A mobile election experiment

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A mobile election experiment

The Democratic Unity Party will open the lines to accept text votes next week to select a new leader for the liberal coalition. Of the 770,000 people expected to participate, 88.4 percent said they will vote using their mobile phones. Mobile phone voting is unprecedented in domestic politics and has not been implemented in large scale globally. The new voting method entails both benefits and dangers.

First of all, vote buying could decrease because of the physical distance between voters and candidates. Those using mobile phones to vote are mostly under 40 and cannot be bought off. And the implications of an attempt to buy votes could be huge. If any voter tweets a picture of a kickback offer, the offending candidate’s political life would be over.

Also, as in American open primaries, ordinary citizens are welcome to take part. Such polling can lower barriers to political parties and engage citizens in politics. But mobile voting can also skew the electorate. It will likely be popular among younger, liberal voters. So, if mobile voting fails to draw in those over 50 - especially in an aging society - election outcomes could be seriously misrepresentative.

Mobile polling could also introduce a new way of gaming the system. Politicians could gain an exceptional amount of support from certain selective groups, such as those motivated by celebrities or rumor. Former Democratic Party lawmaker Chung Bong-joo, who was imprisoned for spreading false rumors about alleged stock fraud by President Lee Myung-bak, and the other co-hosts of popular political parody talk show “Naneun Ggomsuda” or “I am a Petty-Minded Creep” encouraged their audiences to take part in the last DP primary.

Social networking platforms like Twitter allow candidates to share information, but they have limits. Voters may now have to make choices based upon short and sensational comments instead of comparison from serious debates. During the last DP primary, slogans calling for Chung’s release and mockery of the president dominated the campaign, drowning out discussion of policy.

In a mobile election, voters have less opportunity to listen to the candidates’ addresses. Voters in these races have to take time to look up politicians’ career records and platforms on the Internet. Mobile voting without prior examination and deliberation could exact irresponsible results. Politicians and voters must address these issues and work together if they want to make this mobile election experiment a success.
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