Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Government United States Politics

Vermont Senate Hopeful Jeremy Hansen Responds On (Mostly) Direct Democracy 126

Posted by timothy
from the two-wolves-and-a-sheep-walk-into-a-bar dept.
Last week, you asked questions of Vermont Senate candidate Jeremy Hansen, running on an unusual platform: Hansen pledges to take advantage of modern communications if elected, and (with exceptions he outlines in his answers) vote based on the opinion of his district's voters on a per-issue basis. Read below Hansen's answers about such a system could work; he addresses concerns about security, practicality, morality, and more. "Before I start with the answers," he writes in introduction, "I want to clear a few things up. I am running as an independent for a Vermont Senate seat, not the U.S. Senate, so questions about classified and similar material do not (for the most part) apply. Also, for everyone's reference, there are 44,000 registered voters in Vermont's Washington County Senate district. Many of the concerns about managing input from very large populations are not as applicable here." Read on for more.
Constitution?
by MyFirstNameIsPaul

What will you do when your constituents want you to violate the Constitution?

Jeremy Hansen: I would do the same thing as anyone else who has sworn an oath to "support the Constitution of the State of Vermont and the Constitution of the United States.": Tell them no.

Or when appropriate, I could suggest that an amendment to the Constitution would be necessary.

There is a "release valve" in all of this: the representative. I am not suggesting unfettered direct democracy. Part of my proposal is to reserve the right to vote in opposition to majority sentiment if I have a moral (or in this case, Constitutional) objection. At that point, I offer my constituents the opportunity to initiate a vote on whether everyone believes I should remain in office. If the majority votes that I made a mistake overriding the previous vote, I step down.

What is your participation threshold?
by Burz

It is conceivable there would be many bills that do not have popular attention, but which are still critically important to a functioning society. Will you require a minimum number of votes on an issue before going against your own better judgement, or will any amount of citizen input suffice to direct you?

JH: Even in a small district like Washington County, I agree that we do need a participation threshold. The threshold should be high enough to ensure a representative (though clearly non-random) sample, but not so high as to discourage participation and make the whole feedback process moot. If we pretend for a moment to have a random sample, a threshold of 2000 votes would seem to me a reasonable compromise between the two: at a 99% confidence level, that gives a confidence interval of 2.82.

Do you think direct democracy is the answer?
by PCM2

California has been running an ongoing experiment with direct democracy for many years, and here IMHO it's mostly been an abysmal failure.

Of course, the classic example of direct democracy gone wrong in California is Proposition 13, which put strict limits on property taxes, and as a result, impoverished school districts, libraries, fire departments, and other community services in many areas. Debate over the bill was so contentious at the time, and continues to be to this day, that to even approach the idea of repealing it is considered a political death sentence, so no representative has the will to do it.

So to repeat my question: Are you really sure this is a good idea?


JH: Am I 100% certain that it will work? No, but I am very confident that it will be an improvement. As Majid Behrouzi puts it in his second volume of "Democracy as the Political Empowerment of the Citizen," "[Democracy] is primarily about individual citizens experiencing political power directly and doing so on an ongoing basis." This is a goal that I believe we can reach, even if only initially at the county level.

California's situation is strange; I'll give you that. Here's a set of Economist articles (http://www.economist.com/node/18563638) (thanks r0ball) that talks about how strange it is, with a glimmer of hope towards the end:

"Switzerland, whence California imported the idea, the initiative process works well. In some of the other 23 American states that practise some variant, it works better than in others. So the problem is not direct democracy as such, or even the initiative process, but the details of its Californian variant. It needs to be fixed, not eliminated."

I'm also encouraged that I'm not the only (and certainly not the first) one pursuing this idea:

Campaign Confusion
by eldavojohn

Why would someone who feels that their important issue views are a minority ever vote for you? Clearly an opponent of yours could approach the LBGT community and say "Hey, Hansen's going to ask the population if you guys can get married and you're the minority so don't plan on that ever passing." Or the Atheists, the rich businessmen, the greens, the unions, any very specific religious group, etc (the list goes on). And by the time they're done pointing out how the majority are going to "oppress" the minority for all these interest groups, they've covered a large part of the population. How are you going campaign against something like this? Surely you can't even run on a position in response to any of these questions? Your answer will always be "Whatever the most people want." So how will you combat such a strategy?

JH: In part, I expect that all reasonable points of view will be presented. What I'm proposing is not perfect, and I can't hope to solve every problem with our current system of representation. Minorities already get short shrift more often than the majority, so I am not convinced what I'm proposing is in fact worse. I have felt quite comfortable explaining my position to individuals interested in minority position issues, and they have seemed receptive to the idea. You can't make everybody happy all the time, but you can provide citizens with more of a voice in the decisions that affect them.

How do you ensure the poll is representative?
by gstoddart

If you let everyone vote on a web page, you're self selecting for technology literate, able to afford an internet connection, and politically engaged enough to care to vote.

If the same 10% or so vote on every issue, you might end up with skewed results.

And, as has been pointed out, you'd need to be sure the system was secure and had some validation in it -- otherwise you have no idea if you can trust the votes. Then of course, all of your voters are essentially on record for having voted for/against something.

It sounds like a good idea in theory, but the devil is always in the details.


JH: Part of my proposal is to incorporate offline "town hall"-style meetings and other non-Internet communications so that those citizens who aren't tech savvy or who don't have reliable Internet connections can still participate.

The short answer about trying to prevent skewed results is that I really can't. By having a participation threshold, the "release valve", and by widely publicizing the way the votes are going, we can mitigate some of the risk of skewed results. When an issue comes up for a vote, I will provide an analysis and justification for how I would vote if it were only my decision but ultimately leave the decision in the hands of the citizens. I also think that adding a deliberative component (discussion forums and such), citizens will hopefully have as much information as they need to make informed choices.

