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Silicon Republic: Is a direct digital democracy Ireland’s future?

Roslyn Fuller is running as an independent in next year’s Irish general election, but she wants to do it a bit differently. In essence, she wants the public to decide on her every policy vote, digitally.

Direct digital democracy, in this instance, is a concept whereby the elected official does not decide what’s what for his or her constituents. Rather, the politician acts as a vessel, allowing involvement of the public on many more stages of the political process.

So, if was Fuller to take a seat in the newly-created Dublin Fingal constituency – which will take in the seats of incumbent TDs including Fine Gael’s James Reilly and Labour’s Brendan Ryan – every single policy decision that goes for vote, her vote, will be opened up to the public.

Think crowdfunding, in today’s terms, or think ancient Athens, in historical terms.

Democracy comes in many forms

“We always say Athens is the birthplace of democracy and we think of that democracy as being exactly like the one that we exercise today,” says Fuller, who lives in Malahide. But Athenian democracy, she says, was far more participatory.

In the 10 years that she’s been in Ireland, Fuller – a holder of dual Canadian-Irish citizenship – has been looking into the democratic deficit that many accept exists in modern society.

‘How do we know what the people want? We’re running on pure speculation at the moment. This could change all of that’ – Dr ROSLYN FULLER

Spurred on by what she perceives as consistently skewed electoral results, extensive periods whereby populaces are ruled over by governments they did not vote for, and a groundhog day reality when voting in and out different parties, Fuller came to the conclusion that a more participatory process could work.

Party poopers

“In the world we live in, there’s almost no transparent discussion of policy and consequences. We’re left with parties that tend to criticise each other no matter what they do,” she says.

“Opposition criticises Government because they are just that, Government. They then become Government and do the same things. Greater participation is more transparent than that.”

Roslyn Fuller, direct digital democracy advocate

We always hear of politicians making dodgy decisions, or getting basic things plain wrong, and cast them off as ‘a few bad apples’, presuming that more altruistic people would make the system work.

“I’m saying the system is imperfect and we need a new way,” she says, and it’s an interesting concept.

How can we ever know if a politician speaks for his or her constituents on any topic other than a strictly-worded referendum? Do we ever know how many people support a particular protest?

A speculative world

“We’re running on pure speculation at the moment. I think this could correct that,” she says.

“I think this is something that will gradually change in our society over the next 30/40 years. The system we have of casting paper ballots to elect people to discuss things for us has been in place for 200 years. Technology and society have evolved a lot in the meantime.”

Harnessing modern technology is nothing new, either. It’s just not mainstream yet.

Wellington City Council in New Zealand, for example, utilised Loomio for a project to develop an alcohol management strategy for the area. The results showed participation from people not often engaged in government.

“One thing which I think is truly unique about Loomio is not only the diversity of participation, but how this range of people of quite different backgrounds took each other seriously and communicated constructively,” said Jaime Dyhrberg of Wellington City Council.

Embrace technology

Other options are things like electronic voting, which was woefully executed in Ireland many years ago – €54m worth of machines were scrapped for €9 a pop – or DemocracyOS, an open-source app ideal for the type of direct digital democracy Fuller is encouraging, and one which she has highlighted as a way to engage her constituents.

Other options that can be implemented into direct digital democracy, as Fuller sees it, include cumulative voting. That could see people given 10 policies to choose from, where they have 10 votes to spread out among the policies as they see fit.

It all sounds alien, and far fetched to get through in any major capacity next year, but it’s a pretty good way to think outside of the box we’ve lived in for so long now.

“As a small, but very tech-savvy nation I believe that Ireland is well positioned to spearhead direct digital democracy,” says Fuller. Who knows, she might be right.

This article first appeared on Silicon Republic.


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