What if Carmageddon was Electoralypse?

The 405 sits empty during Carmageddon weekend.

Imagine, if you will, an alternative universe in which we pay as much attention to our political, governmental and electoral processes as we have to a potential two-day traffic jam.

I know, I laughed for a moment as well.

What if our representative form of government garnered as much attention as traffic congestion? What would happen if elections, public hearings, legislative decisions and the like became an event like the much-anticipated Carmageddon?

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For those who don't know - and I really can't imagine who you are based on the national, near round-the-clock coverage - Carmageddon refers to the 53-hour closure of one of the busiest stretches of one of the heaviest-traveled freeways, the 405 in Los Angeles.

This weekend I awoke to special coverage of freeway construction on nearly every local news station. Reporters were driving around the city reporting on the state of the traffic (which was, much to their disappointment, virtually free and clear). Helicopters were circling the driver-less freeways in desperate search of some traffic, any traffic at all. News anchors went into excruciating detail about the type of equipment being used to accomplish the construction. Reporters were reminding viewers to email, tweet or text them with their Carmageddon related tales. Familiar, pre-determined hashtags flashed across the bottom of the television screen. Experts were interviewed about how best to deal with the psychological effects of the event (or as it may turn out, non-event). News conferences about the progress of the construction were televised live, with the same seriousness as, well, an actual event.

But this frenzy is merely the climax to weeks of build up. Every time I get in my car I see flashing signs telling me to expect delays this weekend. Local politicians have beseeched residents to stay home. Neighbors have caucused about how best to survive the weekend.

This saturation - dare I say oversaturation - seems to have worked. The scare tactics have mobilized drivers, or perhaps more accurately, immobilized them.

If so many of us are willing to change our behavior to avoid a traffic jam, could we do the same to avoid electing bad representatives, to block ill-conceived legislation, to propose political reforms? If all this hype can get us to stay home, what can make us get out and get more involved in our government?

Fifty-three hours of bad traffic in an already-congested city would be pretty awful. But years of low voter-turnout, unimpressive representatives, cobbled together compromises, and less-than-transparent decisions are pretty harmful as well.

The photo used on this post is by Flickr user lovine. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

About the Author

Jessica Levinson is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. She focuses on the intersection of law and government.
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