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Category: Government

Is it true that TWO electoral colleges are better than one? Improving the American political system by adding a second “mega-region”-based electoral college.

Background:

Every four years, interest is re-kindled in the odd “Electoral College”-based method of tallying up American presidential votes.

Since the electoral votes are actually assigned on a per-state[*] basis (Figure 1), this has the side effect of making the presidential elections hinge on a few “battleground” districts—tiny subsets of swing states whose voting outcome isn’t already predictable.

Thus, only voters in these regions actually need to be granted presidential boons in order to persuade them—voters in the vast majority of states can be safely ignored.

[*] Some states split their electoral votes between candidates, but this is not common.

Fig. 1: Since electoral votes are (generally) assigned on a per-state basis, you don’t actually need to know the percentage of voters in each state who voted a certain way. A map like this one would be sufficient!

The issue:

People frequently discuss the idea of changing the electoral college system to a one-vote-per-person system.

However, very little consideration has gone into the other direction—having a SECOND electoral college, essentially an “electoral college for the electoral college.”

If one electoral college is good, maybe two would be better?

Proposal:

Here, we propose that the United States be grouped—for the purposes of elections only—into 10 five-state “electoral mega-regions.” Washington D.C. will retain its 3 electoral votes, and will be counted as a secret “Megaregion Zero” (not shown on map).

(To increase the level of mystery, its votes will only be used in cases of ties, and will not be included in tallies otherwise.)

Fig. 2A: Ten megaregions, each consisting of five states, have been gerrymandered together into this proposed grouping. See figure 2B for an examination of their electoral votes

Then, each of these megaregions would cast its aggregated “mega-electoral-votes” just as the normal electoral votes are determined.

Fig. 2B: One interesting failure mode of this method of grouping—and something that may make it a difficult sell—is that some groupings actually just “delete” the votes of certain states. For example, in Megaregion 6, Texas has a majority of votes for the entire region, as does California in Megaregion 7. Thus, this system serves to remove the following eight states from the electoral pool entirely: Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Oklahoma.

In order to fix the disenfranchisement problem described in Fig 2B, we could assign the votes of each megaregion based on a a simple majority of its states: instead of allowing Texas to entirely determine the outcome of Megaregion 6 (as it would if we weighted states by population or electoral votes), we would count each state as a single vote: so it would be a “best 3 out of 5” for Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Hawaii, and Alaska.

With this “one state / one vote” method, every state would be important in assigning the votes of the megaregion.

Conclusion:

Thanks to this reformed system, politics will be saved forever. Also, this may showcase the electoral college system, leading other countries to adopt it.

PROS: Improves the electoral college system by adding a second layer, thus multiplying its benefits.

CONS: It’s somehow theoretically possible that this might lead to gerrymandering???

See below for an additional example of this system in action.

Fig. 3A: If the states voted as above, for the RED, BLUE, YELLOW, and PURPLE parties, the updated megaregion-voting-assignment process would allocate the votes as shown in Figure 3B (not described: a tiebreaking process for dealing with situations in which the split is 2:2:1 or 1:1:1:1:1—presumably ties would be broken by a coin flip or something).
Fig. 3B: Now that each state has cast its (single) megaregion vote (as shown in figure 3A), we see how the state’s votes are distributed on a per-megaregion basis.

Never have your country’s submarines detected again, with this incredible Loch Ness monster-based top secret project.

Background:

Modern submarines use a periscope-like electronic camera (a “photonics mast.”) to view the world above the waves.

The issue:

The problem is twofold:

  1. If an adversary spots a periscope, there isn’t much doubt as to what’s under the waves: it’s a submarine (Figure 1).
  2. Periscope designs are apparently specific to each nation, so just seeing a periscope can be sufficient for an observer to determine what kind of submarine is lurking in the area.

1-periscope-is-obvious.png

Fig. 1: Technically, this periscope (left) could be a pipe or really weird fish, but realistically, any observer is going to know it’s a submarine (right).

Proposal:

Fortunately, we can easily disguise the periscope (Figure 2) to remove these problems.

2-loch-ness-monster-only.png

Fig. 2: Here, we see a proposed periscope disguise. A submarine-observer who noticed this above the waves would assume that they had seen a sea serpent or Loch Ness monster, not a submarine.

The disguised periscope is more likely to be reported as a new discovery in cryptozoology (Figure 3), rather than a submarine.

3-loch-ness-monster-disguise-full-scenario.png

Fig. 3: Expectation vs. reality. A submarine could carry multiple periscope disguises if needed; sea serpent, white whale, unusually ugly bird, marooned sailor adrift on a raft, etc.

