Example 1: Voting

In the Netherlands in 2006 during the national elections, all voters were supposed to cast their vote by computer. Hackers, among them Rop Gonggrijp with whom I co-produced the Galactic Hacker Party, proved that the computers that were supposed to be used during these elections were not safe. The software could be manipulated and it was possible to monitor what people voted from outside the polling stations. As a result several cities decided to change the voting process and had people vote by using the traditional red pencil and counting the votes by hand. When I became aware of this issue I realized that this study actually gives arguments why computers should never be used in such national voting procedures, which define the political landscape for the next 4 years. Hereunder I will do a YUTPA analysis of the voting process by formulating each dimension and how it relates to other dimensions.

You: the You in this case is the group of people with a Dutch nationality and who are allowed to vote because they have the Dutch nationality. Long term residents, who have passports from other countries but who pay taxes in Holland are not allowed to vote for example. When I vote I feel the fact that I have a nationality, I am part of the group of people with a nationality who vote and by doing so execute their civic democratic right to vote. It is not a group I trust specifically, but I trust or distrust the voting process of which we are part. It is possible to take a moral distance, the voting process concerns millions of people I do not know. Through the act of voting however, I relate to the other Dutch with whom I am not in relation with normally. They are not-You's. But when I vote I feel connected because the shared outcomes of our votes will define how the country will be ruled the coming years. Action in this case defines the relation with all other not-You's, with whom I do accept a relation during the voting process. It is a rather abstract relation, which becomes touchable the moment I receive my voting paper in the mail and even more so when I enter the polling station. The presence of the people in the polling station who monitor and facilitate the voting process in natural presence make the taking of a moral distance towards the voting process and my own vote obsolete. They embody the democratic process and emphasize for me the ethical impact of bringing my vote. They are the social interface towards the voting process in which millions take part. Their natural and witnessed presence makes all the mediated presence around voting more real.

Time: the fact that we all vote within the same hours on a certain day makes the experience much stronger. Both in the natural presence of meeting people, at the bakery for example, as well as in many mediated presences around me, the issue of voting is at the same time in the focus of attention. The synchronous character of the elections, we all act in the same few hours, the fact that what I do, namely voting, is to be found in many media at the same time as well as that many people around me discuss the voting in these days, makes the catalytic effect of witnessing in natural as well as in mediated presence strong and it becomes undeniable that the voting actually takes place.

Place: place has different roles in the voting process. It functions as a concept, since 'dutchness' is related to the place of the Netherlands. My being Dutch is the result of being born in the specific Dutch territory and the results of the voting process will be applied to this territory. The concept of Dutch is related to the Netherlands as a place and this place gives me identity (including a data-identity) and a nationality, which is one of the rights in the UDHR. Because I am connected to the place of the Netherlands I have the right to vote. Place also functions literally: to be able to vote I have to go to a polling station in natural presence and take the voting paper, that was send to my house, with me. The polling station is the place where democracy happens and it is a place with real air one can breath. Having to go to the polling station in natural presence emphasizes the ethical dimension of the action I am about to do. The third function of place concerns the vote itself. I go to the polling station to bring my vote. 'Casting a vote' would consist of identifying yourself, getting a piece of paper, going to a polling booth, making a mark with a red pencil, leaving the polling booth taking the paper and putting it through a special opening in a sealed box. I literally place my vote in the box and trust the people in the polling station to do a good count.

When I cast my vote by pushing a button on a computer I may argue that that increases the moral distance between my actions and me. But one could argue that this is just a question of developing the media schemata. The problem that remains is that only a few people design the software of such computers, which define how the calculating of the votes is done. Because millions of people have to vote computers seem handy, but the scale of operation has increased above the line that I can understand. I take a moral distance. I do not know those people, I do not know who checked the software, I have to delegate my trust into the technology and the creators of the software in a moment of utmost importance for democracy to stay alive. In the old fashioned way, 10 people from a polling station will count the 1000 votes of their neighbourhood. They do this in natural witnessed presence, between them they want to 'ethically' do well. Because I see those people when I bring my vote I can sense the democratic process because they are real people in front of me. The paper trail of the given votes permits a recount if necessary, which a computer also does not generate. The transparency of the people counting the votes in natural witnessed presence, despite the amount of work and despite the possible counting errors, creates an awareness of the democratic process no computer can give. Counting errors are less of a problem than the possible moral distance that will be taken by so many. Just as one does not marry by way of computer, one should also not vote by way of computer if democracy is to be taken serious.