American politics used to be fun: frequent political carnivals in the 19th century would mix parties, parades, and political speeches in an endless stream of local civic life. As a result, America had an astonishingly high turnout, between 70-90%, in presidential and local elections. Yet, the Internet has never quite captured the emotional gravity of real-life engagement, and keeps tripping up multi-million dollar campaigns designed to inject life into an otherwise passive electorate.

For example, take two technology initiatives that were widely predicted to dramatically increase democratic engagement: Obama’s 2008 campaign and Americans Elect. Despite the hype, Barack Obama’s juggernaut of a online campaign only boosted youth turnout by a meager 2%.

Americans Elect, a crowdsourced online platform for a third party presidential candidate, was supposed to be the digital savior of American democracy. The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman prophesied, “Americans Elect. What did to books…

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