How To Have an Incorruptible Democracy

I want people around the world to feel trust, pride, and ownership in their governments. I want to see more power in our hands as we engage with the fabric of our world. I know I’m not alone in this desire.

I’ve thought long and hard about how this could become a reality, and after discarding many flawed ideas along the way, I believe I can share an idea which would truly deliver an “incorruptible democracy”, as I’m calling it (ID for short). [Note: I discovered after writing this that I am not the only person who has spontaneously conceived of this basic concept, but this particular version is unique.]

Incorruptible Democracy offers the following benefits:

  • Eliminates corruption in passing laws
  • More representative of the public than Congress
  • Is the most well-informed possible version of democracy
  • Creates a more responsible citizenry, instead of one which is stuck in blaming politicians
  • Makes elections less expensive and difficult for voters, and for people with ideas
  • Gets rid of stagnancy and allows for speedy action and rapid improvement of policies
  • Doesn’t require campaign finance reform in order to work, or any other major changes

Because people around the world are most familiar with the basics of how the American national government works, I’m going to describe Incorruptible Democracy (abbreviated as “I.D.”) by describing an implementation at the national level. But, it would also work just as well at the state and local levels, and would be far easier to implement there first. And if you are a reader from another country, please think about this idea in relation to your own government, and tell me what you think.

I also want to make it clear that I am not suggesting I.D. as a replacement for Congress. Congress does many things quite well (e.g. there are many bills efficiently passed which are widely popular). Incorruptible Democracy is meant to be a *helpful* addition to Congress- an alternative pathway for new laws, repealing old laws, and placing a check on the three branches of government.

I.D. is essentially a merger of three existing American institutions :

  1. The proposition system, used in states like Ohio, Florida, and California.
  2. The statistical poll.
  3. Trial by jury, with opposing “For” and “Against” sides.

The dream is to fully represent the public’s greatest possible wisdom in every law. But, to have every person vote on each law, every weekday of the year, with full consideration of each law- to have a pure democracy- would bring the country to a standstill. People just don’t have enough time to consider the overall functioning of the nation, in addition to all the attention they need to pay to their own lives.

So, the idea is to have representatives from the public vote on laws.

Only, I.D. is even more literally representative than Congress and its “House of Representatives”; I’m suggesting that *a statistically representative sample of the public* should vote on laws.

We’re all familiar with the statistical poll, used by newspapers and other organizations to measure public opinion.

The amazing thing about a statistical poll is that you can quite accurately measure how a nation of 300 million people would vote, by putting the vote to just a few thousand random members of the public. Just one person can thus stand in for tens of thousands of people who are just like him or her. Statistical sampling is one of the most proven and useful principles in science.

And, if you ask randomly selected citizens to vote on bills, these “representatives” would be a great deal more representative than Congress, whose membership has never resembled the public. Congress has always been composed primarily of people who are rich, older, lawyers, and men, most of whom have had little experience with how the full spectrum of America lives.

So, better representation is pretty awesome in itself. It’s worth realizing that sometimes when politicians make decisions which don’t serve the public interest, it’s not because they are corrupt, it is often because they were never familiar with the lives of their constituents to begin with. Ignorance causes a lot more of the world’s ills than does malice.

Most importantly, I.D. would eliminate *corruption*.

There is a plausible reason why it’s OK for politicians to be given money- they have to campaign for office, and there are a lot of people who want to be able to support the candidates and causes they believe in. By a bare 5-4 Supreme Court majority, it is the law of the land that this ability to make unlimited donations is considered a 1st Amendment free speech right.

And even if political donations were illegal, it will never be illegal for the media to endorse and support the candidates it favors. Politicians have always had an incentive to cater to those who already have power, and care little about the rest.

It’s also the case that politicians are allowed to work where they want to work, after they retire from office. Interestingly enough, they often wind up working for the special interests which had previously supported them.

As many have noted, it is this exchange of money and favors that corrupts the system. When a person owes his job, fame, and power to the money and power of a select group of others, he can be bought- and it isn’t even illegal.

