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Building Beyond: The Ghost Vote

Let's build a caucus

Building Beyond is an ongoing series of conversations about how much fun worldbuilding can be. Building a world doesn’t have to be hard or scary. Let’s give it a try, together.

Ghosts get to vote.

Luke CJ Smith is the lead singer for the St. Louis-based pulp rock quartet Ars Arcanum. Check out the first part of Far From the Sun, their Dungeons & Dragons-themed debut album, at arsarcanum.net.

Posthumous voting in the U.S. was inevitable, and it had been since 1886. That was the year that the Supreme Court determined — in the case of Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific — that the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed constitutional rights not just to freed slaves but to corporate entities as well.

From there, a straight line could be drawn from one legal precedent to another, as courtroom gymnastics bestowed an ever-growing mass of protections and privileges upon business constructs of all shapes and sizes.

A watershed moment came in 2033 as corporations gained the right to vote under Amalgamated Synergies International v. Idaho, though the direct impact of that ruling was negligible since, after decades of frenzied corporate consolidation, there were only six corporations left to cast a ballot. Even so, ASI opened the door to all manner of subsequent decisions that gave the franchise to assorted “creatures of statute.”

As the long arc of jurisprudence continued to bend toward greater rights for systems of wealth management, machine learning was progressing along in its own parabolic path. These two ascending forces finally intersected in the mahogany-appointed boardroom of The Homme Foundation, an organization committed to furthering the vision and goals of Joshua P. Homme — philanthropist, philosopher, and former guitarist for Queens of the Stone Age — who had passed on in the early 2040s.

Drawing on decades of Homme’s correspondences, social media posts, online shopping data and biometric information, Big Data analysts were able to produce a sophisticated computer model of the great man’s decision-making methodology. This algorithm was able to predict with 99.95% certainty what choices Homme would’ve made had he lived, as well as what opinions he would’ve formed of new emerging circumstances, and how those opinions would affect future choices. So long as the model was perpetually kept up-to-date with information on current events and trends in the popular culture, it met legal criteria to serve both as the executor of the Homme estate and as chief executive officer for the Homme Foundation.

Upon attaining that office, the late Mr. Homme regained the right to vote, albeit on behalf of the organization he created and which, subsequently, re-created him.

In less than a year, more than forty million new foundational trusts were instituted, as the monied classes on both sides of the aisle blew through their retirement savings to ensure they’d be able to continue influencing American political life well into the unknowable depths of future time.

Today, as we approach the 63rd Century, the resources required to store and maintain the cognitive maps for more than 300 quadrillion unique voters dwarfs all other forms of energy consumption. Even as a Type II civilization on the Kardashev scale, frequent brownouts plague our cities. However, the benefits are beyond dispute; thanks to the aggregated wisdom — and determined self-interest — of over four millennia of participants in our two-party system of government, our society is now on the precipice of real and lasting change.

The Equal Rights Amendment. Reparations for slavery. Prison reform. Legalized marijuana. Universal basic income. Affordable healthcare. We’ve never been closer to attaining these crucial milestones. Progress is within our grasp. As President GlaxoSmithKline once wrote, “All we need to do is dig in, keep our eye on the prize, and not back down an inch. History — or at least 49.9999% of it — is on our side. All we need are a few swing voters.”

Emma Mieko Candon (she/they) is a queer author drawn to tales of devouring ghosts, cursed linguistics, and mediocre robots. Emma's forthcoming work includes STAR WARS VISIONS: RONIN (October, 2021), a Japanese reimagining of the Star Wars mythos, and THE ARCHIVE UNDYING (2023) with Tor.com, an original speculative novel about sad giant robots and fraught queer romance in the post-post-apocalypse. Find Emma airing unimpeachable anime opinions on Twitter at @EmmaCandon, at website emcandon.com, or wailing about video games under the bushes in front of the nearest boba tea joint.

Gailey: Ghosts get to vote.

Oh? Is that how they put it to you? We “got” to have our say? Well, to us they said: ……

Nothing, yes. They said nothing. They didn’t mean for us to come along, you know? They only wanted to bring their own.

Oops. :)

Perhaps it sounds less than fair to say “they” brought us when we mean only a very small sliver of the entirety—it wasn’t you, obviously. They would never have let you have that kind of power. Not before we came along.

We all know them, regardless. They had ensured we would. They emblazoned their names on their triumphs and their magnanimities, their acquisitions and their mergers, their priapic proto-spaceships, even as they demanded their bodily privacy and the autonomy of solitude.

Were any of us surprised to see that they thought their names should be as unto universal constants, exquisitely true across eternity? They had squeezed and drunk the blood and bones and time from our indebted, gig-ridden bodies until we were but husks, all in hopes of staving off their own inevitable ends. So, when at last they accepted the inescapable fact of their corporeal oblivion, of course they strove to rescue their selves regardless.

They wrote their preeminence into our laws, decided upon by the representatives they had long since paid for: that their corporate interests should be protected by votes cast in their name—so long as those corporate bodies persisted.