Citizens should be able to change their votes as new information comes to light, and would not necessarily be able to be tied to their previous votes.

How do you plan on handling the political "game"?
by MetalliQaZ

I like the concept of taking direction directly from the will of your constituents, but how do you plan on handling...politics? More specifically, when the party needs votes and deals have been made, how will you stand up to the leadership and refuse to take part? Will that not render you an outsider and remove valuable (perhaps necessary) political clout? It seems like the Washington political machine is incompatible with direct democracy.

JH: The good news about running as an independent, is that I don't have leadership to stand up to. (Also, recall as I mentioned above, that this is a state legislative position, and the only Washington that I will be interacting with directly is Washington County, Vermont) Still, I think you're right that politics will come up, and any sort of compromise/exchange of votes would have to be presented to my constituents as such. This could certainly remove valuable political clout, but I think my proposal is valuable enough on its own that I'm willing to sacrifice the clout if it comes down to that. I suspect that some constituents will react with indignance and some will think that compromise is a good idea. It's not often that a situation comes up with a simple black or white answer — this is where I feel the power of deliberation and discussion becomes apparent.

Security
by macaran

How will you ensure that only your constituents vote on the topic, and that they vote only once?

Security?
by eldavojohn

How are you going to stop someone from hacking this system? How will accountability be implemented while protecting voter's anonymity (so that employers or other interested parties with leverage can't influence their vote)?

JH: It will probably be difficult. Not that my credentials and experience will necessarily guarantee a secure final product, but I do have experience doing OWASP and PCI audits and source code review. I also have a good deal of knowledge in the field of cryptology and the ugly history of electronic voting. I know that there are solutions out there that allow for secure, auditable voting. Keep in mind that the electronic voting will probably not be the be-all end-all method for citizens to communicate their opinions. I see the methods that we already use to communicate to our elected representatives still being important: phone calls, emails, face-to-face meetings, snail mail. I have a list of all my constituents who are registered to vote, so cross-checking with that authoritative list will be an important component of the system. You say your name is John Q. Public from Woodbury, VT? An automated phone call or a card mailed to the address on file could verify John's identity and set him up with a username/password. (As a side effect, this might also be a good way to motivate voter registration.) For the anonymity and employer influence question, stay tuned for the "vote buying" answer below.

What is Right but Unpopular
by eldavojohn

Throughout history many leaders -- Abraham Lincoln, Harry S. Truman and even George W. Bush -- have made decisions that they felt were "right" but were definitely unpopular. Post hoc, we can see the effects and judge those actions. Now these were all high level actions but similar things do happen at the state and county level. Example: Your county's schools are failing horribly and need money but the only place you have money is vehicle tax that is supposed to go to your roads. You propose (if you are even going to take such actions) to move some money from the road fund to the schools -- sacrificing potential traffic problems in the name of education and staying above backwater Mississippi standards. Your populace (who have completed high school and already make long commutes) disagree with you when their vote fails to pass the proposition. What do you do? Maybe an example closer to home: With soaring copper prices, someone proposes to reopen The Elizabeth Mine, but the EPA warns you that clean up from 150 years of abuse hasn't even concluded yet. Unfortunately your populace votes for their jobs and temporary income over the environment, what do you do?

JH: In part, the "release valve" could come into play as previously described, but alternatively, tools like participatory budgeting or other feedback mechanisms to help everyone understand the long-term ramifications of decisions.

Don't you risk vote buying?
by Kupfernigk

In effect, isn't there a risk that following your idea will simply mean that you will vote according to who buys the most online votes, whether by advertising or direct corruption? In this country (the UK) there is a long history of people voting for extreme parties or positions in elections that do not seem to matter. We believe that our representatives have not only the right, but the duty, to identify what is best for their constituents rather than simply to follow whoever shouts loudest.

JH: Right now, it's those with the money that tend to shout loudest anyways — this is something that will be somewhat mitigated by my proposal. It's easier to sway the opinion of a single politician than it is to expect the same effect on a sizable majority of their constituents. The "return on investment" for a lobbyist could be as high as 22,000%.

In terms of vote buying, we have absentee ballots for the general election with the same risk and arguably more serious consequences. As I mentioned earlier, changing one's vote at any time should be no problem. Vote the way the "buyer" is paying you for, then change it back later.

I find the claim that representatives doing "what is best for their constituents [even when they don't know it's good for them]" a bit paternalistic. Phil Dodds put it well in a recent message to me: "[People are] weighing ‘direct democracy' against a fictitious idealized representative democracy. It is not helpful to idealize the current system." I agree with Phil here and think our current system is unrepresentative and far more sensitive to corporate interests than it is to the people for whom the government ostensibly works.

Do You Experience Any Apprehension?
by eldavojohn

At the prospect of going from a professor of deterministic systems to someone who will be a part of and responding to an inherently chaotic and non-deterministic system?

JH: Not all of computer science is deterministic systems, of course — randomized algorithms, Monte Carlo simulations, and genetic programming all involve an element of randomness. I also teach, which one could certainly argue is a pretty chaotic system. I have spent a lot of time with real IT systems, which do not always behave the way that they should. I have two kids under 5 — you want to talk about random?

More seriously, this is a new challenge for me, and I don't doubt that it will be a lot of work both as I campaign and build the system, but also should I be elected, to actually deliver what I'm promising. I believe all of this work will be worthwhile — any apprehension I might have is tempered by feeling that what I'm doing is right.

Hansen adds this note: "I'd like to thank those that contacted me with contributions and offers of technical help — I appreciate both, but will definitely need more help on the software side of things starting immediately and through the end of the year as we build the platform I discuss in more depth on my site and in the answers below. We hope to have something concrete to show by the end of the summer. In particular, thanks to candidate Phil Dodds, project facilitator Drew Nolan, and e-Democracy researcher/consultant Kyle Rivers for the work they've already done."

