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The DNA of a voter?

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007


I wrote an e-mail to someone the other day about all the subjectmatter than can be classified under “the science of voting.” I was referring to the science and technology behind the voting machines used throughout the world, like the quantum cryptography being used to protect votes in Geneva… but check this out.

University of California, San Diego professor James Fowler has drawn a scientific connection between genetics and voting, and he discusses it in the November issue of Scientific American.

Fowler [notes] that his team’s work does not suggest that genetics can determine whom people will vote for, only whether or not they are likely to vote. He also emphasizes that environment most likely plays a significant role in voting: “There is still a lot we can do to shape political behavior in spite of our genetic tendencies.”

If genes do in part control voting, a single gene is unlikely to be responsible—hundreds of genes are probably involved, suggests behavioral geneticist Robert Plomin of King’s College London. Fowler hypothesizes that because “we obviously did not vote in large-scale elections in the Pleistocene,” the drive to vote or participate in politics may be linked with genes underlying more ancient behaviors, such as innate dispositions toward cooperation. The search for any such genes in our primate relatives could help determine “whether we share the neurobiological underpinnings of cooperation or whether humans are unique in this respect,” Fowler adds.

Fowler’s study draws connections between genetics and who has a propensity to participate in civic-minded activities. But regardless of whether you are genetically pre-programmed to vote, that doesn’t mean that voting (particularly in the USA) will be secure, reliable and accessible. And that’s what election reform is all about: making sure that if your DNA is teling you to vote (and even if it’s not), you can be sure you’ll be able to cast your ballot and know it will count and be counted.

Hat tip to Marc Ambinder.

DNA photo via gravitywave on Flickr.

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