The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Category: Politics

Voter suppression with a twist! Add SECRET disqualification questions to the ballot in order to save democracy! Definitely there would be no possible way to misuse this. Plus: you’ll never believe what kind of animal was nominated as ambassador to Australia!

Background:

Voter suppression has historically been a popular method of “adjusting” election results.

It comes in many forms. For example:

  • Do supporters of your opponent have 9-to-5 jobs? Easily solved—set up the polling places from 10 AM to 4 PM (with a break for lunch) in inconvenient places!

  • Are your supporters richer than your opponent’s supporters? No problem—poll Tax!

  • Want to selectively disenfranchise arbitrary groups of your choosing? Literacy test / civics quiz!

  • Do your supporters all own exotic reptiles? Make sure to require two forms of ID (to prevent voter fraud), but allow a card from the National Organization of Snake Aficionados to count as one form of ID.

  • Etc.

There are, of course, hundreds of variations on this idea.

Proposal:

The not-immediately-nefarious goal here is to make sure that a voter understands the ballot, at least slightly.

ballot-disqualifiers-1

Fig. 1: This ballot only has 6 questions, but I’m a busy individual with no free time to search online for a summary of them. I’ll just vote randomly, or vote based on whichever one-sentence summary of each item looks the best. But wait—an informed electorate is important to democracy, and I’m sabotaging this process with my intentionally bad votes!

In order to make sure that the voter is making an informed decision, we will add multiple fake “ringer” candidates to the ballot. A voter who is voting randomly will probably end up voting for one of these candidates, but someone with even the most basic understanding of the ballot will avoid these obviously-terrible options.

The key component is that a ballot that votes in favor of one of these (intentionally) terrible ringer options will be automatically discarded—it is assumed that the voter is not actually taking their civic duty seriously.

Example:

  • in addition to the traditional candidates, the ringer candidate ROBOTOZAR THE METALLIC is added.
  • Robotozar’s electoral platform is listed as “DESTROY ALL HUMANS AS PAINFULLY AS POSSIBLE.”
  • Then, any ballots that include a vote for Robotozar would be disqualified.
  • This will save representative democracy, as well as humanity in general.

For areas with direct voting on ballot measures, we could have “ringer” measures as well, such as:

  • Recall the current ambassador to Australia, and send a horse as the new ambassador. 🇦🇺🐴
  • Change voting eligibility: only snakes may vote in subsequent elections; intent is determined by divination of their slithering. 🐍👀

ballot-disqualifiers-2

Fig. 2: The two disqualifying “ringer” questions on this ballot (described above) are highlighted in orange.

Conclusion:

Saves democracy.

PROS: Could cause more careful reading of ballot measures.

CONS: What if a horse actually turned out to be an amazing ambassador?

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Prevent fat cats in Washington from running the government, using an anonymous election system that could theoretically elect a literal fat cat!

Background:

Corruption is a problem that seems inescapable in every form of governance—even in the best-run governments, there’s always going to be at least some incentive for certain individuals to use bribery, threats, and blackmail to advance their own agenda.

This can be difficult to address with traditional forms of government.

The proposal:

It would be difficult to bribe or threaten a ruler if the identity of this individual was unknown. Previously, this was not feasible (perhaps all senators could wear masks and long flowing robes to conceal their identities, but realistically this is not a practical solution).

But with modern technology, it is now possible for all legislative meetings to be conducted remotely over the Internet, either by text or by audio (with an anonymizing voice-modulating filter applied to the audio stream).

Each legislator could possess an encryption key that would verify that they were in fact the individual in question (or at least that they were someone who had stolen the key).

With the identities of members of government now a secret, it would not be possible for them to be influenced by bribery or threats. (This has been done in the past for juries in particularly dangerous situations: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Innominate_jury )

anon-table.png

Fig 1: In this anonymously-run government, there is no possibility of legislators being pressured by threats, blackmail, or bribery.

