays. He also sheds light that historically, the day was chosen to facilitate voting. http://ed.ted.com/lessons/why-do-americans-vote-on-tuesdays
MEDIA COVERAGE ON OPEN POLL COMPETITION