Technology, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton

The fall of the House of Clinton, an article in the Economist, has an interesting take on the decisive role the Internet and web played in the campaigns of the two Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

The Clinton machine was too stuck in the 1990s to grasp how the internet was revolutionising political fund-raising. Mrs Clinton built the best fund-raising machine of the 20th century—persuading Democratic fat cats to make the maximum contributions allowable and accumulating a vast treasure trove of money. But Mr Obama trumped her by building the best fund-raising machine of the 21st century.

Mr Obama simultaneously lowered the barrier to entry to Obamaworld and raised expectations of what it meant to be a supporter. Mr Obama’s supporters not only showered him with small donations. They also volunteered their time and enthusiasm. His website was thus a vast social networking site (one of his chief organisers was a founder of Facebook)—a mechanism not just for translating enthusiasm into cash but also for building a community of fired-up supporters. Mr Obama’s small donations proved to be a renewable resource, as supporters could give several times, up to a maximum of $2,300. Mrs Clinton ran out of cash.

Questions on e-voting in the US: Chads redux?

Recent debates on the nature of Hillary Clinton’s narrow victory over Obama in New Hampshire centre on e-voting irregularities. These debates are as important today as the issue of chads and the election of George Bush in 2000. The big difference is that chads were counted manually. E-voting is registered and counted eletronically.As Jon Stokes notes in an interesting article on this issue on Ars Tecnica,

New Hampshire does not have the manual audit requirement that is necessary to prove that an election was fair, so that state’s ballots were effectively counted in secret by closed-source machine code

he goes on to say that,

“From my perspective, this is what’s really at stake in the ongoing e-voting controversy: the government’s inability to fulfill its obligation to prove to the public that our elections are fair makes our democracy so much more fragile, and so much more susceptible to cracking under the shock of a major election controversy.”

The point is that ICTs in and of themselves don’t contribute to public confidence in elections results and the electoral process when embedded in mechanisms not open to public scrutiny.

I hope Man of the Year was not a prescient script for the US elections!