Conclusion:

There is one added bonus to this system: under normal circumstances, a submarine is not aware that its periscope has been seen. However, in this new system, it is possible that the periscope-observer might post their findings online (“wow, I just saw a Loch Ness monster at these GPS coordinates!!!”), and the submarine could then check the Internet to see if “Loch Ness monster sighted” was trending online and/or had been posted on any cryptozoology enthusiast web sites.

(If they find a post about the Loch Ness monster at their current GPS coordinates, it obviously means that the submarine’s position is no longer secret.)

PROS: Pretty much all of them.

CONS: May slightly increase submarine drag, thus reducing fuel efficiency.

Increase the effectiveness of both your country’s government and its military with this one surprising law!

Background:

Militaries generally have physical fitness requirements and a maximum age cutoff for enlistees.

The issue:

Unfortunately, in most countries, these standards completely exclude government officials from boots-on-the-ground participation in any military operations.

This is unfair to those officials: they performed the diplomatic and logistical preparation for war, yet are prevented from obtaining direct personal experience with its outcome.

Proposal:

The proposal is simple: a “high-ranking government official” waiver that would allow an individual to enlist in the military and serve in a combat area even if they would normally be disqualified (e.g. due to being “too old,” having flat feet, being unable to pass boot camp, etc.).

Since these not-meeting-standards individuals could be a liability as far as actual military effectiveness is concerned, there could be a few restrictions on these “high-ranking official” waivers:

  • The waivers would only be issued to top government officials.
  • Only a small number of waivers would be issued. A lottery could be instituted in order to select from the eligible candidates.
  • The tour of duty could be limited, perhaps to a year or less.

1-military-conscription-in-high-officials

Fig. 1: Although highly-ranked government officials are, on average, too old to be eligible for military positions in most countries, this special exemption would allow them to serve anyway.

This could have the following additional benefits as well:

  • Increases the ability of these officials to identify wasteful spending in geographical regions that would normally have minimal oversight due to their remoteness.
  • In countries with less stable governments, integration of civilian legislators with the armed forces might reduce the chance of a military coup. (Or possibly facilitate it, Julius Caesar style.)

PROS: Helps ensure synchronization between a country’s government and its associated military.

CONS: May be disruptive to lawmaking; unclear how international diplomacy would be impacted if a crucial high-ranking official could be suddenly whisked off to a foreign war.

Too lazy to be an informed voter? No problem—team up with a non-citizen who is interested in the democratic process! It’s a win-win situation!

Background:

The democratic process depends on at least some fraction of voters making an informed decision.

The issue:

However, many people find politics uninteresting (Figure 1), and vote semi-randomly and/or for the most candidate with the most camera-friendly smile.

This is not an ideal way to choose a country’s leaders.

1-ballot-mystery.png

Fig. 1: “What??? They want me to vote either yes or no? Sheesh, who has time for that. If only a cruel tyrant would rule over the land, crushing all dissent and freeing me from these decisions!”

Proposal:

This one is simple: a web site (or app) simply matches up an uninterested / uninformed voter with a motivated-but-ineligible-for-voting individual (e.g. a non-citizen or some really motivated high-school civics student).

Now, the highly motivated individual can suggest candidates and referendum choices for the apathetic voter (perhaps by filling out a sample ballot beforehand).

(The eligible voter will still actually have to either go to the polls or fill out a vote-by-mail form, so this is still slightly more work than doing nothing at all.)

2-ballot-solution.png

Fig. 2: The benefits are obvious: the uninterested voter doesn’t have to slog through the ballot, and the motivated non-voter gets to be part of the democratic process! In theory, better-informed voters should also choose more competent civic leaders as well.

 

PROS: May save democracy.

CONS: If every single voter becomes so apathetic that they outsource their vote, it is clear that there is something fundamentally wrong with the country’s political situation.

Avoid many employment discrimination pitfalls with a new interview anonymization system! Tell your HR department about it today.

The issue:

When selecting an individual for a job, an unavoidable aspect of the process is the physical appearance of the candidate.

A job candidate might be unfairly penalized because of preconceptions about their age / sex / race / etc. Not only is this unfair to the candidate, but the overall situation also opens a company up to employment discrimination lawsuits even if they are not illegally discriminating.

Proposal:

To help avoid even the most subtle biases in the evaluation of a job candidate, the HR department should issue a full face-covering mask to all on-site interviewees (Figures 1 and 2).

1c-masks-plus-hair

Fig. 1: When interviewing job candidates who are wearing these masks, we don’t have to worry about certain types of illegal discrimination occurring, since the candidate retains most of their anonymity. These masks could be cheaply obtained from a halloween store (perhaps using the “Friday the 13th”-style of hockey goalie masks as a good baseline mask).

