Published in the Boulder Sunday Camera 5/16/93

GUEST OPINION by Evan Ravitz

Telephone voting would foster democracy

On May 18 Boulder City Council holds a public hearing on placing the Voting by Phone Initiative, apparently the most popular petition in Boulder history, on the November 2 ballot.

There are some supporters of Voting by Phone, such as our own lawyer, who feel that using this technology for so-called Direct Democracy or Electronic Town Meetings is not good, that the people need better education before they can be trusted with more democracy.

This is what I learned about education on my winter vacation in Guatemala. My friends were giving a presentation to other parents about Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts. Sudbury has operated since 1968 on two principles- democracy and freedom. Everyone from the Principal to the youngest--the four-year-olds, has one vote in the weekly School Meeting. This meeting decides everything- hiring and firing, budget, everything. There is also a Judicial Council, with representatives of all age groups. They are rarely very busy.

The children are free! They don't have to go to school, though usually they have to be evicted at 4PM so the staff can go home. They study anything they want, or just listen to music until they get over their problems, or whatever.

Because Sudbury is their school, the children do not vandalize it (or shoot the teachers). They actually help maintain and improve the school, as well as educate themselves and each other. Therefore, the school runs with half the faculty and staff of Massachusetts public schools, and costs half what the public schools do--$3000 per pupil rather than $6000.

So freedom and democracy do work if we'll only try them. The increased freedom we've had on the Mall for a year now is working fine. In 1990 I begged the mayor to permit musicians to sell their own casettes and permit personal services like massage and tarot. She said she asked the Council and that "nobody was interested". It took 3 court cases, the ACLU and front-page headlines to finally shame the City into giving us these freedoms in 1992.

Everything in Guatemala seems so life and death serious. And so it is. More of my Indian friends were killed in the four years I'd been away.

Ever wonder why bananas all the way from Guatemala are only $.50 a pound and apples from Colorado cost more? It's because agricultural workers there earn about $2 per day. Our military aid since 1954 keeps those Indians colonized. It is American M-16s that killed my friends, one of them for organizing a farm co-op to get better pay.
When I last returned from Guatemala 4 years ago, I discovered a nationwide poll that showed 65% of Americans would end U.S. military aid to Central America. That is one of the reasons I got serious about our project. When the American people have a vote on the issue, my Guatemalan friends will no longer live in fear.

There are other reasons. In a poll after the Rio Summit last year, the vast majority of Americans said they were ready to bite the bullet to preserve the environment. But the President wouldn't sign the accords, and Councilman Spenser Havlick said he felt ashamed to be an American. Perhaps he would have been prouder if his country had the democracy most Voting by Phone supporters seek.

We want governments to practice the very first thing in Robert Fulgum's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: "Share Everything." Share the power and responsibility. The future belongs to the young.

We ask that the City Attorney's office write a fair evaluation of Voting by Phone, not the March 5 straw-man job, which ignores all the information we've given Council, the City Attorney, and the City Manager. This memo actually misrepresents Colorado election law to the City Council! It states: "To cast a vote for someone else requires that the impersonator appear at a polling place, claim to be a person registered to vote, and sign a signature card which is compared with the signature already on file." Not so- your signature is never compared with the signature on file unless someone challenges you. Nancy Wirl, the longest serving election official in Boulder County, says this has never happened in the 20 years she's worked there. No longer do the election judges know by sight everyone in their precinct- they are no longer even assigned to their own precincts, in Boulder! Unless a judge happens to personally know the impersonator or the real person, there is no challenge, and no comparison. That is why we say: voting is now on the honor system.

Voting by Phone will be much more economic, ecological, convenient and especially secure, than our current system. Please contact us for free literature. Call 440-6838 or write The Voting by Phone Foundation, 1630 30th St. #A-307, Boulder CO 80301. Come to the May 18 Council meeting at City Hall, the SW corner of Broadway and Canyon. You can give up to a 3-minute talk. Call us for the approximate (evening) time. You can try our demonstration of phone voting by calling 442-2625.

Evan Ravitz is director of the Voting by Phone Foundation