Scene 35: Mock election

In which Scott and Lou participate in an online mock state election.

Mock elections are useful for wide-eyed kids. Though, with accumulating life experience, adults need knowledge deficits addressed in ways suitable for adults.

Scott was directing. "Just say: Governor Stanley's plan is flawed."

Lou grumbled, and updated their selections on the site. He paused, and then said, "I think his campaign is breaking the law. It's wide knowledge that Schwartz gave him soft money."

Lou and Scott

Scott grunted impatiently. "I think this'll work."

Governor Stanley was in fact an actor who was a regular performer on these regional mock-election events. The real election season was fast approaching, and schools were capitalizing on the fervor.

The kids ate it up. It wasn't too hard to sign on and jump in. You pick from sets of choices at the beginning, and then it leads and entertains you. Among high schoolers everywhere, chatter at the coffee shops was filled with scrums about the opposing candidate's failings. And, what the hell, they got a little school credit for it, so why not play?

Scott and Lou stared into the "cockpit" where there were frequent updates about other participants' moves, and about candidate statements. You got power and notoriety by creating your own factions and interest groups, and making news.

Lou had gotten to the head of a faction, which unfortunately commanded more of his time than he had hoped. But he hung with it. At least it was mostly just picking from menus.

Their psychology was odd: ostensibly Scott was the leader and Lou was the advisor, but both knew Lou had veto power over any of Scott's dumb ideas.

"Wait," said Scott suddenly. "What law?"

"Campaign finance… Approved candidates can't take any money."

"Why not?"

Lou rolled his eyes, and navigated to a background piece. "Watch this while I get something to eat."

Scott obligingly took the helm, clicked Play, and settled in.

"As candidates compete for voter attention, media specialists are employed to get the message out. Up until the mid-twenty-first century, that voter attention was purchased in broadcast channels; but as a result, political power went to the wealthy donors. And so the Campaign Finance Act of 2076…"

We can be optimistic that our elections will be greatly improved over time. (Well, within a hundred-fifty years, at any rate.) It's a very hard puzzle, to be sure… you want all voices to be heard, but voters only have tiny amounts of attention available. And so the system as a whole, by necessity, does a lot of weeding and filtering. Perhaps new, improved election mechanics will someday be engineered by Congress. Or perhaps better ways of prioritizing political issues for voters will emerge. Regardless, though, kids will always need to learn that they will be part of the drama, and that different factions must be reckoned with.

Learning by doing is the ideal learning method. How better to learn about democracy than to participate in a mock election? We see some of them today; they will continue to evolve. They'll get "slicker," certainly, but they'll also get more and more effective at achieving the learning objectives. Learning objectives including but not limited to:

  • understanding political parties
  • understanding methods of persuasion and rhetoric
  • legitimate differences on policy issues
  • the function of surveys and polls
  • a sense of perspective about our democracy and its limitations

Of course, adults tend to have less time for (or interest in) participating in artificial games. Most are only peripherally engaged: they read the news, they talk with friends. They educate themselves about candidates and issues more opportunistically, in a more self-directed way. That's where Know The System (remember Barry?) is the more useful type of resource – a knowledgeable personal assistant that has a pretty good idea what you do or do not understand.

Many political issues can only be understood by kids at a shallow level because of their limited life experience. They've never had a job, or supported a family, or dealt with family medical costs. And they lack the perspective that comes with seeing years of national events, failures and conflicts.

That is why public education needs to continue into adulthood—so that voters can properly evaluate the political issues of the day and better hold political leaders to account. But it has to be done in a way suited to busy adults: efficiently providing deep understanding through interactive multimedia, so they can get in and then get out.


cast of characters