Saturday, August 29, 2009

Voting with Their Feet

UC employees have been encouraged to use the Internet to register a vote of no confidence in University of California President Mark Yudof. There are several things that are striking about this online voting experience.

The first is that there are -- not surprisingly -- two choices. And yet that paucity of available forms of expressing preferences of political opinion for deliberative purposes need not be the case. As Chris Kelty has argued, computational media make possible many kinds of civic participation in which choices could be ranked or apportioned in much more complicated and nuanced ways. Dissatisfaction with Yudof's performance seems to be organized along a continuum in which it would be helpful to separate those with strong feelings from those who are only mildly irritated.

The second is that the ballot is written in three languages: English, Spanish, and Chinese. Members of the UC community tend to reflect some of the rich diversity of the state, and these are likely the top home languages among the current student population, even if the business of the university tends to be conducted almost entirely in English.

The third is that there is no authentication mechanism for verifying votes. Although UC students and employees have distinct network IDs, each campus uses a different system, so it would be difficult to provide a login for all ten campuses. Yet this potentially allows people to cast votes in the name of colleagues, students, and university employees who aren't actually participating in the system.

Meanwhile Yudof is encouraging UC grads, affiliates, and community members to Share Your Story by generating online form letters that express their gratitude for the tremendous social and economic mobility that the UC system provides and that makes it such a rich asset for the state.

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