In a representative government, elections could still occur as before, except with candidates being replaced by an anonymous silhouette and a written up statement of the candidate’s political platform. This would also even the playing field in elections, as the physical appearance of the candidate would no longer be a factor in the election.

An alternative option would be to randomly fill offices with willing citizens (sort of like a voluntary version of jury duty). This is called “Sortition” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sortition) and would avoid the problem of having to conduct elections in an anonymous fashion.

There would probably also have to be some system in place to discourage people from just selling their position to the highest bidder, which would otherwise be extremely easy (and nearly undetectable).

Conclusion:

Democracy has been slow to adopt the new technologies of the Information Age. Next time this idea is on a local or national referendum, you should vote for it and see what happens!

PROS: Reduces sex / race / appearance / class / income bias in government. Could make it easier for legislators to make necessary but politically unpopular decisions.

CONS: A legislator who lost their encryption key would be locked out of the government for the remainder of their term.

 

 

Election facts: three weird secrets for crafting the ultimate direct-democracy ballot proposal

Background:

Many jurisdictions allow a limited degree of direct democracy, where citizens can submit any measure to be voted on (for example: “the city will buy everyone a free horse to eat at Thanksgiving”). If a measure gets a sufficient number of signatures, it must be placed on the ballot.

Proposal:

It’s generally a lot of work to propose a valid ballot measure. But using the helpful tips below, you too can craft a successful ballot measure!

Make sure to:

  • Appeal to voters’ wallets. If your measure requires a new tax to support it, it is probably a non-starter.
    • Example 1: Prohibit increases in rent (note that this measure will be unpopular with landlords)
    • Example 2: Prohibit increases in property tax
    • Instead of funding your measure with taxes, you can propose a bond issuance (essentially just a loan) instead. Since this will not directly increase any taxes in an obvious way, voters are less likely to be opposed to it [1].
  • Appeal to people’s inherent dislike of change. Examples:
    • Prohibit new construction
    • Prohibit businesses in a residential area, and vice-versa
    • Restrict new businesses from coming into an area and competing with existing businesses
    • Prevent any external / façade modification of buildings
  • Choose an appealing name.
    • Example 1: a measure that de-funds all schools and sends children to work in the salt mines: “Hands-on Job Experience Primary School Education”
    • Example 2: a measure that turns all public parks into fenced-in garbage dumps: “Put Our Land to Work: Cheaper Trash Dropoffs and Parks that Pay for Themselves.”

Despite the examples directly above, it will be easier to pass a proposition that maintains the status quo. Your ideal proposition should both maintain the status quo and have an catchy name.

Here are two contrasting measures that make use of the above techniques:

MeasureR vs. MeasureH

Fig 1. Two conflicting sample measures that are frequently found on real-world ballots. While these specific ones may be too cartoonish to pass as currently written, they would have a chance with some creative re-wording! Use these as a template for your own ballot measure.

PROS: These ballot propositions will allow all voters to weigh in on important matters.

CONS: If citizens get too much democracy, this may result in “democracy overload,” which will instantly cause the government to revert to medieval feudalism [2].

[1]: Citation: just made up now, but might be true since it allows the proposition to avoid containing the word “tax.”

[2]: Citation: personal communication.

Are your co-workers laughing at you behind your back? Abide by this single flawless maxim and concern yourself no more! This assumes that the root problem was your choice of name for a new product.

Background:

Many product names are ambiguous when used as a keyword in a web search.

For example, in the most egregious hypothetical case, if you had a program named “The” it would be almost impossible to do an English-language search for it. Imagine searching for “The problem,” or “The crashing when I load too many databases.”

The issue:

It is excusable for products to have ambiguous names if they were created before web searches became important.

  1. For example, “Go” (the programming language developed in 2007) is poorly named, so we should heap our scorn upon it.
  2. Whereas “Go” (the ancient board game) should get a pass, as it is unreasonable to expect scholars from an ancient Chinese dynasty to predict the Internet. (Also, it 1) pre-dated the English language and 2) was not actually called “go” either).

But post-2000, it is clear to everyone that products need to be findable online. There is no excuse for naming a product or piece of software something generic and ambiguous.

