Social Question

funkdaddy's avatar

With current technologies, couldn't US politics move back to citizens voting on issues instead of just representation?

Asked by funkdaddy (12992 points ) August 20th, 2010

Right now for federal politics we essentially vote for representatives of our area (Senators for example) with the hope they will act in our best interest and desires. Originally this was done because it was impractical to get votes from millions of people on each issue so these representatives made democracy possible. Each representative essentially votes for millions of people once elected.

Now with the internet being available to just about everyone and an increasing lack of trust in politicians, couldn’t “we the people” simply vote on important issues directly? Let’s say there were monthly votes on 5–10 big issues. Voting could be done easily from your home, public libraries, major employers, or schools for a one week period each month. Politicians would need to have a majority vote to get an issue on the ballot, and then their role would move to educating the public or making convincing arguments for their side. Much like the current system within Congress and the House of Representatives.

Not every issue would be practical this way, you couldn’t practically vote on an entire federal budget, but lets say issues like universal health care, same-sex marriage, or deep sea drilling rights came to a popular vote. Wouldn’t you be more comfortable knowing it was at least a majority decision? You can still think the majority is wrong, but at least everyone would be represented directly.

It seems this would take a bit of the power out of the politicians hands and put it back with the people they represent.

Would this work? How would you improve on the idea? Would you be in favor of this type of system over the current method of representation?

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17 Answers

nikipedia's avatar

California has something similar to this already with the proposition system. I think a lot of people are more comfortable leaving politics to the politicians—it’s difficult to have a good, thorough understanding of a lot of political issues. I personally am often uncomfortable voting on propositions because I just don’t know if I understand the whole thing well enough to render judgment.

zophu's avatar

What’s sad is, a system like this wouldn’t need to be a part of the government. If we created a single website, that reliably recorded the opinions of the majority, that would be our government. If we were an actual democracy anyway.

Seaofclouds's avatar

I agree with @nikipedia. While it would be great to know that we all got our say, I’d be really concerned about the number of people that vote on something without really knowing all of the issues and what it really means. I also think we would have a lot of people voting on issues based on their emotions instead of the constitution and equal rights. I think there comes a point in time where politicians really have their hands tied on some issues because what people want would violate the constitution.

There’s also the risk of people complaining that the voting was rigged or someone hacked it. Ohh, and don’t forget we would have to have some kind of security to ensure the person voting is really the person they say they are (which would be really hard to do over the internet).

woodcutter's avatar

and we could get ACORN to set the whole thing up!

Mamradpivo's avatar

No, we’re way too big and not nearly enough people are in tune. Co-op organizations splinter and dissolve with 100 or so people. 300 million couldn’t ever get anything done.

bobloblaw's avatar

No, I would not be comfortable with knowing that everything is enacted via majority rule. That would simply be mob-rule. It’s a problem that the Founding Fathers sought to avoid: tyranny of the majority. I don’t think it would ever work in a just manner. Practically speaking, as many have said, it’d be a logistical nightmare. Using CA as an example, the CA legislature, during any given session, will see over 200 bills. W/out the legislature, uninformed citizens would have to vote on each piece of legislation every year. Every year would, essentially, be an election year.

Then you have the problem of complexity. A few years back, a ballot initiative was up in CA that would create a bond that would pay for a high speed rail system. It supposedly would cost 42–45 billion dollars to build. Is that a good price for a rail system? I have no idea and, I would gather, most people wouldn’t know either. Why am I voting on this when I have no idea regarding the intricacies of high speed rail systems?

Now, I’m not saying that we should blindly trust the legislators, but… we live in a democracy, right? We don’t like how they’re voting? Vote them out. Elect someone new. The politicians that people lament are still subject to public opinion and scrutiny. The fact that they keep getting reelected tends to show that enough people want them in office. There is no way you can argue that the politicians have taken the power away from the people. The people gave it to the politicians by voting them in.

If you want to blame anyone for any kind of a mess, blame the voting public.

jerv's avatar

Computer security is a little iffy and likely will remain so.

To illustrate another point about the possibility of corruption, a fictitious RPG setting bok that I have mentioned that the ProGov took a vote and 85% of voters voted to make it a Class C Felony to publicly question the integrityveracity of any election results, referendums, or other ProGov polls.

The theory is sound, but we are to human to make it work.

CrankMonkey's avatar

It’s not a matter of technology, but a matter of numbers. Athens had direct democracy, but it also had a tiny number of voters. Direct democracy has not worked well in California, and there’s no reason to think it would work well for the United States at large. Even if it did, the chances of it being approved through amendment are remote.

AstroChuck's avatar

A direct democracy is little more than mob rule. If you want an example of this then take a look at my state. We
have somewhat of a direct democracy in California with the whole proposition system we have in place. Outside of small communes I can’t see direct democracy working very efficiently. The business of government would work too slowly and little would get accomplished. Affairs of state cannot function very well without some sort of representative government.

ETpro's avatar

The founding fathers didn’t reject direct democracy just because it would have been technically impractical. They wanted the judgment of seasoned leaders to serve as a buffer against mass hysteria and rash judgments.

The Healthcare reform bill is a great example. It was over 2000 pages long. That’s partially because it had to reference and modify many hundreds of existing bills as well as strike out with new policy. The average person would need months to read and digest it, because you would need to read the referenced bills as well as its 2,000 pages. Congressmen have staff workers who help them wade through this work.

