07 April 2006

Anyone who's lived in the Boston area probably knows about MIT's long tradition of pranks, particularly pranks at the expense of the other famous university in Cambridge. However, a truly audacious prank requires a suitably challenging target. Like, say, Caltech.

Posted 04:56 PM

05 April 2006

Some people believe that democracy in America is in grave danger, usually because of the actions of political parties, or corporations, or someone else that the person making the claim doesn't like. Personally, I think the biggest threat to democracy in this country is apathy.

I spent yesterday working as an election officer for a local town election. It's a mind-numbingly dull job, mostly involving checking off the names of voters as they come in. The highlight of the day was a guy who tore up his spoiled ballot: we had to make sure all the pieces were accounted for. Still, it's an essential part of making sure that the number of votes recorded matches the number of voters.

This ballot included selectmen, school committee members, planning board members, and an important town debt question, all of which have much more impact on daily life than, say, a presidential election. Yet only about a quarter of the registered voters in my precinct appeared, and my precinct had a better turnout than most of the town. Since only about half of eligible voters are registered, the winner of any of these elections needed to capture only about 6% of the electorate. (One-half of eligible voters times one-quarter actually voting times one-half to win an election.) The potential for a well-organized minority to take over should be obvious.

Even more worrisome, almost all of the election volunteers were retired. So were a large share, perhaps the majority, of the voters. I don't know to what extent this breakdown represents the demographics of the town, but it's safe to say that I see more young families every morning outside the elementary school than I saw at the polls yesterday. Again, the people casting votes don't necessarily share the priorities of the electorate as a whole.

All of which is a long way of saying that democracy dies when people don't participate. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Posted 09:56 AM


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