But, there’s never a good reason to give a “campaign donation” to voters, and voters don’t have to to care about what the people on TV think. And so, if you want to have an incorruptible democracy, you need to give the public the real power.

Incorruptible Democracy could be implemented in many ways. I am going to describe what I currently believe is the best possible implementation. If after reading this description below, you believe there would be a better way to implement ID, please tell me.

Step 1: What can be put up for a vote?

There would be three possible pathways for a bill can take to getting a vote from the public.

Method A: My suggestion is that any voter(s) or group, if they pay for the initial “testing” phase, can try to put a bill to a vote. The cost for the sponsor would be maybe $50,000.

The testing phase looks like this:

A proposed bill is submitted to Congress.

Congress then *randomly* selects, say, five-hundred voters, who will vote only on whether the bill shall be put up for a definitive vote.

If at least 1/3 of those voters say “yes”, then the bill is put up for a final vote, by a larger group of voters, who are given more time and information in which to consider their vote.

Why 1/3? The idea is that this is a good threshold for determining that the bill might be something which a majority of voters would think is worth passing once they have fully considered it. The government would then pay for the next round of voting, too.

And although many bills may not have a high chance of passing, it would be a worthwhile exercise to let the public explore new ideas. Even a bill which doesn’t pass could teach its supporters a great deal, such as ways to improve the bill before putting it up for a vote again, or it may reveal that the idea has a fatal flaw, and it is time to move on.

Method B: 1/3 of the members of a house of Congress sign a petition to put a bill up for a vote. This allows minority parties and coalitions to have their ideas considered, instead of being perpetually blocked by the majority party.

Method C: The President puts a bill up for a vote.

There are some benefits to letting elected officials also put bills before the public:
- The bills which elected officials would support are more likely to be well-considered.
- Congress and the President have greater skill in crafting bills which can fit into the existing legal framework.
- Politicians are often good at assessing whether something has a realistic chance of being popular with the public, and to mobilize information and resources to get a bill passed.

Step 2: Voters inform themselves and vote on the bill

A bill which passes step 1 will now be put up for a final vote.

Congress would randomly select, say, five thousand voters to consider the bill.

These voters (as well as the prior group of voters) shall be informed of the context of the bill on which they are voting. They shall be informed of:

  • All existing statutes which would be overwritten or influenced
  • Effects on the budget
  • Similar bills which are also being voted on (so that voters can vote against a bill, if they would prefer that a different bill pass instead)

Both groups of voters would also be given a huge amount of information regarding the bill.

It should be much like a jury trial (with the voters being the jurors), and the final vote would be the verdict.

Whoever sponsored the bill gets to be the “For” side assembling information and arguments in favor of the bill, to be distributed to the voters. This could include submissions from other possible supporters, if the sponsors wish to share that information as well. Also, any Congressmen who support the bill can also submit information in favor.

The Congressmen who wished to be in opposition would submit information and arguments against, and share information provided by outside parties, if they wish.

My suggestions on how to make this the best possible voter-education process (note that all of this would also apply to the “test phase” voters):

A) Each voter should be allowed to be anonymous, if they wish to protect themselves from unwanted pressure. But, they can go public if they wish, and share their experience and perspective with others.

Congress would be in charge of distributing information, so that the anonymity of the voters is protected.

B) It would be illegal to offer or accept bribes to voters. Because of the large number of voters, and the anonymity of the voters, it would be impossible for any special interest to get away with bribing enough voters to sway the final vote, unlike the feasibility of buying off one or two crucial swing votes in Congress.

C) The voters should have plenty of time to vote. At least two weeks. I.e., more time than the typical Congressman has to read and vote on bills. We can’t afford to give Congressmen lots of time on every single bill because the business of the nation would come to a halt, but if you split up the work, you can give each group of voters lots of time for each bill. “Many hands makes light work”.

D) The “For” and “Against” sides should be provided many different mediums for educating voters. Such as:
- Written materials
- Online material
- Online forums, and sharing voluntarily provided contact information, so voters can discuss the issue with each other, like in a jury deliberation
- Videos
- Making experts and guides available for consultation by the voters
… and so on. No doubt the media and various public interest groups would also be publicly broadcasting their opinions and endorsements of various bills under consideration.

