In the past I’ve posted about how I believe that voting should be more convenient, and that this could help start a virtuous loop that might lead more young people to vote. Specifically, I’ve lamented that we have a voting system that concentrates voting stations in community centres, churches and schools – places that are out of the way and/or not on common commuting paths for many young people.
People can complain that young people are lazy. Maybe they are – but so what? In an era where things are available at the click of a mouse young people are accustomed to a different level of convenience. You might wish they were willing to walk through the snow for a kilometer or two to vote, but by and large they aren’t. Does this mean that I don’t think we should try to encourage people to care about voting more – absolutely not, I’m a huge fan of groups like Student Vote. But I believe that there may be some quick – more readily achieved – and cheaper wins in designing voting systems for lazy people. This would certainly be easier than trying to make people less lazy.
I’ve recently started following the blog by the authors of Nudge, since I’m a big fan of figuring out how we can passively design systems to that encourage people to adopt “good” behaviours. Recently they pointed to a food/diet blog that outlined the conclusions of the following (sadly uncited) experiment:
“One cafeteria tested (how much effort people will go to to eat ice cream) by leaving the lid of an ice cream cooler closed on some days and open on other days. The ice cream cooler was in the exact same location, and people could always see the ice cream. All that varied was whether they had to go through the effort of opening the lid in order to get it. Even that was too much work for many people. If the lid was closed, only 14% of the diners decided it was worth the modest effort to open it. If the lid was open, 30% decided it was ice cream time.”
Essentially, this tiny shift doubled the number of people who chose ice cream. Rather than designing new (complicated) ways of voting, this is where I’d like to start. What are the small things we can do around voting to make it easier, to “nudge” people to make the civically minded choice? Voting booths in more places – and nicer places, say the local coffee shop? In the mall? Or how about on the street corner? And then of course, there is the postal voting (that actually comes on time and works) and the holy grail of on-line voting (with all of its dangerous identity implications).
Either way, let’s think about how we can re-engineer voting and make it easier for those of us born in the 20th (not to mention 21st) century. We could castigate and hate ourselves for being lazy – or we can design an easier way to vote, one that will nudge us towards a behaviour people seem to think is good. I know I’d rather spend my energy on the latter.