Aside from the practical problems of computer security (ISPs could band together and shape legislation largely as they pleased) you would need a constitutional amendment to make such a change. I can tell you right now such an amendment doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of passing. You would need ⅔rds of both houses of COngress to vote to strip themselves of power, and you would need ¾ of all the state legislatures to do the same. Lobbyists and big corporations who currently own COngress would pull out every stop and spend billions to stop such a move.

It is an interesting idea, but it’s a nonstarter. If we really want to change the political landscape in America, the way to do it is for John Q. Average American to decide that where our nation is heading is more important than who wins Dancing with the Stars.

TexasDude's avatar

True direct democracy is potentially dangerous.

Ever hear of tyranny of the majority?

jerv's avatar

@ETpro Like our current government isn’t prone to rash judgments and hysteria?

perspicacious's avatar

We’ve always voted on representation.

ETpro's avatar

@jerv Mor pandering to the masses. There was a time not so long ago wehn, on serious issues, the two parties would work together to do what is best for America. I do not see that happening today.

funkdaddy's avatar

Some great points above, it doesn’t appear to be a popular option which is mainly what I was trying to find out. I feel I may not have explained myself very well though and could clarify a bit.

I’m not by any means saying overthrow the current system and send everything to a popular vote of the people. I’m not in favor of mob rule and I didn’t explain that very well. What I am saying is keep the current system, but give them (Congress essentially) another option where important issues could be sent to the voters for a vote every month, three months, six months or whatever works. Just like elections, but with issues being voted on instead of candidates. Give a politician the chance to stand up and suggest an issue should be put to the people directly instead of argued endlessly by those elected. If 51% of their fellow politicians agree, it goes to a vote. If an issue goes to a vote and some minimum turn-out isn’t met (say 10–20%?) then things stay the same. If a change is approved then politicians would hammer out the details. “The Mob” would never vote on military action, the majority of the budget, or any of the day to day operations of the government. Most things would remain business as usual.

Let’s use universal health care as an example. Lets say before that 2000 page bill is drafted someone in Congress stands up and says “We’ve been arguing about this for 20 years, let’s let the voters have it.” Congress votes to put it on the ballot 6 months from then.

Wouldn’t 20%+ of American voters turn out for that vote? Wouldn’t just that turn out be a great thing? Wouldn’t that give a better view of what people wanted? The two sides aren’t that complicated. “Yes, I’d like universal care for everyone, figure out how it can work.” Or “No, the current system works fine, and I don’t want to pay for it.” The 2000 pages are simply how exactly it works, the overall issue is not that complicated. The elected officials still handle the details, but the issue is decided by the people directly. I don’t know which way it would go, there’d be some votes I really disagreed with, but the process would be more direct.

If you want people to care I feel they have to be part of the process. Right now I feel I either vote for the person who I agree with 40% of the time to represent me, or I vote for the guy I agree with even less. In most cases, my vote truly counts for nothing as the area I live in is firmly entrenched for the guy I agree with even less.

I don’t always agree with the way similar votes on local issues go, but I can say I’m more educated on those issues and feel more connected to the process. If my neighborhood wants to add road humps to cut down on through traffic, we vote on that and there are meetings to talk about the pros and cons. If my local community wants to put in a light rail system, we vote on it and political groups move to educate the public to see their side of the argument. There’s no such need for politicians or political groups to educate on the federal issues so elections degenerate into attacks on the candidate’s character, personal lives, campaign spending or what big names show up to their rallies rather than issues.

Regarding the technical aspects and security. We’ve already transferred most of our financial systems to public and private networks. Billions (trillions?) of dollars are transferred every day internationally with little incident. I think it would be a valid concern but fairly easily overcome with some appropriate checks in place. ISP’s could no more band together to affect votes than they could band together to steal your money when you use your bank’s website. We’re already moving towards a paperless system, that is simply a matter of time, education, and acceptance.

jerv's avatar

@funkdaddy Look at the problems we already have with voting machines though. As there is no monetary profit to be had, they haven’t bothered making voting machines secure in the same way that financial institutions are secure.

Also some people raise a big stink when others desire some sort of paper record to confirm that the results that the machine compiles match the input given. When a bank makes a mistake, you can often pull out a receipt or other physical evidence that the computer was wrong; not so with voting machines, and adding an internal printer that records votes as they are entered into the system makes people who desire to void accountability whine.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@funkdaddy The problem with your example about the healthcare is that it would then take even longer than it already did. If they came up with an idea and said, let’s let the people vote on it in 6 months, that’s 6 months of nothing happening. There’s no point for them to start drafting a bill if the people end up voting no. Instead, it was decided that they were going to work on it, and then many months later it was finally done.

I understand what you are saying, but in my opinion, if people really want to be heard about the issues, they need to make themselves be heard by their congressmen by writing to the, scheduling meetings with them, and coming up with other options as well. Just telling your congressmen that you don’t think it’s a good idea, really isn’t good enough these days (in my opinion) because it doesn’t leave them any options to negotiate with. They can say, my people don’t like it so I’m going to vote against it, but what if instead they could say, “what if we changed this to this and this to this, and tried to work out something that would in fact work for everyone. People that want to be involved need to education themselves on the subject, specify what it is they don’t like about the proposed legislation, and then offer up suggests for making it better. That is what a congressmen wants to hear (I think).

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