Gaming the voting system?

The popularity of geo-social applications like Facebook Places, GoWalla, FourSquare, and others is clear. Rewarding users for checking in, for taking some action, with nothing more than virtual awards has excited some users and continues to drive the growth of these platforms.

So what would happen if you were to tie voting in political elections to these reward systems? That is exactly what Fred Trotter, son of congressional candidate Clayton Trotter, is hoping to find out by making use of a social election game built on top of Facebook Places. The new Facebook application rewards application users for endorsing the candidate, for voting for the candidate, for volunteering to help the campaign, for bringing your friends on board, and for your friends voting for the candidate. In other words, it crowdsources users in a manner that provides virtual rewards for helping to get this candidate elected.

This would be a great idea for cities, towns, and countries, offering incentives, albeit virtual, for participating in the voting process. This could, in fact, be an excellent way of encouraging some percentage of inactive voters to come out and exercise their right to vote.

However, for individual candidates is this anything more than buying votes? How does it really differ from handing someone real currency or rewards? What do you think?


Originally posted on Government in Action.

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Avatar photo Bill Brantley

I think it’s a great idea! I don’t see an issue with buying votes unless there is an actual exchange of something of value for the vote. Giving someone an item out of Mafia Wars just doesn’t have the same impact as giving someone money for their vote. Campaigns already give t-shirts and other swag for volunteering so giving someone a virtual badge falls in that category.

On a broader note, its amazing how people are motivated by the simple act of accumulating. I have to admit that I “occasionally” check my point standing in GovLoop. Just idle curiosity, of course. 😉

Peter Sperry

No problem with rewards for volunteering, linking etc. Major problems with rewards for voting. First, it is illegal. Sorry Bill but several IRS cases involving Second Life have held that virtual rewards which can be sold to third parties for cash in the real world are taxable so the elction law would almost have to look at them as an exchange of value. Second, votes are nominally secret. How would the candidate confirm the person getting the reward actually cast their vote “correctly”? (Side bar – I once served as a poll watcher in a precinct where the judge of elections “assisted” voters at the machine before handing them a reciept which they exchanged for cash in the parking lot.) Finally, how would candidtes report these in-kind donations and expenditures to the FEC?

Peter Sperry

@Bill — Law is unclear on that. The IRS was on very firm ground when it hit people for taxes on virtual real estate they had been paid for in the real world but then tried to collect on profits made in SL that had not yet been exchanged for real cash but whose real world value was generally accepted as significant (apparently some people have made seious coin on SL) and last time I looked was still tied up in court. The FBI probably will leave you alone in Mafia Wars (other than adding your name to various watch lists) until it spills over to actual crime.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Peter – Interesting wrinkle on this issue. Considering the latest machinations at Linden Labs, I don’t believe that their posted exchange rate for Linden Dollars to US Dollars is going to hold up much longer. I know the World of Warcraft virtual economy is quite robust and folks have gained real money off selling virtual items and virtual characters. But, it seems that tying all the different virtual economies into the real US economy is going to be a major problem for the IRS. Look how much trouble they have handling accounting for folks who make money in overseas markets.

It also makes me wonder if I shouldn’t file for the profits I realized while asteroid mining near Jupiter when I was playing Earth and Beyond a few years ago.