If there are multiple job candidates in a single day, the HR department could stock a number of distinct masks, so as to distinguish each candidate. “The red mask one” versus “the really unsettling purple-mask one,” for example.

1b-masks-no-hair

Fig. 2: It is possible that the mask should also cover hair, since hair color, texture, and style also “leaks” information that could theoretically lead to bias in the interviewer.

Since the masks are different styles without the colors, it may also be preferable to have the masks be entirely black-and-white (Figure 3), to avoid any cultural connotations with specific colors.

If you think this is ridiculous and would never happen, consider that a double-digit percentage of male candidates in the early-2000s Western world would prefer not to wear a pink mask (see also the dialog surrounding the “Mr. Pink” codename in the movie Reservoir Dogs), and other countries may have their own color-associated biases.

1a-masks-black-and-white

Fig. 3: With these de-colorized masks, we don’t have to worry about culture-specific color associations.

Even with a mask, a person’s voice still provides substantial information about them, so these masks could also contain built-in voice modulators that would make all job candidates sound like Jigsaw from the Saw series.

Conclusion:

This is somewhat similar to the previous “anonymous government officials” idea (which has, surprisingly, still not been implemented!) but is more generally applicable.

PROS: Helps job applicants get a more fair evaluation, shields a company from accusations about certain types of illegal discrimination.

CONS: None! This is a perfect and practical idea.

 

 

Improve the safety of high-altitude mountaineering with this new permitting mechanism—never fear overcrowding on Everest again!

Background:

Certain mountains require that climbers obtain a permit before embarking.

Sometimes these can be expensive, but rarely is any mountaineering competency required. Everest permits, which are issued by the government of Nepal, cost approximately $10,000 (Wikipedia link).

The issue:

If too many people are crowded onto a narrow high-altitude route, disaster can result from increased amount of time that climbers spend in the inhospitable low-temperature and low-oxygen environment.

Proposal:

Instead of just giving out Everest permits to anyone who can pay the fee, why not make a climber show their dedication by first requiring that they summit a less deadly mountain?

Specifically, the climber must obtain a physical “summit eligibility token” from the summit of an easier peak, as shown in Figure 1.

This token—plus the standard entry fee—would then be required for climbing a more difficult mountain.

 

2-mountains

Fig. 1: Left: the leftmost mountain is not too difficult, and can be climbed without a permit. On the top of that mountain is a token that will permit the climber to attempt the mountain shown in the middle of the diagram, and so on.

In order to make things slightly more interesting, the token is not just a simple card or coin, but is an extremely heavy metal ingot (Figure 2).

The climber would have to show their mountaineering prowess by somehow lugging this heavy ingot all the way back down the mountain.

1-tokens

Fig. 2: The more advanced tokens are also heavier; in this case, the “Everest eligibility” token is a 20 kilogram (44 lb.) copper ingot. Restocking these ingots would be easy: they could simply be airdropped from a plane or helicopter, since the exact placement of the ingots is not crucial, as long as they are in the general vicinity of the peak.

Conclusion:

The Everest gatekeepers should adopt this idea, and should immediately start designing some interesting eligibility ingots (and figuring out which mountains they should go on).

PROS: Sets a lower bound on the amount of unqualified-ness of a prospective mountain climber, which may reduce the number of mountaineering fatalities.

CONS: May also reduce overall revenue obtained from permit issuance.

Evade pesky zoning laws with this one new scheme that lets you (maybe) turn a commercial building into a personal residence!

Background:

In order to support technological progress, many people are willing to endure great hardships.

The issue:

For example, most Americans are willing to drive for 30–60 minutes every day on their commute, just so that they can help create a market for new types of transportation [*].

One might imagine that a person in the hour-long-commute situation would just move closer to their job, but local zoning restrictions (Figure 1) often make this impossible.

[*] For example, the car, the diesel car, the hybrid car, the electric car, the “ride-sharing” car (actually just a taxi connected to a phone app), and the elusive and currently-hypothetical “self-driving” car.

1-zoning.png

Fig. 1: In the city map above, red areas are commercially zoned, and purple ares are residentially zoned. There is often a long travel distance to get between zones. (Real zoning is presumably more complex than “residential” vs “commercial,” but 95% of the author’s knowledge here comes from SimCity, so give me a break, man.)

