Can Technology Transform Local Politics?

Yesterday there were elections in my county. I found some sample ballots on my county’s website, but I couldn’t tell which one was mine and they had to do with school system board of directors and stuff like that. I didn’t know anything about the people running, so I didn’t vote.

It’s ironic that the elections we pay the least attention to are the ones where we could probably have the most impact. I know lots of people living in my county who have expressed opinions about President Obama and various Republican candidates. I know several people who attended our fraudulent caucus last month. But I don’t know a single person who even talked about yesterday’s local elections.

How many people in my county actually voted? Was it just a glorified high school popularity contest where people won if they knew the most people and got them to vote for them or if they got enough people to randomly check their box because of their cool sounding name or some signs they had seen by the road?

I will have almost no impact on the Presidential race. I will also have almost no impact on the Missouri races. But how much impact could I have on a local race where hardly anyone votes, if I knew who was voting and had a clear preference for a candidate and encouraged everyone I know to vote for that person?

The problem is that I don’t know. I barely knew there was an election yesterday until a few days ago, and even then I had no idea who was running for what, or how to find out. And I try to keep up with news and politics more than the average person; how many people in my county still don’t know there was an election at all?

I’m wondering if technology can change that.

Technology is already greatly increasing transparency and the flow of information at the federal level. Thanks to the Internet, it’s easier to keep tabs on the secretive things our government does and organize opposition to stop bad bills from getting through Congress (remember SOPA?). It also helps us stay aware of representatives around the country who are doing very bad things or very good things, and put pressure on them or encourage them, respectively.

It’s not as good as it could be. Obama has broken promises to post bills online before signing them and allow five days for public comment, or to broadcast healthcare negotiations on C-SPAN, but it’s still a lot better than it used to be and getting better all the time.

For example, Congressional representative Justin Amash (R-MI) has become famous on the Internet for explaining every single one of his votes on his public Facebook page. Now we have upcoming candidates planning to do the same. How many representatives will be striving for this level of transparency a few years from now? I hope it’s a lot more.

So why can’t technology also transform local politics? Maybe we need a website where local officials and candidates can post about local elections, and you can go and select your state and county and see who is running for what and learn a little about each of them. There are hundreds of different ways you could do that and expand on that basic functionality to make it even more useful. Maybe I’ll try to build something like that.

All I know is that we pay the least amount of attention to the people who have the most potential to impact our every day lives. I long for the day when information about people running for firefighter board of directors is as easy to find as information about presidential candidates. I long for the day when corruption, bribery, and wasteful spending at the local level is as easy to learn about as it is at the national level (believe me, corruption exists at every level of government, but I think it’d be easier to fix at the local level). I don’t know when that day will come, but I believe technology can make it happen.

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One Response to Can Technology Transform Local Politics?

  1. That local election website sounds like a fun project. Are you thinking of something like votesmart.org or vote411.org, only focused on the local level? It seems like the hardest part would be finding all the information without a national organization like the LWV behind you. Although I bet Facebook and Twitter would make that a lot easier.

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