Monday, November 19, 2007

I'll take a democracy, please

Sometimes my fellow citizens scare me. I'm generally not belligerent about my countrymen's political decisions (or lack thereof), but this scares me: A survey amongst NYU college students found many of them willing to sell their right to vote.

What's the asking price? Apparently 20% of these students will give up their right for an iPod Touch, 66% will give it up for a year's worth of tuition, and 50% will give it up forever for the low price of $1 million.

I find the concept somewhat scary. We take a very dim view of those who would buy an election, either by stuffing the ballot boxes with scurrilous votes or by bribing people at any stage of the process to act unethically. While I can appreciate sentiments such as, "New York will always be a blue state, no matter how I vote," (Hooray for Illinois!) it still doesn't excuse such indifference towards such a right.

Here's a better way to think about it. Due to the shenanigans in Florida in 2000, Bush won the state, and thus the election, by something like 500 votes. Let's consider how much these students would cost to sway the election.

An iPod Touch costs $300. I don't know how much a year of tuition at NYU costs, but let's average it out to $20k. So, for someone to have changed the course of the 2000 election, either for Bush to have bought it or for Gore to reverse it, would be anywhere from $150k to $6 million. Considering how much political campaigns manage to raise during the course of an election . . . doesn't that seem a bit low to you?

Even if you want to quibble on the numbers, that 20% came of a survey of 3000 NYU students . . . so 600 would sell their vote for an iPod. That's still enough to sway the outcome of the 2000 election.

As I said, I tend not to begrudge people their politics, but this is just scary.

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