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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Wednesday, December 22, 2004


Is voting obsolete?

posted by Aziz P. at Wednesday, December 22, 2004 permalink View blog reactions
Matthew is on to something here:

Indeed, the whole voting concept may be outdated. You could just get together a list of every registered Democrat in the country, then take a statistically valid random sample of 1,000 or so of these people fly them all to a big hotel in Dayton (shades of Balkan diplomacy), and tell them they're not leaving until some candidate has the support of 600 people. Important elected officials, interest group leaders, and consultant types could make themselves available to hang around the premises and offer their off-the-record opinions.

OK, he is just (tounge-in-cheek) talking about primaries, but if you think about it, this could equally apply to national elections as well. Bear with me for a moment...

There are several major problems with voting :

1. Fraud increases the margin of error, which means in a highly polarized electorate, may become the same order of magnitude as the margin of victory, in which case the outcome of the election is essentially random to begin with. Technology is one solution, but is susceptible to funding, human error, and fraud of a different nature.

2. Victory requires a majority of the electorate alone, not the population, which means in a low-turnout scenario the winner can not claim a true mandate of consent to be governed. There is selection bias in the electorate because they are the ones who have the will/free time to go stand in line for hours to excercise their franchise.

3. The geography-centric structure of the electoral college means that some states are swing states whic garner disproprtionately more attention from candidates than others, which results in skewed policies such as the Farm Bill that do not benefit the nation as a whole.

A truly random sampling of voters, with N chosen high enough to give a margin of error arbitrarily low, would make it essentially impossible to perpetrate fraud while still delivering higher fidelity of results than is possible with the present system. Further, the selection bias is avoided because the vote can be done by mail or phone to a truly random cohort. Finally, the geographic considerations are mooted as candidates will have to campaign nationally on issues of truly national interest since they can no longer assume that their plurality will hail from a specific subset of regions.

What's the flaw?

NOTE: the idea is not new. I believe it was Asimov who wrote a short story where society needed only a single voter to determine the electoral outcome, assisted by a powerful computer that took the voter data point into account along with other social variables.

Also, I am deliberately avoiding including actual examples such as the role of exit polling in detecting Ukraine fraud, the well-documented racial voter suppression in Cuyahoga County, and the drama of the WA governor's race. Lets discuss the thought experiment in the absence of partisan bias.


It seems like voting requires some level of education, otherwise it is just a guessing game. People need to be aware of the issues that they are voting on, and not just vote for the candidate that promises the most.


What you've described actually exists. It's called 'deliberative polling' and it's not only been proposed, but used; the only difference is that it's never been used as a decision-making tool, just a polling tool. The only difference, of course, is in how you implement the findings.

You can find more information about it at:


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.