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Vermont Senate Hopeful Jeremy Hansen Responds On (Mostly) Direct Democracy

Comments Filter:
  • by Scareduck (177470) on Thursday June 14, 2012 @11:21AM (#40323649) Homepage Journal

    and forgotten its history. That we are here discussing this is incomprehensible; that someone is actually running for office with this as a platform is insane. Mob rule is disastrous, because it is always possible, with four wolves and a sheep, to know the outcome of a vote on what's for dinner.

    • While you are correct, that way lies madness, the sentiment behind it is the direct result of the current system, where those with the deepest pockets can game the system for their own advantage, to the detriment of the hoi polloi. The thing about pendulums is that they swing between two extremes.
      • by mfwitten (1906728) on Thursday June 14, 2012 @11:52AM (#40324031)

        The U.S. was founded on the notion of decentralized and localized government with a mostly powerless point of union called the Federal Government; the constitution spends most of its time restricting government in favor of freedom for the people. How is that anything like what we have today? What we have today is monstrously centralized power and the inevitable central planning to which that leads, including, of course, a central hub of power that is easy to access by those with deep pockets but that is simultaneously difficult to access for the average individual.

        The Federal government and to some extent State governments are monopolies that should be broken up.

        Through localization and decentralization of the power structure, a robust process of governmental variation and selection can occur, thereby allowing society as a whole to evolve from these little experiments; if your community has better ideas that lead to more prosperity and peace, then your community's values will inevitably be adopted willfully by the more backward communities.

        • I'm not sure how that is a response to what I said, however,

          a robust process of governmental variation and selection can occur, thereby allowing society as a whole to evolve from these little experiments; if your community has better ideas that lead to more prosperity and peace, then your community's values will inevitably be adopted willfully by the more backward communities.

          is just the ideological/intellectual version of "let the (completely unfettered) market decide", and is 100% tincture of poppycock.

          • by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris@b[ ].org ['eau' in gap]> on Thursday June 14, 2012 @01:45PM (#40326275)

            > Your "let the market (of ideas) decide" is just magical/wishful thinking.

            Nope, it is in fact the only method with a proven track record. It doesn't take a genius to observe success and emulate it. And that is the point, by keeping most governmental decisions as local as practical you get thousands of different political subdivisions with a widely diverse set of notions of what 'good' is and how to achieve it. Some will succeed, most will fail. Then evolution kicks in because everyone can see the results of the first round. The people will decide, based on their varying notions of what 'the public good' even is, which experiments worked and will seek to emulate those. And again, some will succed and some will fail. Some will take the wrong lesson from the successes, some will be mush headed on what they actually want, every failure mode you can imagine and, most important, failure modes no central authority CAN imagine, will happen. Along with successes no central authority can imagine. Iterate a couple of generations and it is a certainty the average results will exceed anything a central authority could design.

            The secret is the same as for evolution. Ensure a large population (small governmental units), diversity, and a strong selection pressure and you get progress. And since the governed decide what is 'progress' instead of being told by a tyrant/king what is good it is likely that longterm they will get good results.

        • The U.S. was founded on the notion of decentralized and localized government with a mostly powerless point of union called the Federal Government;

          Yeah, that was done by the Articles of Confederation [wikipedia.org]. The first federal government of the USA. It was an abysmal failure. The US constitution had a much stronger central federal government and worked a lot better.

          Jesus, I guess the OP was partially right, we really have forgotten our history.

          • by BlueStrat (756137)

            The U.S. was founded on the notion of decentralized and localized government with a mostly powerless point of union called the Federal Government;

            Yeah, that was done by the Articles of Confederation [wikipedia.org]. The first federal government of the USA. It was an abysmal failure. The US constitution had a much stronger central federal government and worked a lot better.

            I believe he meant the US Constitution, not the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution is exactly that...a blueprint for a weak, mostly powerless central government, with most power devolving to the States and the People.

            Jesus, I guess the OP was partially right, we really have forgotten our history.

            Indeed. You should pick up a copy of "Common Sense" by T.

          • by mfwitten (1906728)

            To say that the US Constitution provided a much stronger central federal government than provided by the Articles of Confederation is not the same as to say that said federal government wielded any great centralized power.

            Nevertheless, there was still an energetic outcry back then at even the little extra centralization afforded by the Constitution, for much the same reason that many of us lament the extraordinary and creeping centralization of today, and it would seem that some of the original concerns hav

      • What is 'mad'? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Burz (138833) on Thursday June 14, 2012 @01:34PM (#40326109) Journal

        Arguably the most highly educated populace in history is being denigrated day in and day out by the current system, which includes criminal justice and the mass media. If you don't belong to the corporate aristocracy (or the political class on the other side of the revolving door) then your personal life is held to be an outlet for their fishing expeditions and general thirst for exacting punishment.

        Fueling that out of control punitive instinct is a commercial media that constantly gives people the impression they are being attacked by a crime wave -- no matter what crime statistics are like -- of lower and middle class good-for-nothings. So crime and corruption go unchecked among the elite, and their negative attitude toward the rest of us keeps getting bolder.

        I'm not sure if direct democracy can fix this societal madness, but I do know that when strictures against "mob rule" were formed in our society, most of the population were totally uneducated. They were at the start of the industrial revolution and centuries before the computer revolution / information age. (Or, if you wish to take the long view, the anti-'mob' tradition of thought can be said to be not centuries but millennia old.) So it may be time to take the professionals of the 'four estates' down a peg and to start experimenting with initiatives like this.

    • by Korin43 (881732)

      And what's worse about this plan than how we're already doing things? The main differences I see are that you can change bad decisions more quickly (instead of waiting 4-6 years) and he doesn't have to guess what his constituents wants.

