An Electrical Engineer’s Take on the 2016 Election

A wise man once said, “The rhetoric of a campaign trail always drastically varies from governance.”

This is very frustrating for me.

It seems like this stems from the fact that the basic criteria for becoming president is how well you can echo the opinions of the majority of Americans; uninformed as they may be.

I’m finishing up a masters degree in electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and I have a solid understanding of topics like parallel computing and artificial intelligence but, to be honest, when it comes to government, I am just another uninformed American. For example…

1) I follow foreign affairs, but still feel as though I have a very incomplete understanding about the best way to handle US/Chinese and US/Russian relationships.

2) I understand most NATO countries may not be spending enough on military, but I don’t really know exactly why this is and how to fix it.

3) I really have no idea what an optimal healthcare strategy looks like and how these tend to evolve over time and don’t really understand why so called experts arrive at their conclusions on this matter.

4) I listen to economists analyze tax plans and have little actual knowledge of how to evaluate them.

Add to every American’s incomplete knowledge the following:

1) Trump lied most of the time, Hillary lied a little less. Trump’s plans were fake and some of Hilary’s were.

2) There is an insane amount of misinformation on the internet regarding BOTH Hillary and Trump scandals.

Now it seems blue collared white men without a college degree just decided our president. Does this generally make sense?

My Main Question

From an engineering perspective I want to know why I’m asked to choose which candidate (and their team of advisors) is more capable of handling complex international relations, health care and tax plans when I have a very incomplete knowledge in these areas and I’m exposed to loads of misinformation about these candidates?

When it comes to choosing a candidate, I’m being asked to make an uneducated guess.

Example 1

Just because a candidate understands 7 in 10 Americans disapprove of the Iran Nuclear Deal doesn’t mean the candidate will be able to serve their best interests in this policy area. As I understand it, the existing deal gives the US visibility into the Iranian nuclear program and prevented what could have been a major conflict. Lets assume this is true. With our current system we could easily elect a candidate with no relevant foreign policy experience who merely echoes the misinformed opinion of the American people over a candidate who defended the deal as a result of being open minded enough to take advice from someone who’s an expert in Iranian/US relations. In this particular case my guess is 1 in 10 Americans disapprove of the deal for legitimate reasons and 6 in 10 Americans disapprove of it because “Iran” and “Nuclear” were mentioned close together.

Example 2

I thought Hillary was getting preferential treatment from Comey when I read other cases of mishandling classified information and the definition of gross negligence. Only after reading about Gorin v. United States (1941), and after reading the entire FBI investigation summary did I realizing his ruling made sense. I tried to simplify the email scandal in the link below. I think the FBI investigation report provided a very different story than either Clinton, Trump or Fox, MSNBC, PBS, NBC, CNN etc. were telling.

I don’t see how Americans can be expected to have an informed opinion on this.

When the American people are the judge, the system attracts a combination of master manipulators and people who’ve boiled the opinions of the American people down to a science rather than people who know how assemble and lead a team of experts with an open mind.

“Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining” — Teddy Roosevelt

So, instead of the messy system we have now, how about something close to this instead,

-Diplomats/Foreign Policy experts vote on which candidate and their team better understands world politics

-expert economists vote on the tax plan

-environmental scientists vote on climate change proposals

-doctors/ health care officials vote on health care plans

-every expert, the fbi, cia, and some lawyers vote on trustworthiness

-existing politicians vote on what weights to give to each of these issues (weights must add to 1 no weight can be less than .05)

Candiates “Topic Score” = (% of expert votes candidate got for topicX)*(average weight politicians gave to topicX)

Candiates “Overall Score” = sum of all “Topic Scores”

Whoever gets the highest “Overall Score” wins.

And any American would have the right to become a voting expert if they wanted to.

Only open minded, honest and intelligent candidates capable of mobilizing and listening to a team of experts would be capable of getting elected by a system composed of experts.

Question 1:

How do you chose the experts?


Choosing experts is very possible.

- Successful companies and academic institutions do this all the time.

- Groups of experts already exist

Experts should be chosen via a combination of methods just as select people are chosen for jobs.

- number of citation their papers received

- recommendations

- achievements

- years of service

- etc.

Question 2:

How can we protect against experts looking out for their own interests in a way which would cause the government to devolve into an elitist overclass?


As far as I can tell elected officials have two incentives for not doing things purely in their own interests.

1) getting reelected

2) the system of checks and balances in the government

Checks and balances are tough when it comes to experts because the only person capable of checking if an expert didn’t cleverly slip a self interest driven ruling in his/her analysis is probably another expert. What if…

1) the identities of all experts in a panel were hidden from each other. We could use blockchain for this.

2) when it came time for the panel of experts to vote on which candidate and their team could best accomplish task X one third of the panel would be randomly chosen to vote + explain their reasoning behind the vote and the other two thirds would be randomly chosen to evaluate whether the reasoning had malicious intent. It would work like a star rating.

If an expert gets marked for having malicious intent by the two people evaluating his/her decision enough times he/she’s kicked off the panel.

This is not a perfect, but I don’t see how a system like this is theoretically impossible to devise.

Question 3:

How is this different than super delegates?


Unlike super delegates, experts only vote on a topic they are an expert in. Let experts like those who work for the Tax Policy Center decide if a tax plan is good.

Also republicans don’t have super delegates and Democrats only have super delegates in the primaries.

Question 4:

Isn’t this similar to the electoral college which we already have?


The electoral college is broken because electors aren’t experts. In addition as I understand it electors for a given state are essentially proxies for the popular vote of that state.

Question 5:

How will people born into difficult situations get the chance to become an expert?


I think a key question is what’s worse. People making decisions based off conspiracy theories, bold faced lies, fake plans etc. or people getting left out. This isn’t a strait forward question, but I personally would gladly forfeit my vote to give an expert a weighted opinion on a particular topic. Even a watered down version of what I’m proposing such as a system of experts that acts as a filter for presidential candidates before they try to appeal to the masses seems reasonable.

Bottom Line

The US’s model of government was thought up two centuries ago by people who openly admitted it had major flaws and might not work. It hasn’t changed much because…

1) it works decently with exception that once in awhile you elect an idiot

2) its hard to iterate through and evaluate different types of governments and the one we have now is a big bulky legacy system that everyone’s scared to touch

I think the model of government needs to be upgraded because right now we’re rolling the dice. If you cross the street once without looking both ways you’ll probably be fine and get through it.. 1000 times without looking both ways you’ll get hit by a car. I think if you elect enough candidates in a row for completely illegitimate reasons there will be a tipping point.