Democracy isn’t online, yet
The Web has made itself useful in many information-gathering processes, such as comparison shopping and academic research, to the extent that one pretty much expects that the information one needs is online. If I have to actually make a trip to the library or a store or a government office just to get information, that’s exceptional, and I may decide that I didn’t really need that information after all.
Against this background I was surprised today by the way elections seem to work. Before the election I wanted to learn more about the candidates in the primary race for Governor’s Council, 6th district. It was pretty easy to find out on the Web that there were two candidates in the democratic primary, and who they were, a big advance from ten years ago. Google led me to one candidate’s Facebook page which announced, the day before the election, “In the near future I will be notifying you of my announcement date to formally kick off our campaign as your Governors Councilor in the 6th District.” As this was her “home page” the message I got was that she had changed her mind and wasn’t running. Google also gave me an uninformative neighborhood newspaper article on her candidacy. For the other candidate, there was a link to his web site, which was somewhat useful – at least I knew he was campaigning and learned something of his experience. But that was about it. My local towny email discussion list had nothing on the race, nor did the League of Women Voters (as far as I could tell).
I had run across one candidate at the Porter T station but didn’t have time to talk with him – and I figured I could just look him up…
Anyhow, I assumed, reflexively, that the candidate who said (via the Web) that he was campaigning would probably win, and the one who hadn’t said so wouldn’t. But a look at the election results showed the opposite: 1891 votes for the candidate without an online announcement or active site, and 1847 for the one with.
[Update 2012-08-28: These vote tallies must have been preliminary. Suzanne English-Merullo apparently lost to Terrence Kennedy in a close race. See here. But my point remains - someone with effectively no Web presence got half the votes.]
Clearly there’s a lot going on out there in the real world – human interactions that somehow influence the outcome of this and other races – that leaves no trace on the Web. (Or at least I hope there is! Otherwise this election outcome was basically random.) I don’t know whether that’s good or bad, but it’s inconvenient. It means that if I want to participate in the democratic process, it’s not enough (yet) to just surf.