Beyond SOPA: Let's Iterate Politics

By Trevor Gilbert , written on January 18, 2012

From The News Desk

The internet has shown us its true power. It is being used as a mass activism tool, and it appears to be changing the momentum that has built up in congress. The phones are jammed at the congressional offices, Twitter is full of SOPA related thoughts, and it is apparently the only thing PandoDaily is writing about today. In fact, we're going the anti-blackout route and publishing even more content today.

In all of this, congress is still debating SOPA, so our work isn't done yet. Until the bill fails, and an alternative is proposed, we aren't done. However, let's fast forward a little bit to after we finish with SOPA. We have an amazing tool at our disposal in the form of the internet. What should we do with it next?

Well, for starters, we should begin to iterate upon our political system. Much like working on a startup, we should change our political system from something seen as a crusty paper in the Archives, to a living document that responds to major changes in society. That's how it was designed, and the mechanism to do it is built right into the Constitution: amendments.

Amendments are a big deal, and they aren't passed easily. In fact, in the 224 years since the ratification of the Constitution, there have only been 27 amendments to the Constitution. What can we learn from this? That only truly major societal shifts should be put in the Constitution. In my book, the internet is one of these shifts.

The first iteration we should make to our political process is to make changes easier. So let's start with the ability to vote for bills electronically. I don't mean petitions, I mean a formalized system that the public can vote on whatever bills they want. The kind of system that is truly democratic, and much less so representative. Representatives can still submit bills, and they'd still have jobs (for the time being), but we would get to vote on the bills. This type of system is long overdue, and frankly, just makes sense. In Steve Jobs words, "It just works."

It should be noted that this has been suggested before. Every time it comes up, it is shot down as "risky", "naive", and "disruptive". Of course, everyone who says these things has a vested interest in the status quo (see: lobbyists, politicians), but really, who cares? In the effort of honest debate, we should look at what problems this system creates, and the problems it solves. A simple pros and cons list.

First, the complications that stand in our way. When I say complications, I don't mean the things that stand in the way of such changes being passed. These are big, but are simple enough to overcome. Instead, what are the technical limitations the should be solved before this system is introduced. There are two immediate problems.

  1. Validating Identities. The first problem is making sure that people are who they say they are, and being able to consistently and accurately check it. This is the most complicated problem, and if you have suggestions, leave them in the comments below. I really don’t know what the best way to do this is.
  2. Keeping the system secure. The second major problem is the movement of hacktivism that has taken the world by storm. This challenge can be overcome, but this system will definitely be a fat target for hackers. This will also be a key point of contention among people in trying to implement the system.
Now, let's look at the advantages. I won't go into great detail on each, as they are very clear and obvious, and, well, for lack of a better word, advantageous.
  1. Equality. People are all given equal power in effecting change. Instead of having one representative answer to 1,000,000 people in one state and 100,000 people in another state, we can all have an equal vote.
  2. Limit corruption. Can votes still be bought? Yes. Will it have as big an impact? No. When you buy one vote out of 100 in the senate, it impacts the results. When you buy one out of 300 million, much less so.
  3. Absentee voting. One of the most irritating things about travelling and living overseas for a spell is that absentee votes aren't counted unless the race is tight. This isn't a problem anymore.
  4. Dozens more. The advantages really are endless. Again, feel free to list bigger ones that I missed in the comments. I'm sure I missed some pretty big ones.
The ability to vote on bills is just the first iteration, and hopefully the first of many. Imagine being able to vote on the appropriation of funds, the level of taxes, the appropriation of money. Sure, this is a radical change. Let's face it though, the internet has radically change  everything about the world, and there are very few reasons why the internet shouldn't radically change the way our government is run.

As people, we love the internet, and we love technology. Everyday, we look at companies making life simpler, easier and more equal for all. Why shouldn't we take the very foundation of the internet (indeed, the internet itself) and apply it to politics? Iterate politics, it's about time.