Is democracy a terrible system designed by Satan?

It’s recently been primary season in California and several weeks ago an interesting political advertisement showed up on my dad’s couch. It was endorsing a particular candidate — his name was Scott Peters — but it was designed to look like those “voter guides” you see distributed by certain government agencies. Now, I’ve seen these kinds of things in the past and always jokingly thought to myself, “It’s almost like they’re trying to trick old people into thinking this is the official guide that should be used for voting.” But I never seriously believed that thought.

Thus it was to my dismay when my 94-year-old dad made a comment like, “We should make a point to follow this guide when doing our mail-in votes.” I had to point out what I felt was an obvious point: that this was not an official voting guide but an advertisement. (A particularly strong piece of ammunition for this case was that the “guide” stated (in small print) that it was “Paid for by Scott Peters for Congress” and its sole recommendation was for Scott Peters.)

So now I’m wondering if, in fact, at some point during the Scott Peters campaign one of his campaign advisers said something like, “Maybe we can create a advertisement that looks like one of those official voting guides and trick clueless old people into voting for you.” And Scott Peters said, “Sounds like a plan, Bob.”

There’s a couple disturbing things about this. For one, it would indicate that Scott Peters is scum. But I’m also aware that this is not the first time I’ve seen a faux voter’s guide advertisement. In fact, they seem to be pretty common. And if they are indeed capable of manipulating the votes of old people, one has to consider that they’ve been swinging elections for years. And, it’s not just old people we need to worry about here; na├»ve immigrants, the mildly retarded and plain old morons are probably easy targets for such advertisements. It’s kind of ironic. We say that a 16-year-old honors student can’t vote (even though they probably have more stake in an election that anybody) but we dutifully defend the right of a 95-year-old who can barely read the fine print.

When I was driving around the Salton Sea area a couple weeks ago I had a thought related to all this. In that area, you see a lot of signs like, “Vote Sam Mitsuhara for Judge.” And, truth be told, if I lived there and went to the voting booth and was trying to figure out who to vote for Judge, I would probably think, either consciously or subconsciously, “This Sam Mitsuhara sounds familiar. I might as well vote for him.” (In the realm of cognitive psychology, this kind of preference for the familiar is called “priming.”)

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