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Future Elections

The origins of this piece are in a candidates’ college I ran recently in the middle of the continent. I also have to credit an exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt Gallery in New York. The show features an examination of the future of textiles in military and other applications.

I’ve just returned from the future. I was on assignment for Winning Campaigns in the 2020 election. Naturally I can’t reveal results until polls close in California. But without altering the time/space contin- uum, I am allowed to report on the use of new technology.

The first thing I noticed actually looked like an old-fashioned tool— interviews with voters. Campaign volunteers went into senior citizens’ homes to ask the elderly about their recollections of voting patterns in their current or former neighborhoods. With good long-term memo- ries and a higher-than-average propensity to vote, these older citizens were a good source of data. They were especially good for the party that hadn’t won a district in recent elections or didn’t have access to good voter lists.

Interviews were caught on built-in microphones and cameras in volunteers’ clothing and instantly turned into transcriptions and audio/video files at campaign headquarters. Occasionally a candidate wanted to see, hear or read some of the data. Video clips from the interviews were pulled and turned into a continuous loop for projec- tion on bus advertising, on screens in the campaign office, for video lawn signs, regular advertising, for website visuals, podcasts and so on.

Local campaign headquarters automatically fed state and national offices, and back would come video streams of voters with similar demographics and opinions. These montages of voters from the same demographic groups would be fed into homes and handhelds to rein- force voting preferences.

But mostly, the data were fed right into the poll-by-poll computer lists. To get through the filters, the seniors’ recollections had to jibe with data from previous elections, interviews at the door with neighbors or input from average voters on how they thought their neighbors would vote. Once enough data were in, the computer could pretty easily declare a voter for or against a candidate, party or issue. This categorization would be monitored during the campaign in case voters’ preferences changed.

Long before the campaign, workers could have locations picked for lawn signs. Publicly available data such as voters’ attendance at ratepayers’ meetings, whether they wrote letters to the editor, shop- ping patterns, movies rented and so on would all go into the mix. This would help determine the firmness of the vote and whether it had changed since the last election or would change during this one.

The campaign I rode along with was using the latest “Lectroview” lawn signs. These were self-cleaning, solar-powered and lit up at night. They also had the new feature of being able to change from the candidate’s picture to the leader’s, play up or downplay the party colors and name or highlight an issue of importance on that particular street. The change would occur as data from the voters’ personal behavior were cross-referenced with what the canvass found out at the doors and what the overall party campaign was gleaning from each district. With decent data, a lawn sign might change a dozen times during the campaign. A new type of sign, still on the drawing-board, would change depending on who was driving down the street or walking up the sidewalk—a dozen times a day, perhaps.

All signs could talk to portable computers and handhelds, so that people walking by could hear and see a message from the candidate. The sign could read rudimentary demographic data (age, gender, fitness) from the passerby and tailor a message accordingly.

These data had an even more important application—fundraising. All the information was cross-referenced with information from credit- card purchases, including charities supported. With remarkable accu- racy, the campaign could produce a list of likely donors to the candi- date or party. The approach for money would be made at a time of the month when the potential donor was likely to have money in the bank and wasn’t just about to pay off some big bills.

Back in the campaign office, the phone-bank people had solved the decades-old problem of intrusive calls. They could tell when a person was using a computer or hand-held outside the home. Only then would the computer kick in, auto-dial and deliver a personal recorded message from the candidate to the home phone that could not be answered. This prevented the voter from trying to engage in a conver- sation with a recorded video or audio message. There were also ways to leave video- and audio-messages without having the receiving device ring, which achieved the same result.

The campaign I saw had experimented with some voice- and video- activated messages where the voters’ questions or comments on the videophone triggered pre-recorded responses and comments from the candidate. But the bugs weren’t entirely worked out, and most people could tell the message was canned. Still, the tech guys had really

mastered how to insert similar-sounding words that coincided with the same lip movements and even the visual tweaking of facial expressions and head movements to make each video call from the candidate look slightly different, in case neighbors showed each other their calls.

The campaign office itself was pretty impressive. The state of the art in 2020 was to have a “woven” office. All the campaign had to do was find

a vacant lot or rooftop and the office was purpose-built in hours.

