There's something so indescribably American about what millions of us did yesterday--standing in line at a polling place, exchanging hellos with neighbors, peacefully filling in circles or tapping touchscreens to record our future hopes. But man, does it feel great to be done!
Now comes some computational science experts who say we should draw it out even more: maybe vote on one thing at a time--president one day, the U.S. House the next, local library tax districts later that week, and so on. Theory suggests this would be effective at not only lowering costs, but increasing voter turnout.
“You can’t say, ‘Today you’ll come in and vote on the first issue, and then we’ll announce the result, and tomorrow you’ll come back again and vote on the second issue.’ That’s too costly,” says Lirong Xia, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “But if you can build an online voting system and make it secure enough, then people can stay at home and just log in at the right time. It would reach a better solution and reduce the cost of holding elections.”
Xia spends some of his time studying computational election theory, wherein computational techniques can be used to change the way we vote, and even how we think about our election choices. These techniques could improve security, for example, so there would be less concern about electronic voting machines or casting votes via email. They could also expand the reach of third parties, allowing weighted ballots that allow voters to mark first and second choices. Algorithms could even help voters answer questions that may be more complex than an up-or-down decision. All of this would happen online, allowing people to rank their choices not just on candidates, but on issues, like whether to spend funds on a school, park or some other infrastructure.
Assuming you could work out all the kinks--access to the Internet, for instance, and security--voting online from home over the span of a few days might be a better reflection of what we all want. It takes time to get all the way through a ballot, especially one chockablock with referenda and initiatives. Maybe if voters could do it at their leisure, they’d be happier with the results. Read more about Xia’s work here.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.