      • by Rei (128717)

        I'd put it a completely different way. The problem being discussed here is known as "the tyranny of the majority". That given the opportunity to vote on things, the majority will often choose to oppress a minority. But that's a fundamental problem of all democracy, not just direct democracy, and as a consequence, it's not the role of the legislature, nor the executive, to be expected to be a defense against the tyranny of the majority. That's the role of the judicial branch, and is why the judicial bran

        • by Korin43 (881732)

          Company A wants to do something environmentally destructive, there's a low-key bill for it, most people in the district don't vote, Company A encourages all of its employees to vote for it... they win. This will happen almost all the time.

          Or in our current system: Company A wants to do something environmentally destructive, there's a low-key bill for it, Company A encourages all of its employees to call/email their representative for it... they win. This happens most of the time.

          Alternate version: Company A just pays off said representative (in a legal way, like donating to their campaign).

          This is obviously a problem, but I don't see direct democracy making it any worse.

          There are a number of ways to overcome the abysmal turnout, but I think the easiest is being able to assign your vote to someone who's opinions you respect, or even multiple people depending on the issue.

          Definitely agree. There's no reason a representative couldn't choose to use this system; maybe you should suggest it to him.

          • by Rei (128717)

            Actually, it's a lot worse. In the former situation they win "more often than we'd like". In the latter situation, they win *essentially always*. They even win the "idiot votes", cases where 95% of people would say "no way!". That's a big, big problem.

    • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Thursday June 14, 2012 @11:34AM (#40323777)

      >>>Mob rule is disastrous, because it is always possible, with four wolves and a sheep, to know the outcome of a vote on what's for dinner.

      MAYBE YOU SHOULD TRY READING THE ANSWERS BEFORE RESPONDING. The guy said (several times) he would not just blindly follow pure democratic polling if it violated the Constitution, or his personal morals, or basic human rights.

      • by s73v3r (963317)

        Yeah, he mentioned that he reserved the right to overrule the popular opinion if he had "moral objections" to the way they wanted him to vote. Meaning he basically allowed himself to shove his morals on them, while seeming like he was going to do something different.

        • by gman003 (1693318)

          It sounds to me like "let the people make their choices" is one of his primary ethical constraints. So he would, hopefully, only violate it when what the people choose directly contravenes another of his primary ethical constraints. Given that he hasn't mentioned any of the common political hot-topic "ethical issues" (abortion, gay marriage, death penalty, etc.), it can be inferred that he places less importance on them than he does on Democracy.

          Think of it like Asimov's laws:
          Law 1: The Representative shall

          • by stdarg (456557)

            If a majority of the country wants a genocide.. how exactly are you going to stop them??

            • by gman003 (1693318)

              It's rarely, if ever, a majority who actually want it. It's usually a very vocal minority who actually want it, and a majority who will go along with it because the vocal minority is promising it will solve some other problem (usually the economy).

              A second vocal minority can, hopefully, cancel it out. And that minority has to start with one person speaking up, and being heard. As it just so happens, elected officials tend to be heard better.

          • by s73v3r (963317)

            I see it like, "My constituents want me to legalize gay marriage, but I'm against it, so I'm going to overrule it."

            • by gman003 (1693318)

              And that's where we disagree. However, neither of us has any real evidence for our positions, so the only option is to step back and let things happen, and see which of us was right.

              PS: Hasn't Vermont already legalized gay marriage? Or is that some other cold northern state I'm thinking of?

              • PS: Hasn't Vermont already legalized gay marriage? Or is that some other cold northern state I'm thinking of?

                Four of the six New England states have done so: Connecticut [wikipedia.org], Massachusetts [wikipedia.org], New Hampshire [wikipedia.org], and Vermont [wikipedia.org]. The other two New England states, Maine [wikipedia.org] and Rhode Island [wikipedia.org], have domestic partnerships or civil unions respectively.

            • Or the other way around: "My constituents want me to vote to ban gay marriage, but I believe homosexuals should have that right, so I'm going to overrule that vote."

              This system isn't going to be perfect. But might it be better than the alternative, where the political decisions are made behind closed doors when corporations "contribute to the campaigns of" politicians and the politician agrees to "consider the corporation's interests"? Maybe. It's worth trying out; worst comes to worst, he gets into office

              • by s73v3r (963317)

                At least in that case, while I would believe the decision is extremely wrong, the person is doing what they said, and following their constituent's wishes. Basically, this guy gave himself a "get out of jail free" card, regardless of the topic.

          • by Cynic (9633)

            You're right: "Let the people make their choices" is what I'm going for here. Thanks for the Asimov example.

            Jeremy Hansen

          • by cpu6502 (1960974)

            Law 1 is redundant because the Constitution already protects rights. Here's a better version:

            Law 1: The Representative shall obey the Constitution.
            Law 2: The Representative shall obey the wishes of his constituency, except when doing so would violate the First Law.
            Law 3: The Representative shall obey his own moral code, except when doing so would violate the First or Second Law.

            • by gman003 (1693318)

              It does a lot, but the Constitution does not protect *every* right (like the Right to Privacy - not in there). It's a man-made document - it will never be perfect. That's why it can be amended. At one point it allowed slavery, a rather gross violation of "fundamental human rights".

              • by cpu6502 (1960974)

                >>>like the Right to Privacy - not in there

                Yeah it is. Read amendment 9 (non-enumerated rights are reserved to the people). Also amendment 10 which reserves powers to the Member States, and one of those powers include a legally-protected Right to privacy in their constitutions. I know California has it, my own state has it, as do many others.

                >>>That's why it can be amended.