Fig 1: If a user wants to know how to batch-rename photos in the Apple "Photos" application, they will have to generate a very creative search query. None of the top results for the obvious query "batch rename Apple photos" were relevant.

Fig 1: If a user wants to know how to batch-rename photos in the Apple “Photos” application, they will have to generate a very creative search query. None of the top results for the obvious query “batch rename Apple photos” were relevant.

Here are three categories of software names. One is the “potentially quite difficult to find results for” category, one is “unique names, very easy to find results for,” and one is “ambiguous word, but usually still easy to find results for.”

See if you can determine which is which:

Category #1:

  • Mail
  • C
  • Maps
  • .NET
  • Numbers
  • R
  • Serial
  • Go

Category #2:

  • PowerPoint
  • Perl
  • iBooks
  • Firefox
  • LibreOffice
  • CrashPlan
  • Crimson Editor

Category #3:

  • Java
  • Python
  • Kindle
  • Pandora
  • Safari
  • Keynote
  • Komodo
Fig 2: Would you like to download a podcast as an MP3? Normally you can just type in the podcast name plus "mp3," but you can't do that if the podcast is named "Serial." Tear your hair and wail at the injustice of it!

Fig 2: Would you like to download a podcast as an MP3? Normally you can just type in the podcast name plus “mp3,” but you can’t do that if the podcast is named “Serial.” Tear your hair and wail at the injustice of it!

Fig 3: Want to know what algorithm is used by the Apple Chess program? Too bad! But maybe you'd like these unrelated links.

Fig 3: Want to know what algorithm is used by the Apple Chess program? Too bad! But maybe you’d like these unrelated links!

The solution:

Simply put, a 100% tax would be levied on the revenues generated by any product with a non-unique official name.

This would encourage companies to quickly think of new words for their products, or at least officially re-brand their generically-named products with their company name.

Examples:

  • Apple Mail –> “iMail”
  • Microsoft Word –> “MSWord”
  • Serial Podcast –> “Investigate-o-pod”
  • Apple Maps –> “AppleMaps”
  • Google Maps –> “GoogMap”
  • Go programming language –> “GoLang”
  • C programming language –> “PlainC”
  • Ford Fiesta –> “Ford FiestaMeansFestival”

If you hate these names—and you probably should—too bad!

This is the inevitable consequence of progress.

Positive role model for unique names:

Bands are famous for having extremely bizarre and generally totally unique names. Consumer products and software could take inspiration from the creativity used in selecting a band name.

Economic impact:

Probably it would be minor, as companies would quickly re-brand.

If this law were retroactive, Apple would be one of the hardest-hit companies:

  • Apple’s software for managing photos: Photos
  • Apple’s client for desktop mail: Mail
  • Apple’s calendar: Calendar (formerly “iCal”)
  • Apple’s program for organizing your contacts: Contacts (formerly “Address Book”)
  • Apple’s maps: Maps
  • Apple’s program for taking notes: Notes
  • Apple’s application for playing chess: Chess
  • Apple’s spreadsheet: Numbers
  • Apple’s word processor: Pages

(Despite those software products being supplied free, they would be assigned a percentage of Apple’s hardware sales, based on the logic that these programs contributed to the “software ecosystem” that motivated the hardware sales in the first place.)

One weird energy tip trick that is hated by the subterranean reptiloids who control our fates!!

One weird energy source that is hated by the subterranean reptiloids who control our fates! Vampires hate it! Save $$$ on your energy bills using this trick somehow?

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PROS: You would no longer have to try a dozen terms when searching online for something with a generic name.

CONS: None! This should be done immediately, if not sooner.

One weird unfunded mandate that exposes the disregard for handicapped accessibility in 8-bit video games… tip number 3 will shock you!

Background:

Old 8-bit video games typically do not adhere to modern standards of occupational safety or handicapped-accessibility.

The issue:

The issue we will deal with here is making an old game, in this case, Zelda II for the Nintendo Entertainment System, properly compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.

