In the third scenario, voters would have to electronically prove that they had visited a particular place for a prescribed amount of time before being allowed to cast a vote on an issue relating to that place. Tester calls this Location-Based Voting. Say, for example, that a vote is about whether to develop an open space. People would have to spend at least an hour there, listening to arguments on both sides of the issue. The idea has a built-in green bias, which Tester himself identifies with the pretend testimonials on the Web site: “It’s just not balanced, plain and simple. If the city is going to enact this new requirement they should make voters spend an hour in our offices too,” says a fictional CEO of a real-estate development company.The final concept is Post-Vote Tracking. One of the main reasons for falling voter turnout is a generalized distrust of politicians and a widespread perception that campaign promises will be broken. Post-Vote Tracking would help voters keep tabs on elected politicians’ actions during their term in office. First, voters in the booth choose which issues they’d like to track. Using a chosen tracking organization, be it the American Civil Liberties Union or the Wall Street Journal or the Los Angeles Times, enrolled voters would be notified, through whatever technologies they chose, as to how their candidate is or is not following through on campaign promises. Tracking would make elected officials accountable, and it would also make civic involvement in politics a more ongoing process, instead of the every-now-and-then trip to the polls.
Feedback for the Accelerated Democracy project has been mixed. While Tester strived for what he calls “design agnosticism,” focusing only imagined future scenarios, many people don’t quite understand what he’s up to. One e-mail to Tester included a pleading conclusion: “Please, do America a favor and stop your project.” Tester welcomes such strong reaction. “I’m at least happy people are outraged at how technology might impact voting, even if they don’t quite get my role in it,” he says.
Could any of the technologies Tester identifies ever become part of the fabric of our society? “Unfortunately, election technology has not advanced to the point where it can provide us with electronic systems that are reliable enough to trust with our democracy-we just aren’t there yet,” says David Dill, a professor of computer science and electrical engineering at Stanford who recently established VerifiedVoting.org to help people understand what technical solutions are and are not within reach. Despite the rush to technology fixes in the wake of the Florida election fiasco, technology may not yet be the answer, says Dill-and indeed may never be.
Tester insists that the Accelerated Democracy project is an exploration of future scenarios, not a prescription for change one way or the other. And whether any of its particular scenarios ever see the light and heat of a real political campaign, it serves as a provocative tool for getting people to think about the ways in which information technology can fortify–or undermine–the scaffolding that supports a self-governing citizenry.