“And they’re off!” The date of the article is January 29, 2023. It has barely been 12 weeks since the 2022 mid-term election. And the article in the Washington Post proudly jumpstarts the next general election campaign with a bold, audience-grabbing headline:
“The 2024 GOP presidential primary season is kicking off. Here’s the potential field.”
Really? Can we not have a 6-month breather before American voters are once again forced to sit through another non-stop, pundit-pushed, poll-driven, blow-by-blow, daily analysis of what the election two years from now might hold in store? Is it already necessary to remind us of the so-called “deep divisions” in our country, and which politicians are angling for pole position in their never-ending campaigns for our attention, our money, and their own lifetime career advancement?
There is no end and seemingly no escape from the media’s downright addiction to framing our political system as one horserace after another. Each one following the same essential script, the same basic cast of characters cycling in and out, and the same thematic elements, which of course lead to and support…. you guessed it: political fundraising, which in turn is spent on the very media outlets that have proclaimed the horserace to have begun and in full swing.
And let’s not forget, nothing sells advertising like controversy, and nothing fuels controversy like arguments over who may or may not get into the race? who might be too old? too extreme? too duplicitous? or too stupid to compete? whose baggage may or may not be overlooked? Not to even mention the impact of false narratives and straight-up propaganda, intentionally promoted on FOX, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, usually amplified by AI bots, with the intent of stoking fear, anger and even rage between neighbors who either support or oppose the next candidate to toss his or her hat into the ring. All this begins, the moment the news media officially fires the starting gun for the next election.
You can’t really blame the would-be candidates themselves. It’s obviously the same irresistible catnip to them as it is to the national media organizations eager to capture the ongoing attention of a nation of voters, despite them being battle-weary from campaign after campaign, year after year, fundraising plea after plea, and what often seems like the purposeful polarization of our communities — all in the name of “civic engagement.” Huh? What?
Civic Engagement — that’s what democracy is supposed to be all about, right? Even if we’re not fully taught in school what it is or how it’s supposed to work, it’s fundamental to the only system of governance that any of us has ever known, and a supposed shining example to the rest of the world.
American civic engagement today is primarily voting in general elections. And voter turnout is the only hope that the views and preferences of the majority can be made manifest, by having elected the best candidates (at least in theory). If we don’t vote, we get what we deserve, by default. Yet despite that, the welfare of the many can easily be subverted by the election of the unqualified few. Our democracy is as only good as the people we put into office, those we vote for. Who would argue with that? Certainly not me. But there’s more to it than who we vote for.
A more important point is that our civic engagement opportunity is inherently limited by the 2-year election cycle, and the focus on voting for candidates, as opposed to weighing-in on issues and voter priorities themselves. This leaves those we have elected free to initially pay lip service to voter sentiment, while almost immediately shifting focus to their re-election campaigns.
That’s the way the two-year election cycle works. Regardless of party, after an election, voters still have views about all kinds of issues that impact our lives, but we are left with no coherent way, as a community of citizens, to have any meaningful influence on what our newly elected and un-elected representatives do or don’t do for us. Our civic engagement window has effectively closed, until the next election. Worst of all, we are made to believe that this system can never be changed, updated or improved in any meaningful way. Nascent experiments in digital democracy may be taking root in other parts of the world, but would any of that ever signal a change in the way that we Americans think about civic engagement?
Let’s talk solutions:
Today’s 21st century technological environment arrives with a brand-new possibility — one that could upgrade and revitalize our democracy in ways that the Founding Fathers could never have imagined. It’s the possibility that we could directly influence our elected officials, in-between the 2-year election cycle, without abandoning it; and in so doing, expand the opportunity for civic engagement exponentially. In the end, we don’t need more or fewer “elections” to revitalize our democracy. We need Advisory Voting.
What is Advisory Voting? Think of it as an additional way to vote. A new way to utilize your existing status as a registered voter, with an authenticated, non-binding “advisory vote,” on issues instead of candidates; in-between elections, instead of once every two years. A way to be heard, and to literally be counted — both individually and collectively. And because the votes would only be advisory in nature, no new laws would need to be passed for the system to take effect. The constitution wouldn’t need to be changed. It’s our 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, online — with the advisory voting booth as close as the mobile device in most people’s pocket or purse. It’s the next logical extension of our voting capabilities as registered voters.
Banking-level security, platform operations transparently managed by a dedicated Public Trust, and an easy-to-use mobile app would allow any and all registered voters to suggest, learn about and prioritize issues, then cast advisory votes whenever the need arises. And there’s one additional feature that would immediately begin to mitigate identity-politics: Zero Data Collection.
Zero Data Collection means that the only user data that would ever be collected from a registered advisory voter would be self-authentication as an existing registered voter, the ZIP code where that voter resides, and the vote itself. Zero Data Collection means not knowing if fellow registered voters are Republicans, Democrats, Independents or anything else. We don’t need to know. And not knowing sex, age, income, click history, or any of the other data that is normally collected from users of online apps and services, including social networks, also means that voter data could not be monetized, because there wouldn’t be any.
Advisory Voting is coming, likely sooner than later. And when it arrives, it will provide an ongoing, transparent and verifiably accurate count of how registered voters feel about the issues that affect them directly, all year long. It’s a mechanism that promises to give agency to voters regarding things other than candidates running for office; and will do so locally, regionally and nationally. Best of all, advisory voting won’t interfere with scheduled general elections in the least. If anything, it will incentivize merely “eligible” voters to become officially “registered” voters, so that they can start utilizing that status to make their views known to the people they elect (as well as those seeking office). This will lead to even greater voter turnout in general elections.
Imagine what might happen in-between elections, with an installed base of registered voters who have claimed their own Advisory Voting accounts, reserved specifically for them. When any issue of collective importance rises to the top, it will no longer be necessary to wait until the next general election in order to weigh-in on one’s preferences and priorities. There will be no gerrymandering to contend with. No long lines. Nothing to stand between a voter and the voting process.
The ability to vote from the convenience of home, and even to change one’s vote under changing circumstances, will further incentivize participation. Confidence that issue-based educational material provided within the advisory voting app has been independently verified as factually accurate, by widely trusted sources, will help restore confidence in the integrity of the voting process itself.
Whether advisory voter participation grows organically or goes viral, all at once, the very first time that total advisory voter participation on any issue surpasses voter turnout in the most recent general election, it will be a historic turning point and a new dawn for democracy. Not only is this possible, but it’s also ultimately inevitable. At that point, advisory voting will render public opinion polls meaningless in the face of certified advisory votes by registered voters. Petitions will become quaint and obsolete. And the new catnip — one that no candidate, pundit or news organization will be able to resist — will be the ongoing, real-time measure of voter sentiment, the actual vote count.
Advisory Voting promises to brightly illuminate the power of participation, by enabling ongoing civic engagement at scale; and in so doing, will reward us with a true renewal of democracy.
Richard Lang is the CEO of Democrasoft, Inc., author of Virtual Country: Strategy for 21st Century Democracy, and co-founder of the Advisory Vote initiative.