Rooftops were popular in urban neighborhoods because the building material weighed almost nothing. A company arrived with a kind of loom and spun out a carbon-filament fiber coating for the floor that dispersed the weight of the campaign workers to the load-bearing walls. Then another kind of loom built a dome-like structure in hours. This woven fabric was not only stronger than steel but allowed air to pass through and so didn’t sway in the breeze. A two-storey structure on top of an existing building could be put up in a day. The walls were also woven circuits and had all the outlets for computers, phones, lights, signs and other electrical gadgets.

Several of these could be put up cheaply in a single district. So could 3D projections of campaign offices in high-traffic areas where nobody could stop and find out there wasn’t really an office there.

For candidate canvass, satellite and remote-sensing data from airplane drone flights over the district gave instant information on voting patterns and sign locations. These flights also used infra-red, heat- sensing and acoustic technology to tell with 87 percent accuracy who was home. These data spat out an itinerary for the candidate, which was cross-referenced with the weather, parking spots and volunteers’ local knowledge.

The infra-red, heat-seeking and acoustic data obtained from sensors in the campaign vehicle were even more accurate and helped us fine- tune where the candidate should park and what streets we should canvas. As we were parking, we got a printout of addresses where someone was home and a visit from the candidate would be produc- tive. This printout was 98 percent accurate.

It was at the door that the new technology really shone. Whether it

was a candidate canvass or just workers dropping an E- (for extra) drive for use in phones, computers and handhelds, all were wearing woven circuits. These are actually ancient technology from the 1960s that nobody then knew what to do with, so the printed circuit on a rigid board took over. But starting a few years after the turn of the 21 st century, ski patrolers used ski jackets with GPS capabilities to tell

base camp where they were, biometrics to measure their critical body functions and a good old-fashioned built-in cell phone.

By the 2020 election, all credible candidates and their volunteer canvassers had shirts, jackets and other clothing that incorporated multiple technical functions.

As we hit the sidewalk in front of a house, a “heads-up display” in the campaigners’ eyeglasses or contact lenses flashed the historical voting pattern of the voter in the house, along with issues of concern to that voter and other demographic data. Campaigners who wanted this turned into an audio commentary could get the message and talking points through their ears rather than their eyes.

In the few steps from the sidewalk to the door, campaigners could get enough information to begin a conversation on a topic of interest to the voter. There was a simultaneous feed of information to and from campaign headquarters to make sure the information was current and the talking points were the same at every door in every district.

The minute voters came within two feet of their own front doors, biometric sensors in the campaigners’ clothing began analyzing infor- mation from them. Skin temperature, respiration rate, perspiration, pulse and other indicators helped geeks back at campaign headquar- ters size up the person.

Once the door was open, the campaign got pupil size, blink rate, eye movements and micro-facial muscles. Once the voter knew that s/he was in a conversation with the candidate, changes in these biometrics could tell campaign workers the voting intention within 35 seconds. However, prudent campaigns kept the conversation and the analysis going. First, interaction with the candidate could change voting inten- tions. But more importantly, campaign headquarters was getting a constant stream of biometric data cross-referenced with key words used by the voter and canvasers. Before the candidate or canvasers left the porch, they had a “worm poll” showing spikes of approval for certain words or phrases. That generated a customized letter, podcast, video call or other communication on subjects that would influence the voter.

On election day, voter turnout wasn’t called that any more. Most citizens used biometrics to vote from home. These included voice recognition on telephone calls, thumb and palm prints on computer screens and retinal scans obtained from cameras on computers and hand-held devices.

The dark side of politics in 2020 was that many calls, emails, video messages and downloads of movies, delivery of food and other things were designed as a “counter-campaign” to prevent non- supporters from voting. Sometimes the computers were fooled by editing video and audio conversations the voter had had long before the election, but biometrics worked the vast majority of the time,

weeding out electronic impostors—the 21 st century version of enumerating tombstones and getting the dead to vote.

The positive side was that campaigns would now target their likely voters with 97 percent accuracy. They then had video callers who were likely to motivate those voters to vote. The computer also iden- tified the rare older person who actually wanted to go to a polling place. Campaign workers offered a ride in the exact type of vehicle the voter preferred and driven by the kind of person who would motivate the voter.

Again, I can’t say anything about the outcome of the 2020 election campaign, but I can say two things for sure. First, every piece of tech- nology I’ve discussed is on the drawing board or in existence right now, and all are being seriously discussed in political campaigns.

The other thing I can reveal is that the big names in politics in 2020 were Bush, Reagan, Clinton, Romney, Palin and Obama. Some were has-beens. Some were up-and-comers. One was in power. In Canada, the names were Trudeau, Clark and Harper.