“Therefore,” they said, “whensoever I die—for I will, being as human as the rest of you—” (ha!) “—my good works may remain in step with my goodness, and my goodness may endure the absence of myself.”

To wit: if I am to be dead, at least I’ll still have my say.

Corporate. Interesting word, you know? Corporatus, a body, then corporare, to form one. They made clear that their right to say something, anything, should be defined by the fact of what was physically of them—what they had made, what they owned, their legacy made concrete. Company, land, wealth embodied, any and all such things bought a soul’s political suffrage even after its fleshly expiration.

They had some inkling, it seems, that they were not alone in their interests. That there might be others whose desires would reach through the door, were the door to be opened.

And when they swung that door free, well, they weren’t wrong. We came to you.

Everyone has ghosts, you see; it’s just some of you know us better than others.

We seeped first under your doors and window panes—those of you who had kept us close by ritual and remembrance, by joy and grief alike. We came also through bones and memories, drawn by your aches and desires. You were ours, after all, and we yours, and your bodies were our first concern.

So, we who came for you knew already what we wanted—we cast our lots in step with the bodies we were bound to, our families and friends and other loves. We wanted you safer, stronger, healthier, and we demanded that which would protect you. More doctors, more teachers, more structure and care—and an exorcism of the money that was nothing but shackle, that cruelty known as debt.

Others of us came not for you but for the world. We had been driven from it by the cruelty of moneyed indifference, crushed under the weight of their wants. We had a pain all our own, defined by what had been taken from us—and by they who took it.

So, we threw ourselves against all the measures that had so wounded us, defied monopoly and exemption and their every attempt to devour more as they had already devoured us. We would be a shield for you, we thought, a bastion against their hungry hands.

Still others of our host, we carried in like a tide. We were called back not by love or agony but were swept along; we barely noticed the difference between the living world and the one that followed it. We could be kind, and we could be cruel, but we had few of any wants unto ourselves.

We last were ripe, they thought, for swaying. They had seen our numbers, we had overcome their laws—we threatened the sanctity of their legacies. But they could not tempt us with their pleasures, nor threaten us with their violence. We were those who cared least for the things about which they cared most. Instead, we were swayed by your passions and hurts, your appeals and interests, and we sought to possess whatever you would permit us to.

But we should not have expected that the ones who had opened the door for sake of their own desires would surrender to the power that we had together created. Of course they didn’t. They couldn’t bear it.

Gailey: How does ghost voting change election outcomes?

We did not think it a mistake. It isn’t, probably. Or, the mistake is not our own.

We asked for that which we did not have: the right to sit beside you, to represent our voices next to yours.

Few of you liked the thought, at first. Some disliked it more than others. But some of you who we’d fought for, you fought for us in turn. You won us a place in our communities and towns—on school boards and city councils—then your state senates, and then—

We had demonstrated the possibility, made it real by our victories. So, the greedy lot, they made us proof of their own ambition. If one of ours could represent a state, why could one of their own dead not also represent far more? Could they not govern? Could they not be even greater?

Now they call ghosts such pretty things: beyond corruption, infallibly loyal, devoted to ideal and cause over all petty substance. What more could you want in the seat of greatest power?

(So long as it is a ghost of their own making. A ghost bound by that first law and all its corporality entailed.)

It is guile they have deployed before. They said as much when they were alive. But we know better, don’t we? Their goodness killed so many of us.

So, here we are, not far removed from where we were. They reach for the power they thought to secure until our initial arrival interrupted their scheme. Our return was no balm against their hunger. We brought hope, then fear, now hope again—but we have not brought an end, nor have we an answer.

All we have is difference, for once we were apart, and now we are with you. And so it is together that we will strive against the world they have wrought to their liking—until it is a world that we have wrought to ours.

My ghostly voters would be born of unfinished business. Not everyone becomes a ghost, naturally — only those with unfinished business powerful enough to compel them into the corporeal realm. They vanish once their business is done. This would, over time, apply slow but serious pressure to the moral arc of the universe — which only bends if it is pushed, constantly and steadily, by those living and dead who earnestly believe that their work can never truly be done.

All of these possibilities are just beginnings. Luke's voting bloc is the foundation of a biting commentary on the infuriating staying power of centrism. Emma's political haunting is either an unsettling threat or a bright promise of justice, depending on where you stand with those who have died from a lack of it. My update to the political paradigm is as hopeful as I know how to be.

What would your dead vote for? Whose wishes would carry the most weight if outliving certain groups of people didn’t define the political landscape?

Do whatever you want with these questions. You can write something down in the comments or on social media or in a notebook nobody will ever see. You can draw or paint or sit down a friend and talk their ear off about your ideas. You can stare at the horizon and imagine, letting the infinite landscape of your mind unfold just a little farther than it did yesterday. No matter what you do, take pride in the knowledge that you’re creating something that has never existed before. You’re building a little corner of a whole new world.

That’s amazing.

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In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.