Jon Ippolito on 15 Nov 2000 17:15:35 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Should Avatars Get to Vote?

Everyone from Arlen Specter to Hillary Clinton seems to be calling for an overhaul of the electoral college,  and many of these sketchy proposals suggest that electronic technology could replace the 50-year-old ballot box design still in use in New York City and elsewhere among the fifty states. But so far none to my knowledge has addressed the critique Curt Hagenlocher voiced on this list:

>From: Curt Hagenlocher <>
>Date: Thu, 9 Nov 2000 14:03:36 -0800 
>To bring this conversation back to a more appropriate nettime
>topic, isn't it about time we reevaluated this system of
>representation based strictly on geography?  In a networked
>world where I live in one location, telecommute to another,
>and make purchases all over the country, what reason is there
>to think that my interests are conjoined to those of only
>my physical neighbors?

I've been thinking about this for some time, yet  I've never encountered any research that's been done on this subject. It's all well and good for John Perry Barlow to quote Thomas Jefferson in support of an electronic "direct democracy," but it's another thing altogether to follow through with the implications of Internet-enabled governance. Rather than returning us to some natural state in which bureaucrats simply step out of the way so that the nation can govern itself, a true cyberdemocracy would overturn many of this country's venerated representative institutions.

The American electoral system is literally grounded in geography. The state a voter lives in determines how her vote is counted, for representative bodies like the Congress as well as for national elections. Historically, the Electoral College was created to combat the tyranny of the majority by tallying an ensemble of local elections rather than one big contest. Statistically, this gives minority interests a fighting chance; Massachusetts voters can elect a gay congressman, and North Carolina voters can elect a tobacco lobbyist--despite the fact that these interests would be drowned out in any national election where everyone's vote counted equally.

In Jefferson's day, your "interest" was defined by where you spent time. That's still true today, but in an expanded sense: people spend time not just in the mountains or by the sea, but also at Amazon or Oxygen. So shouldn't our system of government reflect this new, postgeographic electorate? Are the interests of people who spend time at or WheelchairNet any less deserving of protection than people who live in Massachusetts or North Carolina? What would an Electoral College based on nongeographic voting districts look like? Would iVillage be gerrymandered? Would avatars get to vote?

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