Saturday, October 30, 2004

Broken brains

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Democracy is the greatest form of government known to man, and on Tuesday -- Election Day -- we will prove to the world that America knows best of all countries on earth how to approximate something sort of almost like it.

We have a mind-bogglingly strange system, friends.

I'm thinking about the time I visited Government Center to register in person, and I saw my name written in the elections office's big ledger -- in pencil.

And I'm thinking about the times I've visited my polling places and I've seen the names of at least six total strangers listed as being registered to vote from my address.

And I'm thinking about the 2000 primary, when one fantastically ancient and nosey poll worker lady told me I should vote for Sen. John McCain in the primary and then for Vice President Al Gore in November.

I'm thinking of that 2000 election, and butterfly ballots, and chads dimpled, pregnant or hanging, and overseas ballots counted past the postmark, and the Supreme Court of the United States stopping recounts, and minorities stricken unfairly from the voting rolls.

And I'm thinking of the Electoral College, too, the completely dumb system we use to count votes. If you feel like your vote isn't being counted, rest assured -- it sort of isn't. Blame the centuries-old Electoral College for turning your vote into a persuasive suggestion instead of an agent of true democratic power. I once wrote before that we should take the crippled Electoral College out behind the barn and put a bullet through its head. This guy wrote to me in uncivil language, saying that the Electoral College ensures small states have power. News flash! We're not a collection of separate states anymore. Besides, when was the last time the candidates cared about a small state -- or any state that wasn't Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan or Missouri?

I'm thinking of how the Electoral College can end in a tie, leaving it to the House of Representatives to appoint the president and the Senate to appoint the vice president -- and how that should scare the bejeezus out of every single one of us.

I'm thinking of how a West Virginian elector -- a member of the Electoral College -- has decided not to support Bush if the state goes that way, thus chucking out the window the shaky honor system by which the Electoral College has hobbled by this long.

I'm thinking of how easy it is to vote more than once, and how many people will do just that.

I'm thinking of how easy it is to register pets as voters by mail in some states.

I actually thought, for about 10 minutes, about trying to register my dog as a voter. I'd walk her over to the polling place and see how far we got in the door. I decided against it because a) I like not being in prison for election fraud and b) I couldn't get her to decide which party she wanted to join. On one hand, she's quite conservative with her chew toys. But on the other hand, she's basically on welfare -- she does no work around the house and then expects constant handouts.

I'm thinking of this year's election, of touch-screen voting computers that have no paper receipts in case the machines crash and lose their information when some asshole trips over the power cord.

I've seen pictures of voting machines in other states, where people have to use levers or long needles, or they have to flip pages all around, or they have to stand on one leg with a crowbar and a No. 2 pencil. Is it so bloody difficult for some underemployed federal government person to figure out one really good way we can all vote in every state? Instead of letting some of the more stupider states come up with their own less than foolproof methods?

Look at the way Massachusetts ballots work. They're simple. All the names are listed in a functional way. They have cute little broken arrows near them. You use a Sharpie to complete the arrow of the candidate you like best. You're out of there in like two minutes. It's marvelous.

Although I'm sure Floridians would find a way to fuck that up, too. They're not too good with paper.

I was researching the ways that people vote nationwide when I came across an interesting Associated Press story: "Brain scans may unlock candidates' appeal."

This may not be feasible in time for Tuesday, but by 2008 we could have a great way to count votes. It leaves no room for chads of any sort, pregnant or sorta-pregnant, and it forces you to vote your conscience -- even if you try not to. It's also a lot of fun, and helpful if you find a hidden tumor.

These scientists at UCLA dragged 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats to their mad scientist lab and hooked their brains up to a machine, doubtlessly one with a lot of buttons and lights. "Applying some of the brain-scan technology used to understand Alzheimer's and autism," the story reads, "scientists are trying to learn what makes a Republican's mind different from a Democrat's."

I could crack wise all the livelong day, but let's move on, shall we?

"When viewing their favorite candidate, all showed increased activity in the region [of the brain] implicated in empathy. And when viewing the opposition, all had increased blood flow in the region where humans consciously assert control over emotions -- suggesting the volunteers were actively attempting to dislike the opposition."

There were peculiar differences between the two parties' brains.

"One Democrat's brain lit up at an image of Kerry 'with a profound sense of connection, like a beautiful sunset,' " according to Dr. Joshua Freedman. "Brain activity in a Republican shown an image of Bush was 'more interpersonal, such as if you smiled at someone and they smiled back.' "

So there's some Republican out there who sees Bush as some stranger he'd grin at in the elevator, and some Democrat out there who thinks of Kerry as a gorgeous astrological phenomenon.

Anyway, this seems like an excellent idea. You'd visit your local senior center or elementary school and have your brain wired up. The old ladies who volunteer there would show you flashcards of each candidate and monitor your neurons for positive flashes, such as the part of your brain that lights up when you cuddle on a freshly laundered blanket with a basket full of kitties. People who could get their entire brains to light up at once would get the door prize of a $10 gift certificate to Taco Bell.

There's no word yet on whether this will work on pets that have registered to vote. Just in case, I've been feeding my dog Snausages every time she finishes a New York Times article. It never hurts to stay informed.

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