Engineer uses binary on voting bumpf to flag up Cali election flaws
01010110 01101111 01110100 01100101 00100000 01101101 01100101
In the race for one of California's two Senate seats, one candidate has hit on a novel way to draw attention to himself and his platform: binary.
The official voter information guide, delivered to all homes across the state, includes details of all of the 34 candidates standing, most including a paragraph of introductory text explaining why people should vote for them.
Except Jason Hanania's. Whose entire explanation comprises: 01100101.
Why? Because, as Hanania explains on his own website, "01100101" is binary for decimal 101, which is the ASCII code for the letter "e", which is short for "e-voting candidate", which is how he describes himself.
What's an e-voting candidate? Well, according to Hanania's vision, it is one that directly follows the wishes of his or her constituents through online votes, regardless of his or her personal views.
His system, which he outlines in a 33-minute video, will allow decisions in the United States to move "from the 1 per cent to the 100 per cent" by giving everyone a direct vote on matters in front of the US Senate.
He's wrong, of course. The system would fall apart within minutes, but he seems genuinely persuaded in the way that only a patent engineer could imagine a theoretical solution would work in the messy world of real people.
Regardless, in his earnest quest for a seat that has not been open in 24 years, Hanania has flagged up one of the many barriers that exist to non-professional politicians ever getting close to real power: his own entry in the voter information guide.
Money, money, money
Jason's "01100101" costs him $25. Even though the publication of the guide is paid for by the state of California, all candidates are required to pay $25 per word for their statement.
The upshot is that if a candidate wants to be able to tell voters anything about themselves, they will need to pay $6,000 to provide a paragraph, on top of the $3,500 filing fee.
So what? Well, that cost would automatically push candidates past the $5,000 threshold set by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) for candidates that do not accept campaign donations. Step one dollar over that and you have to form a formal campaign committee, appoint a treasurer and start filing paperwork with the FEC.
While it may come as a surprise that candidates have to pay more than their filing fee to be allowed to represent themselves in the voting guide, it won't necessarily surprise people that low thresholds exist over which candidates have to start following rules and making formal statements.
The idea, of course, is to balance a democratic right to stand with the need to avoid a cheap form of corporate advertising. But it does demonstrate how the need to raise money is baked into the US political system from the very start.
In the UK, for example, there are strict spending limits on each candidate during an election campaign: roughly £10,000 ($15,000) in a "short campaign" and £35,000 ($50,000) in a "long campaign" i.e. a general election.
By contrast, the leading candidate for Barbara Boxer's senate seat, California's current attorney general Kamala Harris, has so far raised a little over $4m.
As many have argued in recent years, especially following the Citizens United ruling that allowed corporations to spend unlimited funds on elections, and the creation of so-called Super PACs, the overwhelming influence of money in American politics has distorted the process to a dangerous degree.
Hanania is one of 11 independent candidates standing for the seat and believes that not being tied to a political party or reliant on campaign contributions is what can help reestablish some degree of practical democracy. The downside is that is he is not able to actually make that case on the official voting program.
The e-voting scheme hopes to take that a step further and hand the people the right to decide on issues. His video shows people having considered debates via phone apps and then voting on the outcomes. Although the utopia of one-constituent-one-vote ignores the near certainty of fraud and hacking, not to mention epic internet trolling, the truth is it would also swiftly hit the hard reality that the vast majority of people would never vote, so he would be at the mercy of activists, lobbyists and 4chan dwellers in the exact same way that senators are now.
Regardless, it's nice to see someone standing up for their ideals, and using binary to do so. So far, Jason is not even registering in the polls. ®