October 26, 2012
What would happen if everybody wanted to vote? On anything? Could it be done?
Just imagine waking up in the morning, and while having breakfast and coffee, instead of reading a newspaper / news-feed / social network updates you would get to vote on 15-20 issues. Current technological advance insures that it would be quite possible to have an electronic platform that one can access and cast a ballot without even leaving the privacy of his/her house. Tech prices cover all ranges today and it’s quite believable that say in 5 years’ time every citizen in Europe will have a mobile personal device with internet access and sufficient security to warrant the use of such a system.
And this brings me to believe that more applied, direct democracy would be possible in Europe. Implementing this would be indeed a major leap forward in the democratic process but would also imply a huge effort – both financial and educational.
It could however start as a public consultation mechanism – the current EU administration carries out regular consultations, but they are not sufficiently advertised and usually never get sufficient attention from the general public – this in turn means that those answering are the ones that are already quite informed on the matter, and those that had no idea will continue to remain clueless. For example, a cross-platform mobile app would even shorten the time it takes to complete such questionnaires by allowing the user to create a profile with the relevant data. Speech to text technology could also insure facility of use in answering, many backing off from such questionnaires because the answer expected is too lengthy to type. RIM, makers of Blackberry terminals, employs a similar system allowing users to cast their opinion on certain terminal features.
The system would have to be advertised – and a sufficient time allowed for the system to grow. But once a sufficient number of users would have joined, it could be taken to the next level by allowing citizens to vote on lesser issues – it could be done as another form of consulting the populous, as a tool for the parliament at first and it could later develop into a true direct democracy mechanism.
Sure, a million issues arise – who is going to implement it, how much is it going to cost, who’s going to operate it, how do you ensure the secure character of the system. But we can figure all these things out given the will to do it, the time to do it, and the funding.
It might sound like science fiction today, but I’m pretty sure that when postal voting was introduced in Switzerland it was quite the same. What I find amazing is the fact that it could be done tomorrow should it be financed.
The initiation of legislation could be let to a Parliament that can take the US example of bicameral – lower chamber for representatives of the people and an upper chamber for representatives of the federated units. I said units because it’s this writer’s belief that a nation state federation is not feasible and the nature of the federated layer has not yet been discussed. I support regions as federated units as outlined in a previous post.
Direct democracy could then further be enforced by introducing the Swiss modus operandi when it comes to referendums – simple majority for simpler issues and double majority for more complex issues. Simple majority in this case is 50%+1 of entire population and double majority is 50%+1 of all population and 50%+1 of all units.
Needless to say that once the infrastructure is in place, this tool could be used on a scale of different levels, going down to decision on a municipal level. In effect such a system would enable a permanent direct democracy environment all across the continent and on all levels of governance.
It is however true that this would also create the need to implement a functional means of translating a legislative initiative into simpler language that all citizens can operate with. Advertising such initiatives would also be important, so as to guarantee that people are aware of the subject brought to their attention. Establishing thresholds should insure proper interest and response.
Much thought and debating should go into such an initiative. But the first steps – the public consultation tool could be initiated and implemented before the end of this year. Number of downloads should also show just how many Europeans are interested in what goes on in Brussels.Horatiu Ferchiu