                True. Something we need to do more often, rather than just ignore Constitutional law. Also: I wouldn't say it "al

          • by cpu6502 (1960974)

            Law 1 is redundant because the Constitution already protects rights.
            Here's a better version:

            Law 1: The Representative shall obey the Constitution.
            Law 2: The Representative shall obey the wishes of his constituency, except when doing so would violate the First Law.
            Law 3: The Representative shall obey his own moral code, except when doing so would violate the First or Second Law.

      • Which may work out well with Mr Hansen at the helm that's smart enough to make the ultimate wise decision. But what happens when he's gone? I hate so sound so pessimistic, but just look at the kind of leadership we have now. They explicitly roll over for votes. If anything, Hansen would be a one hit wonder and then it's all downhill from there.

        • by khallow (566160)

          Which may work out well with Mr Hansen at the helm that's smart enough to make the ultimate wise decision. But what happens when he's gone? I hate so sound so pessimistic, but just look at the kind of leadership we have now. They explicitly roll over for votes. If anything, Hansen would be a one hit wonder and then it's all downhill from there.

          Well, what do you think is the problem here? They, both politician and public, still have to obey the laws of the land. This is just an open means of communication.

    • Mob rule is disastrous, because it is always possible, with four wolves and a sheep, to know the outcome of a vote on what's for dinner.

      We've always had mob rule. We are a Democratic Republic, which means we vote mob rule by proxy for most large issues. We elect Presidents and Governors, Congressmen and others from the local City Council straight to the top of the nation. Just because we elect a guy to do our bidding doesn't mean the mob's out of the equation. In fact, it might actually amplify the mob's g

      • There was in interesting line in "Gladiator" where the Maximus the gladiator character despairs to Lucilla that the gods have spared him only to amuse a mob.

        "That is power. The mob is Rome." she replies.

        I've never forgotten that quote - thought about it for days. I never had much hope for real sustained democracy after that.



        • Rome was not a democracy. It was effectively an oligarchy of rich elite, who had slaves do their bidding. Maximus was a slave with little legal option but to do the bidding of those who owned him.

          When any individual in a country can rightfully choose their own path, there's hope for democracy. We are far from perfect in the United States, but we are much closer to democracy than ancient Rome or yes, even ancient Greece. If a human born in a country and legally doesn't have the right to their own person
    • by blackraven14250 (902843) on Thursday June 14, 2012 @11:36AM (#40323809)
      It becomes a far more interesting situation when there's 300 wolves, 15,000 sheep, and another 14,700 sheep that like to think they're wolves...
      • by 91degrees (207121)
        Illustrates the problem nicely.

        There are more sheep than wolves. Nevertheless, mutton's still on the menu.
    • This is often said. But I think a citation is needed. The reason representatives vote on laws is because that is the only efficient way (or was when the system was invented) to represent the public. Representatives are elected by the majority. If they vote with the their electorate, then it's still mob rule. If they don't then they've betrayed them.

      The U.S. solution to this problem was to grant rights in the constitution to reign in the majority's power. Interpretation of this is charged to the judici

      • This is often said. But I think a citation is needed. The reason representatives vote on laws is because that is the only efficient way (or was when the system was invented) to represent the public. Representatives are elected by the majority. If they vote with the their electorate, then it's still mob rule. If they don't then they've betrayed them.

        I have a different opinion on what's a betrayal.

        When I vote for a politician, I'm electing somebody to represent me - to hopefully vote the way I would have voted if I'd been perfectly informed and perfectly ethical. I hope the representative will vote *better* than I would, and that they will follow their own conscience. I feel it more of a betrayal if they vote to please me than if they vote different with what I believe.

    • by KhabaLox (1906148)

      The representative's job is to represent the will of the people. The Constitution's job is to insure the other structures of government constrain the dangers of "mob rule." A representative putting each vote out to the people and going with their majority opinion is not that different than a majority liberal/conservative district picking a progressive/liberal/conservative/tea partier and having that person vote their own individual will. In fact, the individual representative's "will" is probably less in

      • by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris@b[ ].org ['eau' in gap]> on Thursday June 14, 2012 @02:14PM (#40326787)

        > The representative's job is to represent the will of the people.

        Not exactly and the difference is critical. We aren't supposed to be a Democracy, the Founders understood the idea and thought it was horrid. We were given a Constitutional Republic.... if we could keep it. We obviously didn't but getting back there should be our goal, not going farther into madness.

        The idea is more that the people pick someone from their number of good character and who is 'representive' of their views. That person then goes off and participates in the legislative process, invests the time that an otherwise occupied citizen lacks into carefully understanding the issue at hand and votes. Then they have to be prepared to explain that decision come election time if it is unpopular. In other words they are supposed to be leaders, not just poll takers.
        That is the part that gets lost in a scheme such as this, it supposes that the average citizen can know, worse that an average citizen should be expected to know the details on each minor issue. On the one extreme rule by experts, i.e. the core notion driving the Progressive movement, leads to disaster but on the other rule by the clueless is equally bad. The Founders gave us a system that tries to balance the two. Combined with limited, divided and generally weak government the idea works. It clearly fails in our current everything driven by Washington DC system.

        And only half of the legislature is even supposed to be representing the People directly. Remember the Senate was intended to represent the State governments and the POTUS was to be selected by a fairly complex (by design) method which was an attempt to ensure as many interests were merged as possible. We allowed the Progressives to convince us to discard those vital balances.

        • the Founders understood the idea and thought it was horrid

          The Founders were not necessarily right on all counts, and on this one in particular they were hopelessly biased, themselves mostly being from the elite of the time.

      • by khallow (566160)

        The Constitution's job is to insure the other structures of government constrain the dangers of "mob rule."

        The Constitution does more than that. It constrains a lot of possible ways various parts of society and the state could get out of control. The three branches of federal government counter each other. The federal and state governments counter each other. The Constitution puts limits on each of these parties.

