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Posted: May 24, 2012

The futurist: The coming e-democracy

Do people really want to be more involved?

Thomas Frey

Every couple years, as the November election draws near, my wife Deb and I receive our ballots in the mail. Both of us spend considerable time studying the issues and candidates before making our final decisions. As with most couples, we don’t always agree.

Long before the ballots come, we have many discussions about these important topics and what effect they’ll have, not only on us, but also on our community as a whole. So we take our right to vote very seriously.

The section of the ballot that I find most frustrating is the section on Judges – Should these judges continue to serve in their current positions? We are given virtually no information about these people, and this severely compromises our ability to make an informed decision. Even doing online searches gives us very little to work with.

For this reason, I do not feel qualified to make this decision.

In the U.S., voting is a legal right granted to all law-abiding citizens over 18 years of age. Nowhere does it say that the voter has to be competent about the topic, or candidates, they are voting on.

This, however, could change, as voting software makes it as easy to test competency, as it does to vote.

Not All Men are Created Equal – Pre-Testing and the Electronic Voting Process

Voting is the simple process of marking a series of boxes on a page. There are no right or wrong answers, just options.

Yes, your ballot can be disqualified for checking too many boxes, mutilating the ballot, or voting twice. But for the most part, it’s a very simple system that allows almost anyone to participate.

Yet, simple does not always mean better. What if there were a few questions that had to be answered correctly before the vote were accepted? What if each voter had to demonstrate some rudimentary knowledge of the topic in question?

Personally, I don’t think I should be allowed to vote on the judges that I had mentioned above. I’m simply not competent enough to make that decision.

As a citizen of a country, I would like decisions to be made by the best and brightest among us, not just anyone.

The reason why so few are interested in a more participative form of government, where people can vote on literally hundreds of issues throughout the year, is because the learning curve is too steep and it has the potential of attracting unqualified decision-makers.

So what if a few test questions were added to every ballot as a test of competency? For people wanting to study the issue, a short video could give some background information on the topic.

Would a more informed electorate mean better decisions? More importantly, would an open voting system that qualifies people through testing, give rise to new virtual communities that could rival the influence of national governments in the future?

e-Democracy and e-Government

e-Democracy and e-Government are terms used to describe the growing movement toward increasing citizen involvement in policy decisions through online systems. As we improve our systems for virtual involvement, giving people access to information on both sides of every issue, more people will take an interest in what’s happening in their own community.

Underlying this thinking are two basic assumptions:

  1. People want to be more involved
  2. More involvement will translate into a fairer and better form of governance

Neither of these assumptions has been proven to be true. They indeed might be true, but so far they remain untested assumptions.

Nor has their been any serious studies of the many ways in which people can game the system for their own benefit.

That said, Internet technology is opening up many new ways in which people can participate on a local, regional, national, or even international basis We are on the cusp of an age of experimentation for participatory governance. Invariably, these experiments will evolve into something far different than what most people think.

 

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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Readers Respond

In many ways the ballot questions that show up on each Colorado ballot are already an example of this. While some alter the state constitution and some don't, the issues are important to some significant number of people, and there is a serious attempt to inform voters through the "green book". I really like having the opportunity to read he pro and cons of each issue before voting, rather than just thinking about the issue and seeing the mass of mostly uninformative TV commercials. By John Unruh on 2012 05 25
We have a representative democracy for a reason....to insure that the best and the brightest make decisions. Unfortunately not all our politicians are the best and the brightest. By Gary Schultz on 2012 05 25
You know that if there are competency questions on a ballot 10 minutes after voting opens the right answers will be up on a website for people who are being pushed to vote either for or against. One method I like conceptually is selecting a cross sectional 'jury' (although probably a bigger group than 12) to listen to discussion fro experts and submit questions and ultimately to vote on what is best for a community on a particular issue. By Burt on 2012 05 24
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