Proposal:

Here are two proposed ways to help people live closer to their jobs:

  • Start a new “night watchman training” business with extremely comfortable suspiciously-apartment-sized rooms, and charge people a rent-sized amount of money for on-the-job training / courses for students. (If the students somehow fail to stay awake, they can just keep paying for the course as long as they want.)
  • Start a “sleep study clinic” (Figure 2). Normally, this is a legitimate business that diagnoses sleep apnea and other issues. Our modified version would be similar, but cheaper to set up, since it would not require any expensive medical equipment: in fact, the only piece of equipment supplied is a 5-dollar stopwatch (included with the apartment). When a resident is about to go to sleep, they can start the stopwatch, and when they wake up, they will have a vague idea of how long they were asleep. Naturally, this would be a paid service (costing about the same as the prevailing rent in the local neighborhood).

 

2-sleep-study-inc.png

Fig. 2: By converting this building from a traditional office to a “sleep study clinic,” it will be completely non-suspicious to see a bunch of rooms that look like furnished apartments, occupied by residents who stay there overnight.

Conclusion:

This is a plan that some developer should definitely try, just to see what happens.

PROS: Might help people rethink their established notions of what a “normal” commute should be.

CONS: Some overzealous “spirit of the law, not the letter of the law” lawyers and city council members would definitely put an end to a scheme like this. Also you might go to prison and/or owe somebody a bunch of money in fines.

Does your city / state / country have an ICON, or just a flag? Vex vexillologists with this proposal to create ICONIC EMBLEMS to represent your favorite regional administrative division! This is the U.S. State Flag edition.

Background:

Every US state has a flag. But only a few states have an icon—something immediately recognizable (and ideally, easily drawn and memorable).

For an example of icons, we can look at Japan’s provinces (or “prefectures”), nearly all of which are represented by a distinctive single-color icon (Figure 1).

flags-japan.png

Fig. 1: Japanese provinces have iconic minimalist symbols associated with them. Compare these to the selection of American state flags in Figure 2.

2-flags-us-detailed.png

Fig. 2: Most state flags were not selected with visual clarity in mind. Additionally, many state flags look identical on a flagpole when there is no wind.

3-flags-us-iconic.png

Fig. 3: Some flags are visually distinctive, but these are the exception. (In reading order: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Alabama, Tennessee, and Washington D.C.)

Proposal:

The proposal is as follows:

  • Every state will get a supplementary icon, that can be easily rendered in a quick pen sketch (Figure 4).
  • When possible, the flag and emblem should be similar, to make them easier to remember.
  • A flag and an icon have different requirements. Some guidelines:
    • A flag should be visually distinctive even when on a draped piece of cloth. For example, the American flag (🇺🇸) is easily identified even when there is no wind.
    • A flag can make use of multiple colors (although there is such a thing as “too many” colors).
    • An icon should minimize or eliminate reliance on specific colors.
    • An icon should have relatively few fine details. It should be distinctive even at a very small size.

4-flags-graffiti-sketches-1.png

Fig. 4: Some sketches of icons that could represent specific states. Three of these are based on elements from real state flags: Tennessee (top left), New Mexico (left middle), and South Carolina (palm tree + crescent moon, top right). The top right one would probably need to be modified in some way to distinguish it from the flags of Turkey (🇹🇷), Tunisia (🇹🇳), Pakistan (🇵🇰), and others.

There is also no icon that represents the United States (although USA works as an easily-written shorthand). Figures 6 and 7 investigate some elements that could be incorporated into a flag-inspired icon.

 

5-air-force.jpg

Fig. 5: Although it is not a national icon, this existing U.S. Air Force insignia manages to elegantly incorporate the elements of the national flag.

 

Fig. 6: If someone only had 5 seconds to draw an American flag, they’d probably some up with something similar to these graffiti-like icons on the left. Isolating the iconic elements of the American flag leaves us with a number of possible emblems in varying levels of detail (right). The bottom-right one also indicates how the Chinese / Japanese character for “above” coincidentally appears in the negative space: this might be useful in a U.S.A.-and-China-centered science fiction future like the one in Firefly.

Examples:

Below (Figure 7) is a column of state flags (left) and some potential icons (right). The color is arbitrary—it can be omitted or changed to any other color (as in the Japanese example in Figure 1).

 

 

7-flags-us-plus-icons.png

Fig. 7: Left column: state flags. Right column: corresponding easy-to-draw icons for each state. Some of these have a very shaky rationale, and are not based on the existing flags. For example:  Illinois: rivers converging, also it’s the “Y” from the font “Malayayam Bold.” Florida: the shape of Florida, if it were exactly three pixels. Michigan: the bordering lakes. Louisiana: the Mississippi river delta. Vermont / New Hampshire: the icons fit together, like the states. See below for Washington State.