Obviously this will be simplified, since we don’t have to worry about structural stability, proper materials, or material cross-section (or anything three-dimensional) in a game of this style.

ADA question

Fig 1: This is a screenshot from the late ’80s Nintendo game Zelda II. This is an entrance to specific palace in the game. There are two extremely large “steps” (approximately 3 feet high each) and a human-sized statue on top of a pedestal.

Note that the enormous steps leading up to the palace are not even remotely handicapped-accessible.

(Plus, such large steps are probably also forbidden by municipal building codes.)

Proposal:

As a publicly accessible building, the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act could potentially apply to this palace.

We will add a ramp (although alternative solutions exist, such as elevators).

For ADA compliance:

  • Ramps must have no greater than a 4.8° incline (1 foot of rise per 12 feet of distance)
  • An individual segment of ramp cannot be any longer than 30 feet. Longer segments must be broken up by landings.
  • Landings must be at least 5 feet wide.

In this case, for 6 feet of elevation gain, we will need two 30 foot ramps and one ~12 foot ramp. This will require two landings.

ADA ramp

Fig 2: With three ramps (and two landings) installed, the palace entrance is now handicapped accessible.

There is still one serious problem—although though the ramp has an acceptable incline and distance, we have created a new death trap for the palace due to the lack of handrails.

The handrail requirements that would apply to the 8-bit Zelda II world include:

  • Handrails must be 34–38 inches above ramp surfaces.
  • Handrails must end in a 12 inch “loop” beyond the ramp (see diagram).

ADA handrails

Fig 3: With proper ramps and handrails, this palace is now one step closer to being ADA accessible. The sprites themselves are all © Nintendo.

Conclusion:

It is important to realize that locations in video games may also be visited by characters who cannot jump 8 feet in the air from a standing start.

PROS: Significantly increases quality of life for individuals with mobility problems.

CONS: A classic “unfunded mandate”—imposes significant architectural demands without providing the money to actually perform the construction.

The 4 tricks to Highway Fast Lanes that you’ve been doing wrong this whole time

Background:

There is a certain amount of inherent appeal in the concept of a “fast lane” for any rate-limited transportation mechanism.

For example, on a roadway, a lane might be reserved for alternative forms of transportation (or for the especially virtuous and/or wealthy). One popular “fast lane” is the “high occupancy vehicle” (HOV) lane for cars with a certain number of individuals; this is intended to incentivize carpooling and reduce the overall amount of roadway congestion.

fast_lane_road

Fig 1: Red triangles mark a “fast lane” on this highway. Normally there would be several “normal” lanes, marked blue, although only one is shown here.

Recently, there has also been debate about of “Internet fast lanes” for certain forms of traffic. For example, maybe a company with a lot of money could pay to have its content preferentially transferred.

However:

The reality is that “fast lane” vs “regular lane” is equivalent to “regular lane” vs “slow lane”—”fast” is a relative term.

fast_lane_1

Fig 2: A 5-lane road (or Internet connection), representing total capacity.

fast_lane_2_extrafast_lane_3_partition

Fig 3: Ideally, we would magically create a new “fast lane” (left). But what we must actually do is steal one of the “normal” lanes and make it into a fast lane (right). This has the effect of making the “normal” lanes even more congested than before.

With that in mind, we come to the following proposal:

Proposal (in two parts):

The gist of this proposal is that instead of paying for themselves to be allocated space in a “fast lane,” individuals could pay to have other people put into the “slow lanes.”

Part 1: Internet example:

Imagine an apartment-dweller beset by slow Internet speeds due to a high degree of usage of the same connection by other people in the building. Although this individual might be able to pay for a faster (and more expensive) connection, under this new model they could also choose to contribute to a fund to slow down the Internet speeds of their neighbors instead. Once the neighbors connections are slowed down, more bandwidth would be left over for the paying individual’s own use.

Additionally, perhaps the apartment-dweller determines that their slow internet speeds are due to all of their neighbors downloading from a single source—”UncompressedBluRayDirect.” This user could then pay to specifically limit the bandwidth of UncompressedBluRayDirect (instead of targeting their neighbors).

