Electronic Individual Voting

Present technology makes it possible for any individual to vote on any bill before a national, state or local legislature. It was asked:

What will be the effect of this technology?

This is the wrong question. The technology has no effect by itself. Each country or state or locality may decide not to use the technology or to decide to use it in some particular way. The right question is:

What possibilities does this technology open for society?

Inventing the technology is only part of the job of putting it to good use. It is also necessary to invent the political mechanism for putting it to use. I doubt that it is customary for political scientists to spend much effort in inventing new political mechanisms. The tradition of their field is to analyze present and past political mechanisms and how they operate in various societies.

Here's a proposal for using the technology that allows an individual voter to vote on every bill.

  1. A legislative web page would make available information about the state of the legislative process and would allow voters to do what is described in the following points.
  2. Any voter may delegate his voting privilege to any person at any time. He may revoke the delegation or change it to another person at any time. Since most people don't want to pay attention to very many issues, they will leave their votes delegated most of the time.
  3. A person who has been delegated votes may redelegate them according the same rules above.
  4. A person who solicits the delegation of votes will be called a politician. He undertakes to pay attention to issues and to vote or redelegate in accordance with the interests and/or beliefs of those who have delegated votes to him.
  5. A person with a certain number of votes delegated to him will be entitled to a salary and appropriate benefits on undertaking to make legislating his profession. In the case of the U.S. Congress, the number might be 200,000 votes.
  6. There may be territorial restrictions as there are today, e.g. a politician may solicit votes from a particular state or district.
  7. At any time, a person may choose to cast the votes he has on any bill before the legislative body. In this case his vote or votes are subtracted from those of the person to whom the vote is usually delegated. Since there are many bills, a person will rarely choose to cast his own vote.
  8. A bill can be put before the legislature by a certain number of votes. Ordinarily, bills will arise by negotiations among legislators, because an individual legislator is unlikely to have enough votes to do it by himself.
  9. All the present political mechanisms of lobbying and propaganda and advertising are likely to continue to exist. However, advocates and opponents of particular bills may often try to persuade people to cast their own votes on issues of particular importance.
  10. I refrain from presenting proposals for the rest of the government, which may stay the same or change.

The above is one way the technology might be used. It might work out well or badly. I hope that any scheme will be tried out locally before it is implemented on a large scale. There is still a need for a Constitution to prevent tyranny of the majority, and some mechanisms to dampen the effects of oscillations of public opinion may be needed.

Political scientists may invent and advocate a variety of other ways of using the technology or advocate not using it at all. Others will confine themselves to predicting the effects of new political mechanisms. I hope some of them will study the effects of this and other new political mechanisms that present technology makes possible. They should try to come up with the best uses of new technology.

Somewhat in contradiction to what I said was the right question, we should consider the possibility of unintended effects. One possibility is that vast amounts of money might be raised and spent on TV campaigns to get citizens to cast their own votes on particular bills. This might make money even more important in politics than it presently is.

The effect of money might be reduced by providing a web standard location for the debate on each bill. A voter would look there to see and hear what each side had said. The presentations would tend to become as professional as the TV ads, and this would be expensive. However, the payments to the TV networks would be eliminated. Moreover, the possibility of instant response would reduce the effect of attack advertising.

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