Attending the caucus recently was quite the experience. The long lines of mostly college students waiting to verify their credentials, the volunteers scrambling to move people to their designated locations, and me, trying to make sense of it all. In the room designated for Precinct 9, one man stood in front of the room yelling out names and asking for nominations. Some people in the overcrowded room raised their hands and similarly yelled out names as nominations. In the midst of all the commotion, little squares of paper were handed around the crowd. “If you need suggestions, Hannah is who you should vote for. She knows what she’s doing, just saying!” said one voter who was shuffling through the crowd the get out of the room.
I stepped out of the room for a breath of fresh air, then stepped back in. Another round of yelling/nomination has started. This time, I was able to catch the nominees giving their spiel on why they should be entrusted with the fate of Precinct 9. They weren’t very convincing. I could’ve given a better 15 second pitch. After everything was done and the votes for the presidential candidates in the room were tallied, I left, feeling dubious about the event I had just attended.
I was bewildered. I had thought that something as important as the future of the nation would have been given more planning. Why weren’t there neat lines and more organized check-ins? Why weren’t there enough seats? Why were all the residents in Precinct 9 given just one tiny classroom? Sure, perhaps this was all due to the fact that the caucus was run by volunteers. I guess they had to work with what they have. But could we really trust the delegates that were nominated? It seemed like all they needed was a friend to nominate them and a sprinkle (or none, really) of charisma to get elected. The whole thing felt like a mess of a party.
Then it hit me. These people were just volunteers.
Why wasn’t there a professional team of caucus event runners? Money. Apparently no one was going to pay people to make sure that the once-in-four-years party runs smoothly. But the beauty of this is they didn’t need to, because the volunteers cared about what they were doing, and will do a good enough job of fulfilling their responsibilities. Despite being unorganized and less than efficient, the volunteers actually got the job done. Voters were credentialed, ballots were collected and tallied, and delegates were elected.
Where have we seen this before?
We all know what Wikipedia is. Although Wikipedia is not known to be the most reliable source for information, it is pretty accurate. In fact, it is accurate enough that people visit it enough such that it ranks seventh in the world for the site with the most traffic. On Wikipedia, everyone is a volunteer, anyone can make changes to the information housed on its servers. Users are constantly fact-checking articles to make sure that their sources are reliable and verified. They do a good enough job of portraying the information accurately.
Quora is a site not unlike Yahoo! Answers. You ask a question, others answer. Like with Wikipedia, anyone can contribute. This means that the asker will likely get answers ranging from the trivial to the helpful. However, the noise of unhelpful information is usually cancelled out by good information, as people respond and rebut and revise each responder’s answers. In generally, one could glean the information they need because the responders, as a whole, do a good enough job of teasing out the information the asker needs.
In his book, Wisdom of the Crowds, James Surowiecki related the story of a 1906 country fair in Plymouth where 800 people participated in a contest to estimate the weight of a slaughtered and dressed ox. Statistician Francis Galton observed that the median guess, 1207 pounds, was accurate within 1% of the true weight of 1198 pounds.
The point he made in his books is that the populous as a whole can come up with a good enough solution, even though each individual perceives things differently. It is the diversity of the group that when taken the average of, cancels out the noise of bad information leading to an answer that is as good as, but often better than, the answer given by any of the individuals.
And that is why the power is with the people. Collectively, people make better decisions than any one individual. They do a good enough job, if not better. The volunteers at the caucus likely had some disagreements and confusion, but as a whole, things weren’t so bad. The nation can move on with the elections. The delegates might not know what they’re doing, but I trust that with the differences they bring to the table, Precinct 9 will be good enough for its residents, if not better.