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Part 2: Car example:

Some areas have an “HOV lane OK” sticker that allows certain cars to drive in the high-speed lane even if they don’t have enough passengers in them to qualify under the normal rules. (Motorcycles are often also allowed to drive in these lanes.)

But instead of having an “HOV OK” sticker, there could be a “SLOW LANE ONLY” adhesive sticker that one could purchase and stick onto one’s neighbor’s cars.

This sticker would be purchased from the local Department of Motor Vehicles and would limit the stuck-on vehicle to the slow lanes only.

PROS: Provides a more straightforward interpretation of the allocation of limited resources.

CONS: The “slow lane” sticker would probably need to be applied secretly in the dead of night to avoid negative repercussions.

12 ways to Game-ify elections: number 9 will blow your mind. Also it’s probably a weird trick I guess?

Background:

If civil society is to remain functional, some fraction of citizens must actually participate in it. However, apathy is easy!

We propose the use of proven gamification techniques to motivate otherwise-uninterested individuals into feeling a sense of civic responsibility.

Proposal:

In games, achievements are minor rewards for performing certain actions (e.g. “Stomped 50 goombas” or “Flew an X-Wing through the St. Louis Arch”). But there is no reason that they can’t be awarded for non-gaming actions as well. (This part is not a new idea, as seen in https://habitrpg.com/ and http://badgeville.com/ .)

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Here, we will appropriate the “achievement” system for accomplishments in the political realm. The government already knows a lot about you: how much you’ve contributed to political groups, whether or not you showed up to jury duty, and whether or not you voted.

So why not track this information on a user-accessible web site and provide “Civics Achievements” for citizens to strive toward?

A selection of proposed achievements:

vote-achievement-contribute

Fig 1: Political donations are commonly associated with extremely wealthy individuals and corporations, but it would theoretically be just as viable to get a contribution of $10 from a million supporters as it would be to receive $10,000,000 from a single deep-pocketed donor. Maybe an achievement-tracking system could encourage small donations from individuals.


vote-achievement-jury

Fig 2: The vast majority of individuals who show up for jury selection are dismissed and do not end up on a trial. But an achievement could make it seem like at least something was accomplished in that time.


vote-achievement-actually-vote

Fig 3: Voter turnout could also be encouraged via an achievement tracking system. The only downside is that some percentage of voters would decide that their goal was the “I voted!” badge—rather than participation in democracy—and would probably stop voting entirely once they had satisfied the achievement’s requirements..

Informed voting:

Perhaps this achievement-based technique could also help encourage some basic research to be done before voters went to the polling places.


vote-achievement-read-text

Fig 4: Referendums are famous for having extremely misleading titles. For example “End unemployment now!” could be a measure that sent all citizens to forced labor camps, which would technically fulfill the promise in the title.


vote-achievement-rep-names

vote-achievement-write-letter

Fig 5: Interaction with one’s representatives is one way to influence politics to some extent without spending money.

Application in non-democratic settings:

This technique can be applied in countries even without legitimate democracies. For example, one might imagine how a totalitarian state with sham elections could nevertheless drum up patriotism with a motivational achievement like the one below.

vote-achievement-glorious-leader

Fig 6: Exit polls conducted by the secret police reveal 100% support for our glorious leader.

Conclusion:

You should write your representative (see achievements above) to propose this great plan, and then vote “yes” on the referendum in its favor. If you also read the text of the referendum, you will have made progress toward FOUR achievements while doing the actions in the previous sentence!

PROS: Saves democracy (at least until people collect their “I voted” achievement and then give up).

CONS: May result in seemingly impossible behavior such as individuals wanting to be called up for jury duty in order to fulfill their “jury duty” achievement. Also possible that future heroic deeds would be accomplished for un-heroic reasons—for example, a citizen might expose a secret reptilian mind-control plot not because they actually wanted to save their country, but because they needed to collect the “Whistleblower” achievement.