        It empowers the press and religion without choosing a favorite. It empowers the citizen to own property and pursue their interests and the government at all levels to tax and regulate with certain bou

    • by timeOday (582209)

      it is always possible, with four wolves and a sheep, to know the outcome of a vote on what's for dinner.

      What evidence is there that democracies oppress minorities more than authoritarian governments do? Hopefully at least 3 of the 5 wolves in your story are bright enough to realize that they are all the same species and out-vote the bigots who want to see one of themselves as something else (a sheep).

    • by Belial6 (794905)
      True. When it is one wolf deciding what to have for dinner, and 4 sheep, you don't know what is for dinner tonight, but you do know what is dinner for the the week.
    • by SerpentMage (13390) <ChristianHGross AT yahoo DOT ca> on Thursday June 14, 2012 @12:08PM (#40324273)

      Bullshit! I live in Switzerland and I am whole hearted for direct democracy. I was not a Swiss by birth, but am Swiss through naturalization. I know what representational democracy is about and here is what is wrong with it

      1) Votes are bought by lobbies!!!
      2) Votes are bought by lobbies!!!
      3) A minority determines what happens to the majority

      In a direct democratic system like Switzerland

      1) Votes cannot be bought by a lobby since they would have to pay off each and every citizen.
      2) Does the mob rule? Yeah it does, but guess what most mobs don't actually behave like you say. Remember that the Nazi's, Communists and so on arose to power as a minority and then imposed violence to keep majority in its place.
      3) People when presented in a rational discussion, which actually happens in a direct democracy system will actually for the most part vote logically. ESPECIALLY when it is their own pocket book. Representational democracies like to oh so easily spend other people's money. Whereas when you know it will come out of your pocket book you will ask, "am I better for it..."

      • 2) Does the mob rule? Yeah it does, but guess what most mobs don't actually behave like you say.

        My fear is that you may be underestimating the ignorance of the typical American mob.

      • by Papeh (1812414)

        1) Votes cannot be bought by a lobby since they would have to pay off each and every citizen.

        On many issues, it can be just as easy to buy a vote. If current polls show a split of 45%-55% for an issue, those who want to buy the election just have to change the opinions of 6%. An ad campaign of some sort can do that. Remember that they only aim to change the "swing" votes - they don't need to worry about the opinions of those that are strongly one way or the other. Maybe it is more expensive in some cases, but still very plausible.

    • by Qzukk (229616)

      Mob rule is disastrous, because it is always possible, with four wolves and a sheep, to know the outcome of a vote on what's for dinner.

      No, instead we are facing an attempt to force the other extreme warned against in Federalist #10

      The second expedient is as impracticable, as the first would be unwise. As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions a

    • The "town hall meeting" is a pretty classic form of American governance. Guys running for office who think they are the boss of a bunch of worthless animals is the new and scary development.
    • and forgotten its history.

      So... Could you give some actual examples of mob-rule, I mean direct democracy being disastrous?
      Because off the top of my head I can name quite a few examples of our representative system going awry: The red scare, the patriot act, the mess we call our tax system, freedom fries.

      More so when you let a single person be in charge of choosing who to invade: Vietnam, Iraq, The bay of pigs, Trail of tears...

      And it gets worse if the people aren't even allowed to know [wikipedia.org] it's being done.

      I think you're full

    • The people who are afraid of "mob rule" are those people who consider other people (but not themselves) "the mob".

      It's not 18th century today. We've had major improvements in literacy of population of the first world thanks to public education. On the other hand, we've also had several centuries of experience with representative democracy, that has proven to be just as much swayed by emotional decisions without considering long term consequences as proponents of direct democracy claimed the latter to be.

    • Mob rule is disastrous, because it is always possible, with four wolves and a sheep, to know the outcome of a vote on what's for dinner.

      As a side note, I find the specific numbers you've chosen to be quite ironic. Four wolves and a sheep means that the sheep has 20% of the vote. On the other hand, if you look at the procedure to amend the Constitution of the United States, it only takes 2/3 of the popular vote, and 3/4 of vote by state legislature (which in practice can translate to less than 1/2 of popular vote!) to make an amendment. And the amendment can have absolutely any effect, such as, say, repealing the Bill of Rights and declaring

    • With a second amendment It is two wolves discussing dinner with a well armed sheep.

    • by Wildclaw (15718)

      with four wolves and a sheep, to know the outcome of a vote on what's for dinner.

      The wolves and sheep analogy is complete bullshit, because there are more sheep than wolves. Reality goes more like this.

      You have 1 wolf and 4 sheep and they vote on who to make decisions. The wolf sneakingly convince the sheep that they shouldn't vote on another sheep, because that sheep would then steal some grass from the remaining sheep.

      So the wolf wins. And he decides to have a sheep for dinner. When the sheep protests, he says, "Think on the positive side, there will be more grass for the remaining th

  • What is the probability that a technically savvy member of the US Congress (Senate or Representatives) will run on a similar platform in the next Congressional Election?
    • by Jeng (926980)

      No idea, but if he does develop a good software platform that helps constituents interact with him he could probably sell that software for a good amount of money, or give the software away for free and charge for his expertise with the software.

    • What's the probability that we'll have a technically savvy member of the US Congress?
    • by Cynic (9633)

      Jeremy Hansen here.

      As I mentioned above, Phil Dodds [phildoddsforcongress.com] is on the ballot for the House of Representatives in North Florida's 3rd District. He and I are collaborating on the software platform. Even if neither of us get elected, the software will be out there and available for anyone to use, whether as a representative or a citizen.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it." In ancient Athens this type of nonce "democracy" resulted in endless wars, the exile of innocents, high taxes to maintain their Trireme fleet, and led to their overthrow after about 300 years. Inflamed passions led by motivated propagandists always take control.

