A candidate in the recent General Election in Fingal is to mount an experiment in 'digital democracy' which should provide a fascinating insight into the issues that concern voters in the region on a local and national level.
Roslyn Fuller was an independent candidate in the last General Election in the Dublin Fingal constituency and offered a unique proposition to the electorate which would have allowed them set her agenda in the Dáil by directly participating in shaping her platform via a secure online voting system.
The independent candidate came up short of winning a seat but got enough positive feedback for the idea that she is pursuing the experiment anyway and putting a number of policy ideas before the Fingal electorate to get their views online.
The experiment, which will open in September, will allow residents of the area to log on to a website where they can indicate their preferences on a variety of local and national issues. The initiative promises not to shy away from controversy, and while it includes sections on the standard issues like taxation and health, it will also venture into less well-trodden territory with questions on basic income, drug legalization, TTIP, and repealing the 8th amendment.
Ms Fuller said: 'I think it is important to give people the chance to exchange views on issues that don't normally get much of an airing. I'm really curious to see what the people of Fingal have to say on these points.'
Despite the fact that some of those issues may spark strong feelings, she is not overly worried about the possibility of bullying or abuse. She said: 'There are a set of conditions that participants need to agree to before they can engage, which includes prohibition on racist, sexist or other abusive or threatening language. Anyone who violates those conditions can and will be removed from the site. However, from my experience running, I have to say that the percentage of abusive communications I received was negligible. The vast majority of people debate reasonably and, if it comes to it, respectfully disagree.'
Ms Fuller stresses that the software is not a survey tool, but an 'interactive portal'. Participants will be able to view statements, as well as links to arguments for and against, and they will be able to choose from a scale reflecting how strongly they agree or disagree with each statement. Anyone taking part can leave comments explaining their position, make suggestions for alternative choices and post links to outside material that others may find useful. Although users will not be able to see how any other particular person has voted, they will be able to see how the community in general is voting.
You can sign up the project on www.fullerdemocracy.com
This article first appeared in the Fingal Independent