E) A judge should be appointed who can throw out any obviously false information before it’s delivered to the voters, so that voters don’t have to deal with nearly as much disinformation as they have to deal with in our current system of elections.

All of this is a huge improvement on what is done in the state proposition system. In my state, California, there’s a tiny bit of “For” and “Against” materials given to every voter, but it’s extremely limited.

By narrowing the voting down from “everybody”, ala the proposition system, to “a small but representative sample”, ala Incorruptible Democracy, you make it possible to thoroughly and efficiently educate the voters.

If the “For” side spent $100 per voter, which is a huge amount to spend (it’s the equivalent of mailing over 10 DVDs to each voter, or providing maybe 5 hours of consultation with someone trained on the issue), it would only cost them $500,000 to support the bill.

This is less than it costs in California to merely *get enough signatures* to get a bill on the ballot, let alone the millions of dollars in advertising it takes to educate the average voter *just a tiny bit* about the bill itself.

So, $500k to thoroughly educate voters on a national bill makes the cost of an informed democracy radically cheaper.

Administering the vote would also be far cheaper- to run an election for 5,000 voters would be quite cheap.

F) They vote!

A majority vote wins.

The bill would not need the President’s signature in order to become law (or the Governor or Mayor, if it’s a regional or city election). The President represents the will of the people, but should not take precedence over the *actual* will of the people. The bill would also not need to go through Congress.

However, I would suggest that Congress be given 1 week in which to alter the bill by majority vote of the relevant committees, if the Congress so desired (in case the bill contains any obvious problems), but whatever version of the bill existed at the end of the week would be the new official law of the land, in every respect. If Congress or the public wanted to change the law, they could then do so using Congress or the pathway provided by Incorruptible Democracy.

Summary:

Step 1: See if one-third or more of a small number of voters think the bill is worth a vote
Step 2: Inform the final voters about the bill, and count their votes.

From the standpoint of the voters, it would be extraordinarily simple- they would receive a ballot in the mail for a single bill, they would educate themselves with what they’re given and what they learn on their own, and then they would vote. Any new complexities would be on Congress and the judiciary to resolve (both of which have a lot of practice in resolving complexities).

Another important benefit worth noting:

With ID, many bills can be considered and voted on simultaneously.

One of the biggest obstacles to progress- or even just keeping our laws up to date- is the lack of *speed* in our current form of government. It’s impossible for Congress to thoroughly consider a great deal of options within a limited period of time.

One of the few advantages of autocratic government (like what we see in China), is speed. The central government can order something done, and it is done immediately. And then they can say to themselves “Whoops! That’s not quite right!”,  and try something else. What they do is often poorly considered, especially from the point of view of the average citizen, but they can take swift action and learn swift lessons.

In America, we have lengthy consideration of the issues, but not speed. Our Congress is not capable of passing dozens of well-considered bills every day, because they are one body of people, with limitations in how much they can do every day.

If we use ID we can achieve both speed and thoughtful consideration of the issues, by splitting up the work among many different groups of voters. Progress will then be incredibly swift, and a great deal more certain. Numerous ideas will be considered, tried, and then adjusted, in very little time.

Conclusion:

In this way, the Platonic ideal of democracy will have been achieved: A highly informed public, with consideration for all points of view, will have made a decision, which will contribute to the general welfare and reinforce the values of the Republic.

And then the process would repeat… lessons learned, refinements added, old ideas thrown out in favor of more relevant modern ideas, old ideas returned to when it seems appropriate, and just generally moving toward a brighter future.

Incorruptible Democracy would not guarantee perfect results, but it would bring our government closer to serving the interests of the whole nation, in a timely and thoughtful way, without any corruption.

…………………….

How you can help:
Provide helpful links and references
Share this idea with your friends
Do you know of a think tank, advocacy group, or politician who would be interested?
Who would benefit most from this idea? Offer suggestions for communicating this idea better
Create an infographic or web video
Discuss amongst yourselves
Get creative. Think of something.

Thanks!

Version #56 [This post uses Engagement Publishing]

Coauthors/Acknowledgments: Richie Gilliland,

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