Online democracy

October 11, 2013




The government shut-down should make us realize that the U.S.'s attempt at democracy is a failure. Our own Congress does more damage to the U.S. than Al Qaida could dream of doing.


Democracy is not the problem. I believe that if national issues could be decided directly by the people - by majority vote - outcomes would be much better than what manages to get through both houses of Congress. And decisions would be made much quicker; no passing of bills back and forth between the House and Senate, no filibusters, no House speaker refusing to allow a vote.


Coming up with a system of direct democracy would be hard enough; changing the Constitution to put it in place would be pretty much impossible. The amendment process is Article V of the Constitution:


The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.


It is that last part that throws the wrench in the works: "[N]o State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate." If we can't get rid of the Senate, there is no hope for democracy. Unlike the House, where each member represents an equal number of citizens, the Senate has two senators for each state, regardless of population. It was actually created to thwart democracy, or as James Madison explained it, "to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority." Originally, senators were not even elected by popular vote. Until 1913 and the 17th amendment, they were elected by state legislatures.


So barring a revolution, we are stuck with what we've got.


One thing we can do, however, is create an unofficial direct democracy to show what the people really want and - hopefully - shame Congress into acting accordingly. It would be privately funded and operated.


First, we will get everybody registered - everybody who wants to participate, that is. To participate, one must be a registered voter in the current system. Since state voter registration records are available to anyone who wants them, we can obtain them for the new system. A few years ago, I got the entire Qualified Voter File for Michigan - six million voter records - on a CD for about $33. Some additional information will be needed and each participant will need a username and password.


This will be an online system; at some point, we'll have to figure out how to accommodate people who don't do online.


Registrations will probably have to be face-to-face so we can verify identity, and that will be costly. We can use volunteers and persuade businesses like coffee shops to allow us to set up registration desks on their premises. Locations and hours could be posted on the web. One way to finance the process would be to ask each registrant for a donation.


Once registered, participants will be able to vote on any bill introduced in Congress as well for candidates and measures on the ballot in their home voting district. Until a bill is passed or defeated, or an election is over, participants will be able to change their votes. The system will keep track of all this, but the only information made public will be day-to-day vote totals. And, of course, none of this will have any legal effect. It will just be a measure of popular sentiment. But it would also show how a real democracy could work.


Note: This is an idea I've been working on for 30 or so years. More . . .