Tomorrow’s democracy demonstrated

4moreyears

The United States has a new president – the old president. Barack Obama wins a second term in a contest whose result was a close call in terms of the popular vote – less than two million votes separate winner from loser – but substantial in terms of the electoral college votes (the ones that really determine the winner) with 303 for Obama versus 206 for Romney after all but one state (Florida still to come) declared their votes.

Read more on how the electoral college process works.

You’ll be hard pressed to avoid the deluge of news, information, analysis, commentary, blog posts, tweets and other punditry and opinion today about the US presidential election, why Obama won, why Romney didn’t, continuing divisions in government, etc.

So let me mention just three events that caught my imagination and are a clear indicator of the continuing and evolving role of technology and the social web in political campaigning, electioneering and election management:

1. President Obama announced his election victory in a tweet (screenshot above) saying “Four more years” and including a photo of him hugging his wife Michelle.

There’s nothing especially out of the ordinary about the tweet – Obama and his communication team are past masters in their use of this social medium, as are politicians and political communicators of all stripes and colours just about everywhere.

What is significant about this particular tweet is that it was the first public statement claiming victory and was broadcast before any official announcement via traditional channels.

2. The not-so-secret ballot. Election rules in many countries (even laws in some) say you should keep your voting action confidential. Each US state has specific  laws. And definitely no photography, certainly not of your ballot paper.

In this age of smart cameraphones, ubiquitous connectivity and behaviour shifts – “just do it!” comes to mind – such rules and laws seem  wholly out of touch with contemporary society, if anyone even thinks about them at all.

Even YouTube issued a call to action to voters to “document their vote” and post videos.

So voters merrily snapped and video’d their ballot papers and posted their images online for all to see.

3. Electronic voting machines are still fallible but more use of online systems will come. The idea of enabling people to vote electronically is clearly a good thing as it makes good use of tools that make the processes extremely efficient, from the actual voting to counting to getting the results.

The machines used at physical polling stations represent what I’d call “version 1.0 systems” that don’t give you great confidence in their reliability. You tend not to have huge trust in anything that’s “1.0.”

A case in point – one voter posted a video to YouTube showing what happened when he cast his vote for Obama where the machine switched it to a vote for Romney.

surfaceballotNo doubt such teething troubles will be fixed in the coming years and such machines will have a role. Maybe they’ll be displaced by better technology.

For instance, one polling station in the state of Virginia trialled a new Microsoft Surface tablet as a voting device.

Geekwire reports that this experiment is part of a broad plan aiming to extend such devices in future. The report says it’s “an opportunity for voters to experience the next generation of voting technologies first-hand.”

These three facets of the 2012 US presidential election set a scene for elections to come where the linear controlled election methodologies of the past are being challenged by newer ones and by changes in attitudes and behaviours of voters and, of course, the political machinery itself.

In my view, it represents a new, participative, democracy. It’s currently a bit rough around the edges but I believe such things are firm fixtures of the political and democratic firmament.

Do you have any other indicators to support this view. Or maybe challenge it?

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