Suggestions for reform of our democratic system
The debate around the reform of our democratic political system has long been polarised between proponents of two ideals: those in favour of representative democracy and those in favour of direct democracy. Both sides present strong cases for their points of view, and equally strong cases against the views of their opponents. Critics of representative democracy argue that, among other things, such a system writes off the individual as incompetent, and in many cases even works against the articulated will of the people. Opponents of direct democracy take the position that in the context of our highly complex society, the average person simply hasn't knowledge, time, or even the interest to make a truly informed political decision on every question of common interest. Advocates for both positions raise important points. Is there no clear solution?
Indeed, various attempts have been made to bridge the gap between these two systems referendums in representative systems being one example - but most of these attempts offer only a combination of representative and direct forms which hardly do away with the objections to both systems already stated. The following proposal is an alternative which combines the best of both systems, rather than simply a resigned compromise between the two.
Bridging the Gap between Direct and Representative Democracy
Above and beyond these considerations, the voters themselves should have complete control over the level of their individual political participation. In this spirit, what follows is an outline of a democratic reform grounded upon two principles:
- All voters should first have the opportunity to decide for themselves in which form their vote should be cast: directly or by representation or not at all (Abstention)
- If there is more than one issue at hand, the individual voter should be entitled to take each decision separately if he or she so chooses, instead of being forced to decide on an entire "package" of issues with one vote.
The underlying aim of these two guiding principles is to provide the voter with as much personal flexibility as possible to decide on his or her own which level and form of participation best applies - whether direct, indirect through a representative, or not at all:
- Directly. Voters who want to make individual decisions on all issues will have the opportunity to vote directly on all issues.
- Through a mixture of direct and representative voting. Voters will have the choice to vote directly on the issues of particular importance to them, and for which they feel most "qualified" to vote directly. For each remaining issue they retain the option for representative voting by appointing a trusted individual representative or political party.
- By full representation on all issues through one or more representatives or parties.
- Abstention. Some voters may opt out of participation on some or all issues. The outcome of the political decision arises, then, from a combination of direct votes and votes cast by representatives.
The abstentions are as today simply not counted. An outcome of a hypothetical voting scenario might look like this:
- 30% vote directly.
- 50% vote through representation (30% of whom choose to cast a "blanket vote" on all issues through representation by a particular group or party, while the remaining 20% choose for this particular issue to cast their vote through a representative).
- 20% choose to abstain.
The results of the vote are therefore determined through a combination of direct and indirect voting.
Two rules shall govern each vote:
- The individual voter may decide upon his or her most preferred voting option and retain the right to change this option at any time. This means for example that if a voter is dissatisfied with his or her representation (in general or just on a particular issue), he or she will be able to immediately redirect their mandate to someone else or even withdraw it to decide on their own. Of course a redirection or withdrawal can be made at any time and can apply generally or just to a particular issue.
- In order to ensure that each voter also has the opportunity to participate either directly or through representation in the legislative process, the above rules apply not only to the final ratification process of new laws, but also to their proposal and development.
Some Important Foundational Conditions for Implementation:
- Wider access (either passive or active) to relevant information and education as a legally enforceable basic right of each voter
- Further Development and Improvement of Approved Mechanisms such as: - More extensive protection of basic human rights - Consistent use of the Subsidiary Principle with the result that 1) local issues are decided locally, and 2) federal government is relieved of the minutiae of local political issues and its power decentralised. - Accountability and transparency of state institutions and their duty to report to the people - Alternative definitions of majority depending on the nature of the issue at hand (1/2, 2/3, 3/4) - from the passing of simple laws, all the way up to constitutional amendments - Clearly defined parameters for negotiation for cases in which direct participation is not yet technically feasible. (i.e. delegates for negotiation, identifiable spokespeople)
- Discussion about the Implementation of new Measures such as: - The requirement of a certain minimum number of votes as a prerequisite before a final vote is undertaken in order to prevent a clogging of the process. The voting public should have the chance to decide which proposals are the most urgent, and therefore demand more immediate attention. - A transparent system of financing of representatives and parties. - The setting up of an administrative "buffer zone" or waiting period for new proposals to ensure a stable and orderly process. - Elected committees to co-ordinate day to day governmental administration. Voters retain the right to decide which proposals are to be voted upon, and which are to be handled by the administration.
- Possibly an Incremental Transition and Implementation of the New System, such as: - A temporary adoption of an absolute constitution - A temporary exclusion of certain issues
Technical Implementation: Benefits and Risks
The advancement of communications technology has made the above proposal technically feasible. For obvious reasons the structure of the voting process should be decentralised and as secure as possible. The problem of vote tampering in an electronic environment is, however, still an inevitable risk even in the most seemingly secure systems.
For this reason we propose that the best solution is to continue working to close these loop holes in security, rather than abandon the possibility of electronic voting altogether. It should be kept in mind that there is no absolutely secure voting method. The banking industry is one example of a domain in which security and trust are vital aspects of day to day business. Online banking is becoming a widely accepted means of conducting transactions, even though many were leery of its risks when it was first introduced.
We are confident that the potential risks of electronic voting could be minimized through the development of appropriate security standards, and that in the near future these risks can be far outweighed by its tremendous potential benefits.
Despite what is often heard in public debate, direct democracy and representative democracy are not mutually exclusive political phenomena. With this in mind, the aim of our proposal is to eliminate the weaknesses of each system by combining the best of both. In place of the current "one-size-fits-all" democratic system, "personalised" democracy allows much more flexibility for individual choice in the level and form of political participation.
The challenges, frameworks and counter arguments raised here can only be cursorily addressed in such an overview. It is a work in progress, and therefore far from perfection. The foundational ideas have, however, been systematically thought through and are extremely promising. The coming stages of its development will rely on its critical analysis, and on the productive exchange of ideas between critics and supporters alike.
Suggestions and criticism are welcomed and appreciated! Please send your comments to:
Personalised.Democracy (at) googlemail.com
Attachment: Refutation of Opposing Arguments (Christoph Freydorf and Michael Kömm)