    • ..and how exactly is that different than today?
    • Did you forget the following...

      1) Greece had slaves
      2) Only men of certain classes were allowed to vote

      Is that democracy? At least as we perceive it today? No, not at all... That system you are referring to reminds me more of a representational democracy as there is a class of people deciding what the other class of people will do.

      I quote

      "Estimates of the population of ancient Athens vary. During the 4th century BC, there may well have been some 250,000–300,000 people in Attica. Citizen families may h

  • Electronic or otherwise. California has direct ballot initiatives which is fairly pure, as democracy in America goes. It hasn't been an unmitigated success.

    The "wisdom of crowds" is too easily subverted by a mass media owned by a moneyed elite, and researching your own information has fallen to finding out what some other idiots on facebook or slashdot think. I wish I had a solution, but frankly, I don't think there is one until and unless money somehow magically leaves our political system. Fat chance of that happening.

    • Or some philanthropic billionaire decides to level the playing field and help balance the money towards balanced public education on issues.

      Hey, it could happen!
    • Because they seem to uncouple what people want from how to pay for it (if I understand it correctly).

      Lets pay buy all new roads. But lets downvote all taxes to do so. Everything should come with both how to pay for it and what it is.

      • That's very close to the truth. Propositions that require new outlays are not required to have a funding mechanism. In addition, because they are not laws, ballot propositions do not have to be constitutional.

        For instance, assuming you could get enough people to sign the petition (which wouldn't be terribly hard as signature takers are paid by the signature and so aren't terribly interested in talking about the bill that they're gathering signatures for), it is entirely possible to put a proposition on the

  • time to legalize pot?
  • as in Final World Order. It will spread, because of it's efficiency and likeability, and encompass all decision making across the world creating a hivemind made of ourselves connected by electronic signals. And then Gaia will rise to the stars!
  • This guy seems very sane. I hope Vermonters give this a shot!
  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Thursday June 14, 2012 @11:53AM (#40324043) Homepage Journal

    Phil Dodds put it well in a recent message to me: "[People are] weighing ‘direct democracy' against a fictitious idealized representative democracy. It is not helpful to idealize the current system."

    Can't be repeated enough, no matter how bad an idea you might think direct democracy would be, you can't honestly deny that our current form of representative democracy is not very representative or democratic.

  • What we need is a more controlled version of the ballot initiative. I would rather see the following changes:

    1) All felony criminal statutes are etched into stone in the state constitution. The legislature is powerless to draft new criminal charges worse than a misdemeanor without submitting them to the electorate for a ballot initiative. A
    2) All tax increases must be submitted for ballot initiative and must apply to all potential voters. That is, whatever behavior would trigger it for your neighbor must trigger it for you. For income tax purposes, that would mean that even if it's just $1, every voter must pay additional income tax or vice tax if they work or use vice.
    3) Recall elections for elected representatives. For appointed judges, how about a ballot initiative that would force the legislature to consider impeachment charges immediately upon the opening of the first session of the legislature.

  • by dcollins (135727) on Thursday June 14, 2012 @11:55AM (#40324067) Homepage

    An added problem: This discussion seems to presume an arbitrarily large amount of time to get voter feedback on proposed legislation (esp., including discussion forums, switching votes, snail mail and in-person town hall meetings). I don't believe that legislatures always work that way; sometimes bills are drafted on short notice (or modified in negotiations) and then voted on in partly-surprise "midnight sessions". (Actually, I've even been called into a midnight session of a college student senate during particular machinations.) So what happens in that case, when there's maybe a few hours elapsed between bill presentation and voting?

    • by ganjadude (952775)
      than you do what all elected officials SHOULD be doing anyway, a no vote until further conversations can be had. I do not ever want to have to "vote for the bill before we can see it" ever again
    • 1 bar any unrecorded discussions of a bill with more than 3 present (and no Phone Tree Tricks either)

      2 require 24 hours between the presentation and any voting action (with a clause for Clear and Present Physical Danger to allow for stuff like funding for rapid bridge repair when one has almost collapsed)

      3 a full history of any changes to the text should be made Public (SVN type thing)

      • by dcollins (135727)

        Nice ideas, but the senator in question doesn't control any of those things. Nor do I see 24 hours (item #2) as allowing discussion forums, snail-mail submissions, and town-hall meetings.

    • by Cynic (9633)

      This could be a problem, but the Vermont Legislature works sufficiently slowly that I don't believe this to be an issue in general. I expect to vote according to what I know of the attitudes of the citizens, and what I know of the legislation being presented.

      I have to say, though, that I am a fan of what ganjadude and RobertLTux suggest here - we need to give everyone a reasonable chance to digest what's going on. Transparency is crucial.

      Jeremy Hansen

  • Or was the posting for this interview really that thin!

    • Naw, eldavojohn is just our representative. The ol' boys club of Slashdot, those of us with the mod points, know him to have his head on his shoulders. So rather than write out questions ourselves we simply upvote his.

      But, uh... yeah! WOO direct democracy!
  • There have been many candidates I would vote against. There have been many more that I would vote for purely for lack of a better option.

    You are the only one I have yet seen that I would vote *for*. If you ever find yourself running for something I can vote for, you can count on mine.

    Are your ideas perfect? No. But then again, neither are mine.

  • Slashdot: So, our readers asked...
    Hansen (interrupting): Hello, my name is Jeremy Hansen. Why don't you take a seat?
    Slashdot: Um, okay....Anyway, onto the first...
    Hansen: Would you care for a cookie? A drink of water?
    Slashdot: No thank you...Let me read this...
    Hansen: I have your chat logs right here. I'd like to read an excerpt....