Conclusion:

You should come up with some icon suggestions of your own, and propose them to your state government. They love sponsoring things like state birds, state flowers, and state songs, so why not a state emblem? California even has a state lichen and state dinosaur!

PROS: Would provide the option for people to promote their state with an easily-recognized emblem.

CONS: Could increase intra-state rivalry if people become attached to their own state’s amazing icon.

 

washington-crossing-the-delaware.jpg

P.S. The hypothetical icon for Washington State is an abstract representation of Washington crossing the Delaware. Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but that never stopped icon designers before!

 

brainstormed-weird-icons-small.png

P.P.S. Run out of icon ideas? Just draw a bunch of weird stuff on a sheet of paper and see if anything sticks. Try to avoid accidentally repurposing fascist iconography!

Uber and Lyft may have diminished the taxi medallion system, but the “medallion” idea can still be applied in other places! One weird local government tip.

Background:

Taxis in many cities operate under what is called a “medallion system” (Figure 1), whereby the supply of taxis is limited by a fixed quantity of tokens (“medallions”) that are issued in controlled quantities by the city.

taxi-medallion

Fig 1: An actual “taxi medallion” is apparently nothing like this.

Proposal:

For some reason, almost nothing else is regulated in this manner. But there are other services that are conceptually similar and could have their own “medallion” systems.

For example:

delivery-driving

Fig 2: Food delivery (e.g., pizza, Chinese food). Like a taxi, the driver operates a passenger automobile on public roads for commercial purposes.  A “delivery driving wedge” could be required in order for a business, such as a pizza restaurant, to deliver food.

dog-hypercube

Fig 3: Dog walkers make use of the public sidewalks and roads, and must abide by requirements that other pedestrians are not subject to (“pick up dog poop, do not allow the dog to bite anyone”). This “dog hypercube” would ensure that there was not an over-abundance of dogs on the sidewalks at any given time.

 

internet-cube

Fig 3: The medallion system could be applied to other activities with commercial potential.

  • Bicycles: Like a taxi, a bicycle consumes space on the public roads. Licensing of bicycles to a small number (see Figure 3, right side) would guarantee the availability of bike rack spots.
  • Internet usage could be prohibited without an “Internet cube” medallion (see Figure 3, left side). This could increase the available bandwidth for other purposes and could bring clients back to businesses like video rental companies and paper map retailers.

PROS: Opens up a new source of income: purchase a medallion, and then rent it out!

CONS: It may be difficult for City Hall employees to estimate the exact quantity of medallions to issue.

 

 

 

One trick of common courtesy that would give you a new sense of satisfaction from paying your taxes!

Background:

It’s always polite to write a thank-you note when you get a gift. Especially if it’s a large sum of money!

For example, a thank-you note from a child might look like this: “Dear Grandma, thanks for the money for my birthday. I used it to buy a bicycle. Here’s a picture… (etc).”

Proposal:

The various benefits of a stable government are generally abstract and far-removed from the taxpayer.

But the pain of paying a huge chunk of money is obvious and immediate!

Governments across the world might benefit from sending a “thank you” note to each taxpayer, indicating what the money was used for!

(Some charities already do this, sending personalized thank-you notes in return for donations.)

Here is a mockup of what it would look like for the U.S. Government:

traffic-cone

Fig 1: A taxpayer who didn’t make a lot of money during the year might get a letter that looked like this.

Fig 2: A taxpayer who made a larger sum of money might get a more interesting thank-you note. The wizard hat was probably grossly overpriced, however.

octo

Fig 3: Sometimes, your tax dollars wouldn’t actually be enough to pay for the entirety of a specific purchase. In this case, the fraction purchased would be indicated, and the picture would be partially grayed-out to match. For example, this person’s tax revenue was used to partially buy an octopus, but their contribution alone was only sufficient to pay for five of the octopus’s eight legs. What strange and secret purpose did the government need an octopus, anyway? Well, the answer is  ████ ████ ██, ████ ██ █████ ██ ██████████ and also  ████ ██ ████ ███ ████ ██████ ████ ██ ████ ███ ██ ██ █ ██ ██████████ .

Conclusion:

This is a great idea! The many readers of this post who work at the IRS should lobby to have it implemented immediately.

PROS: Increases both accountability to the taxpayer of tax revenue and the personal connection of citizens to their representative government.

CONS: ████████ █ █████ ██ ███ █ █████ ! ████

blank

Supplementary Figure A: A blank “taxpayer thank-you note.”

unknown-tax

Supplementary Figure B: Original “taxpayer thank-you note” mockup.