Corruption at YDA and a Modest Proposal for Change

I was hoping to finish the political blogging from this weekend’s Young Democrats of America national convention and get back to economics blogging, but there are too many issues that I feel are unresolved. The most pertinent ones right now are the rather credible (in my eyes) allegations of voter intimidation, outright bribery, and other mechanisms of vote fraud that came out of the election.

The basic problems are these. Voting at the YDA elections happens via an open ballot as per DNC bylaws. What this allows is for state chairs to functionally control their voting delegates: there were numerous allegations of blatant voter intimidation that came to my ears. The basic scenario is that state presidents can control their delegates by holding things like the plane ticket home as leverage.

There are two solutions. The first is obviously moving from an open ballot to a secret ballot. However this involves changing the DNC national bylaws, which might not be politically possible given the resources of those concerned with YDA elections. The second is to introduce some kind of structural change to the election process itself, where the people (state presidents) who are in charge of their delegation’s votes can’t control their delegations. Allowing state presidents to be the ones signing off on the legitimacy of the votes cast by their delegates allows them to control those votes and auction them off to the highest bidder. In this election, that’s precisely what happened; I know personally that a political deal was struck that cut Missouri’s votes in half and I have heard very credible allegations that the delegation from Washington D.C. received $2,500 to vote one way.

So what kind of structural change would fit the bill? I have a suggestion: use Twitter to conduct elections. The basic framework is that you have delegates register their twitter names when they register for the national convention. As candidates come up for election, all eligible candidates tweet their vote using a randomly selected hashtag. Now we are looking at an election where votes are not filtered through state presidents and a system where vote fraud is a lot more difficult. You can only count votes from twitter handles that have been registered, so you can ensure that the people casting the votes are the people who registered. And you make all votes 100% transparent, which massively increases the amount of leverage that any single entity has to have over voters to control their votes.

There are a couple objections. First, it’s possible that outside parties could try to hijack the hashtag and spam votes. However, the use of hashtags that have been randomly selected immediately prior to the vote makes this difficult. And the fact that Twitter is searchable means that you could create a simple program to filter out only the votes cast by registered delegates. Second, not everyone has Twitter; but that’s not a truly meaningful criticism, since signup is easy and free and it takes less than a minute to learn how to vote.

This obviously wouldn’t work or necessarily be appropriate for real governmental elections, which are conducted by secret ballot. But YDA isn’t a governmental organization and it isn’t even that big so it’s not plausible to imagine anyone having the resources to make a serious attempt at rigging the vote or crashing Twitter. If Twitter got involved as an independent third party and and set up/managed the back end of open elections, we can eliminate all the problems associated with the status quo and the massive conflict of interests involved. This might even be a viable revenue stream for Twitter.

I will posting more emails from Martin Casas and the St. Louis Young Democrats bearing out my allegations of misconduct and corruption in that organization either today or tomorrow.  I don’t want him to be able to continue to operate in ways that are unethical if not blatantly illegal and hopefully my small corner of the internet will be a place where that can happen.

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2 thoughts on “Corruption at YDA and a Modest Proposal for Change

  1. Aaron says:

    Its an interesting idea.
    But did you miss the part where Twitter was completely offline the first day of convention, and slow and difficult to use for the rest of the weekend?

    Any technique used should be under YDA’s control, so if something goes wrong, we can fix it.

  2. Eapen Thampy says:

    I mean that’s a valid concern. However we aren’t assuming this happens today; at the least we’re assuming this happens during the next election in 2 years. It is plausible to think that in 2 years the security gaps that allowed Russian hackers to shut down twitter briefly will be plugged by then and that the infrastructure that we’ll be using by then will be vastly more resilient.

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