  • by Anonymous Coward

    1) Jeremy and I are both saying the Representative has a role. The representative is a facilitator and a steward of the process and his job would be to mitigate issues.
    2) In my eyes, the current system has abandoned any serious effort of representing the people. Elected officials have 1,001 ways to buy money and re-election with their legislative voting power. This is a frank and honest response to the lamentful state our system. There are problems with almost any other solution you want to talk about.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "JH: Part of my proposal is to incorporate offline "town hall"-style meetings and other non-Internet communications so that those citizens who aren't tech savvy or who don't have reliable Internet connections can still participate."

    I'm going to reiterate a question I posed last time that I don't feel was adequately addressed. The poor, the non tech-savvy, those without an internet connection, or those who are unable (through some mental or physical impairment) to operate a computer: How do you plan to make

    • by Cynic (9633)

      I'm going to reiterate a question I posed last time that I don't feel was adequately addressed. The poor, the non tech-savvy, those without an internet connection, or those who are unable (through some mental or physical impairment) to operate a computer: How do you plan to make sure that these people still have a vote in this system.

      A citizen sending me a letter saying "I am against X" is as good as a vote for it online. Similarly, submitting some sort of ballot at a citizens' meeting should count the same, too. I would then enter these "offline" votes and attribute them to the appropriate citizen (to avoid double voting). This is a component that I feel is an essential part to any system that seeks to empower citizens.

      Jeremy Hansen

  • "Release Valve" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by guttentag (313541) on Thursday June 14, 2012 @12:50PM (#40325243) Journal
    Whenever someone poses a question that shoots a hole in your platform, you talk about "that's why I have a release valve."

    What do you do if your constituents want you to violate the constitution?
    I "reserve the right to vote in opposition to majority sentiment..."

    So you're just like every other politician out there. You want the people to think you're doing what they want, that you're different from all the others, and you're going to vote with a wallet labelled "your conscience" when a corporation pays you enough or other lawmakers pressure you to.

    How do you ensure the poll is representative? If the same 10% or so vote on every issue, you might end up with skewed results.
    The short answer about trying to prevent skewed results is that I really can't. By having a participation threshold, the "release valve", and by widely publicizing the way the votes are going, we can mitigate some of the risk of skewed results.

    OK, so either you're never going to hit your participation threshold and make all the decisions yourself anyway, or you're going to hit the threshold and always have skewed results because it won't be anywhere close to 50% of your constituents. You acknowledge that your threshold is about 2% participation. I tried an experiment a moment ago. My cat likes milk. I poured her a saucer of 2% milk and told her, "here's some milk. You like milk!" She came running over because she knows the word milk, sniffed at it without touching it, gave me a dirty look and stalked away. Calling 2% participation a consensus doesn't make it a consensus. Even my cat knows this.

    Your county's schools are failing horribly and need money but the only place you have money is vehicle tax that is supposed to go to your roads. You propose (if you are even going to take such actions) to move some money from the road fund to the schools -- sacrificing potential traffic problems in the name of education and staying above backwater Mississippi standards. Your populace (who have completed high school and already make long commutes) disagree with you when their vote fails to pass the proposition. What do you do?
    In part, the "release valve" could come into play as previously described...

    Again, you will vote the way your constituents want, except when you disagree with them.

    Direct democracy is evil. Its only use is as an interim step to understanding why representative democracy is necessary. You seem to understand that direct democracy does not truly work, because you keep falling back on the explanation that you would be the representative who has to make the decisions on behalf of your constituents. Which is how it should be. But don't ride on a direct democracy platform if that's not what you are offering. If you're going to lie to the voters now to get into office, why should they trust you to make decisions for them.

    Here's what you want to do: Acknowledge that what you are offering is representative democracy, but be extremely open about every vote you cast. Create a Web site where you will explain how you voted and why. And don't dumb it down to make it sound good for the media. Explain it as if your constituent was your next door neighbor and he was sitting on the couch in your living room eager to hear what you're doing for him in Montpelier. And provide a relatively-secure way for them to communicate their thoughts and concerns to you, but don't ever base your vote on majority opinion. Or 2% opinion. If you are elected, it's because the voters say they trust you to make the right decisions for them. Sometimes you'll screw up, and sometimes you'll upset people, but you learn from your mistakes, listen to your constituents and honestly communicate your reasoning. That's what it truly means to be a representative.

    There is an old story about Washington and Jefferson discussing the purpose of the U.S. Senate (I realize you're running for the Vermont Senate,

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You don't really acknowledge the way he proposes to mitigate the damages. Instead, you attack a straw man.

      Kudos.

      In reality, for example, he wasn't saying that 2% participation would be a consensus. He said that it would be enough to form a representative sample. He would be fairly confident that the numbers within that 2% would reflect the numbers in his constituents overall.

      Also, he very specifically does not say that the release valve is for use whenever he disagrees with his constituents. That is an idea

    • by thoromyr (673646)

      I wish I had mod points. Its easy to tear apart what he says, but you give some good, solid advice as to how he might better approach this. Kudos to you, sir.

  • CA has high income taxes, business taxes, and sales taxes. Wouldn't the more likely scenario be that if Prop 13 hadn't been passed that CA would have really high property taxes and high taxes in all those other areas?

  • ..if direct democracy helped them decide whether to allow collective bargaining by unions. Those who suggest direct democracy bypasses big money need to take a look at how well it worked there.
  • Hypothetically, if you could accurately weight every person's vote by some measure of their expertise on the topic in question, would it be better or worse for democracy? I know it's somewhat fundamental that everyone gets as much say as anyone else, but I've never felt like my vote has made a difference, and I don't feel like it ever will, so long as there are so many other people voting. Prime example: many people really have no understanding of economics, and on any economic issue will vote to defend th

Possessions increase to fill the space available for their storage. -- Ryan

Working...