Mozilla invited speculative fiction author Malka Older to describe elections in the future, given advances in technology we see every day. Candidate Y premiered as an audio piece on Mozilla’s IRL podcast. The full fiction text is below.
“Welcome, come in, come in!” The electoral counselor stood to greet Gizella Miu. “There’s tea, coffee, water, or juice over there. Please help yourself.” When Gizella had collected and customized her Earl Grey, the counselor waved her into a seat. “I hope you’re well?”
“Pretty good.” Gizella settled herself. “I’m afraid I haven’t been paying as much attention as I’d like to…”
“That’s fine. Nobody can! That’s what I’m here for. So. Have you got any thoughts so far?”
“Yes, but I don’t feel confident about my choice yet.”
“Do you want to talk about the candidates first, or work the other way around, from your preferences?”
“The latter, I think.”
“Wonderful. I am already up-to-date on all of your external data. I’ve done the calculations for your tax bracket, age, employment history, and assets to figure out which of the stated economic plans is projected to bring you the most gains, cross-referenced with projections for the main social programs that you use and benefit from. What I need from you now is to hear about the parts that aren’t readily apparent to me: what you hope for, what you worry about, what you believe in. What you want to see for society in general. The future you want for this jurisdiction.”
Gizella answered, watching as the counselor noted down her responses with check marks or little scribbled phrases or icons. “How do you know how much weight to give each answer?” she asked.
The counselor nodded seriously. “We don’t. But for the most part, there’s enough substantive difference among the candidates that we don’t have to be exact about it. And in any case, this is an iterative process. We help you narrow it down and try to give you all the relevant data about our recommendation. But if it doesn’t feel right, we’re happy to discuss further – or you can just make your own decision, of course. Nothing that happens in here is binding.”
“What about…” Gizella avoids the counselor’s eyes; she doesn’t want to seem like she’s challenging her. “What about the candidates that want to end this program and move the money elsewhere?”
“As a matter of fact, that characteristic is masked in our data.” The counselor offered a professional smile. “It’s a relatively small amount of money, so it doesn’t have much of an impact on the big picture.” She glanced at her tabulations. “I’m all set here for an initial pass. Do you want to tell me who you had in mind?”
It was harder than Gizella expected to say it. “I was thinking about, maybe…Candidate Y?” She winces, hearing her voice go up in a question; she thought she had trained that out of herself.
There was an odd pause. It was only after the counselor started speaking again that Gizella realized it was the space for that’s great but or really? or excellent choice. As it was, the counselor’s tone had no inflection at all as she showed Gizella a plotted and color-coded graph, a messy Venn diagram with no circles.
“Candidate Y falls here: well within the, um, trapezoid I guess, of your preferences, needs, and interests.
Gizella felt ridiculously pleased, as though it were surprising that she knew what she wanted.
“I do want to point out a few things. In terms of your personal outcomes, you might consider Candidate K or B. Remember, of course, that stated campaign policies are not guaranteed to function as in projections…”
“I understand that,” Gizella said, waving those concerns aside with a swell of pride in her own altruism. “But I think I’d like a little more weight on outcomes for others.”
“In that case,” the counselor spun the graph. “Perhaps Candidate O or Candidate G? Both of these align more closely with your ideals than Candidate Y – here, and here.”
Gizella’s smile fluttered. Anonymity as a candidate meant she didn’t have much practice in hiding her reactions. “Tell me more.”
When Gizella left the counselor, she walked four blocks to the rendezvous where she was picked up by her campaign manager. “Well?”
“Useful,” Gizella said. “I think we should recommend that everyone on staff visit an electoral counselor. How much they share with us is up to them, of course. And we’re going to have to make a few changes in the platform. Nothing drastic, we’re close. But,” she smiled slightly as they turned towards the quiet office building that served as Candidate Y’s unmarked headquarter offices. “The least I can do, is make sure that I would want to vote for myself.”
What to Expect When You’re Electing
How close is Malka Older’s speculative fiction to the truth?
Election interference has been happening for centuries, but the misinformation spread online adds a new level of meddling opportunity. In the Season 3 finale Mozilla’s IRL podcast, Veronica Belmont and Baratunde Thurston explore how social media campaigns, online propaganda, and data mining are all racing to impact the way we vote. Have a listen: