Could Direct Digital Democracy and a New Branch of Government Improve the US?
When everyone has a mobile phone, why not use them to vote?
Photo: Conal Gallagher/Flickr
Direct Digital Democracy, or DDD, is not new. However, it's a concept that might soon challenge the nature of government around the world.
DDD broadly argues that, with so much technology at people's disposal (70 percent of the world will be using smartphones by 2020), we should be able to influence the actions of our governments and legal systems by being able to universally vote on issues as they occur.
New software programs, and our constant interconnectedness via phones, computers, tablets, and even smartwatches, allow us the ability to form a quick and powerful national opinion—and let government and our leaders know about it in real time.
A major issue with democracy right now is the lag time between when the people express their wishes and when politicians act. Currently, the best we can do is vote in a politician and hope over their term they actually try to keep the promises they made. This system—which most Western countries have—is called representative democracy. The problem, of course, is many politicians don't keep their promises once they've started their jobs. This is especially troubling in the case of US Senators, who serve six years, and are sometimes known to be totally out of touch with their constituents.
DDD brings back power to the people. Over the last 25 years, since use of the internet became commonplace, various public figures have advocated for DDD. Most famously was Ross Perot, who envisioned electronic town hall meetings and campaigned for DDD in his 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns (Perot preferred to refer to it as "electronic democracy" instead of DDD).
I think—whether people are informed correctly, partially, or maybe even not at all—they should still have a voice that counts
Direct digital democracy is so appealing to the people that I'm wondering if America should formally introduce a fourth branch of federal government that would be entirely based on the concept. Such a DDD branch of government would further balance the powers that be. Currently in the US, the executive (President), judicial (Supreme Court), and legislative (US Congress) branches of the federal government are set up to constantly keep each other from overstepping boundaries and doing stupid things—creating what we know as the checks and balances system.
For over two centuries, this system has mostly worked. But make no mistake, it's a flawed democratic system that doesn't actually do the will of the people, except for at the very moment it elects its representatives. What we could try in America is a fourth branch that actually voices in real time what the people believe.
One benefit of such a system is that it might thwart lobbyists, special interest groups, and backroom government dealings by keeping politicians far more honest. Reports show that only one in five Americans trust their government. DDD would give people an opportunity to show agreement or disagreement with their politicians, including the possibility to vote for impeachment of underperformers.
I think in the future, this fourth branch of government might be something very serious to consider for adherents of democracy. But how would DDD formally work?
Frankly, it could operate in a number of ways, but it probably wouldn't be much different than a simple polling and voting platform that operates on gadgets people own. Many programs offer similar ideas to this already, including Twitter now with its polling abilities. I'm imagining an encrypted Social Security number-based system. Once a month, people all around the country have a chance to voice their opinion in standardized votes on pre-chosen agendas. Americans could tackle the issues the other branches of government are considering, or even issues that are still on the back burners—like whether marijuana should be nationally legalized, or whether we should allow lethal drones in our skies, or whether we should reduce the number of our nearly 7,500 nuclear weapons. In urgent matters, like directly after 9/11, emergency votes could be undertaken.
Because DDD votes would need to have some legal authority to impact the federal checks and balances system we have now in the US government, the US Congress might have to add an amendment to the US Constitution. Of course, the language establishing DDD would have to be such that it creates a legal mandate of action to be followed: This might include certain vetoing powers over other branches of government, as well as the ability to break ties (for example, the Supreme Court just recently had a tie regarding unions). Maybe the DDD vote even should have a say in who gets nominated for the Supreme Court.
A possible problem with DDD might be that not enough people vote on certain issues. In this case, qualifiers could be established that mandate a minimum of 50 percent (or even two-thirds) of the eligible voting population votes.
Elected officials—many who are self-interested lawyers—will surely have other problems with DDD. Mostly, they'll probably complain that America's proposed laws and mandates are highly complex—and each issue comes with hundreds of pages of reading material. While that may be true, I disagree that voters shouldn't tackle them. I think—whether people are informed correctly, partially, or maybe even not at all—they should still have a voice that counts. That's what a checks and balances system in a democracy is all about. Besides, obviously President George W. Bush wasn't correctly informed about weapons of mass destruction when he took America to war in Iraq, so it's not only government officials that is sometimes wrong.
On the flip side, one of the reasons I think many people will like DDD is it gives millennials and youth a much louder voice. Currently in the US, there are nearly 80 million people under the age of 35. Yet, getting them to vote can be difficult for a number of reasons—which often boils down to apathy or schedule conflicts. But quick votes from their smartphones could change that entire issue. America's youth would have a louder voice than it's ever had—and in these changing transhuman times, that could be very helpful.
In the future, technology and the internet will continue to bring us all closer to each other and give us more visibility into our government. We should be open to considering new ways to improve our society and nations using innovative solutions. Democracy and the will of the people is the cornerstone of our modern way of life, but it can always be improved upon to maximize freedom and equality. Direct digital democracy is a fine idea to consider to start in that direction.Zoltan Istvan is a futurist and 2016 US Presidential candidate of the Transhumanist Party. He writes an occasional column for Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond human ability.