I was just up in Beijing, for the first time since last summer, and came across something small but revolutionary: polling, in the airport. So it’s not quite universal suffrage. It’s more surveying than ballot casting. And it’s to appraise the performance of passport control, not state leaders. But I’ll take it.
The first clue was the electronic sign: “You are welcome to comment on our work for passport control.” I suspected that at best it would be a chain restaurant-style wooden box where one could deposit a card scrawled with invective that would be duly ignored. But upon arrival at the desk, I was faced with four buttons. They options were “Greatly Satisfied” (big smiley face), “Satisfied” (sober smiley face), “Checking Time Too Long” (moderate frown) and “Poor Customer Service” (severe frown.)
I was invited to vote, but was a little wary. Would a moderate frown backfire, and leave me in passport purgatory? I didn’t vote. On the return I used my new power to declare myself “satisfied.” Only the strangeness of being “greatly satisfied” with the passport control experience prevented me from pressing the big smiley face. The truth is that these were the most pleasant passport control officers I’ve encountered anywhere. Pre-9/11 U.S. or even Thailand can’t compete. I don’t know how the travelers’ responses were registered, but judging from the officers smiles and expressions of welcome it seemed like they took it very seriously.
I can see it now, inspired by Beijing’s example, airports throughout the world will enfranchise travelers. It will spread through Asia, then the Middle East and Africa, then North America and Europe–a chain of democratic dominos that starts in China.