Time to get started

Our current government has been around since 1789 and it has served us extremely well since then. Over the years we’ve amended and adjusted the structure and laws of this government to better tailor it to the needs of an evolving country. Our founding fathers, with creating our constitution, were doing so in the attempt to create a more perfect union among the various members of this country. I believe it is our responsibility to continue to evolve our government structure in an effort to achieve that more perfect union.

In 1789 it may have been practical to operate as a purely representative republic, there were less people in the country, less people were what could be considered educated, and as a result a small number of educated individuals with inclinations toward politics and public service would be better suited to drive the direction of the country, theoretically in the best interests of those less suited citizens. This obviously didn’t and doesn’t always happen, but at least it made somewhat practical sense in those times. Even through the majority of our history, really, it made a lot of sense. It would have been impractical for most Americans to be materially involved in any of the day-to-day workings of our government. We simply couldn’t spend that amount of time away from our jobs, and the process of political involvement was fairly arduous.

Well, times have changed, and I think it’s about time that we open up our government processes to more transparency and more direct engagement from the citizens of the country. I’m advocating a new kind of government which I tend to refer to as Hybrid Democracy; that domain was taken, so here we are at Bastard Democracy, and here is where I will lay out my vision for this country, a description of what Hybrid Democracy is and how it can work, a look into the proposed tools I think we could use to achieve this new type of government, and my positions on a lot of political topics relevant to how we could move this country into a new era of strength, prosperity, and engagement. While I’m using this platform to capture my own thoughts and opinions on how to achieve this evolved version of government, I look forward to comments from anyone that happens across this blog that can help me to better refine my ideas. Let’s face it, nobody is perfect, and there is no way I’ll get it right all the time, so I look forward to comments and debates both incendiary and positive because both will help me to create a better end product. In the end, I hope we can achieve the creation of something the nation can rally behind to create real valuable change to our political system. Change that reinvigorates public trust in our government and creates the correct structures to catapult our country into a new golden age of prosperity, not only for a few, but for many.

I look forward to taking this journey, and hope that along the way I’ll pick up some like-minded people to help me fight for the change this country needs.

It all starts with a plan,

Frank

Hybrid Democracy

Right now our state and federal legislatures are basically the same, they consist of a House of Representative and a Senate, collectively – the Congress (some states have different names but they all basically serve the same purpose). Locally we have city council members, city council is a legislative branch, but at the local level. All of the members of the Congress, both at the state and federal level, and of the city council, are elected by us, the people. The number of officials in each legislative branch varies, but right now, there are 435 in the federal House of Representatives and 100 in the Senate. Let’s have a quick jump into the history of why its like this.

Between 1790 and 1913 the number of representatives in the house grew from 65 to 435, to keep pace with the population growth in the country. In 1790 there were about 3.9 million people in this country, at 65 representatives that meant about 60,000 voters for every representative. In 1910, there were 92.2 million people in the US, or about 212,000 per representative. In 1929 the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929 was passed and it basically locked our number of representatives at 435 for good, due to lobbying from rural voters who feared being overwhelmed by large populations in the cities. Today there are 318.9 million people in the US. Each of our elected representatives speaks for 730,000 citizens, on average. This is a far cry from the representation we enjoyed at the start, and honestly, we deserve better. It’s impossible for our representatives to be in touch with their people when they represent such a large number. There have always been 2 senators per state. Obviously it’s even harder for senators to stay in touch, but at least every state has exactly equal standing in the Senate. The Federal House of Representatives has been the same size since 1913, but it wasn’t always this way. It’s a good reminder that oftentimes things that exist in society today, that we accept as a given, as the way things have to be; are just laws someone made at some point. They can be changed, and throughout history – they have been.

One of the complaints about continuing to increase the number of representatives based on population is the cost associated with paying salaries for all these officials, their travel, and their staffs. There is some merit to this concern. On average, congressional representatives make around $174000 each in salary, not including their staffs or anything else. That’s about $92 million dollars a year we pay, just to the federal legislature. If we kept growing that office in line with population, we could have something around 1500 representatives today, costing us $261 million dollars. That is a lot of wasted money, considering how effective congress has been recently. I agree with this point, I think we should keep the number of representatives a bit lower to help with the budget and make it simpler for work to be done in Congress. I also advocate a better way to make the voice of the people heard.

This is where Hybrid Democracy comes into play. I believe that because its so difficult for our representatives to be closely in tune with the people in their districts, we should be able to speak for ourselves. If there are 700,000 people in a given federal district, let them speak on the legislation that is up for debate in either the house or the senate. There are already sites available to review the legislation, so it’s easy to access. We average about 30-40% voter turnout in non-presidential years. Rather than speaking on a district to district basis, let’s say 30% of voters (almost 70 million people) come out in support of a particular bill. That public opinion could count for something like 33 House votes, or 8 Senate votes.This allows the people to have a true voice in passing legislation in this country, provides our representatives with empirical data about public opinion, and is weighted to keep the majority of the voting power in the hands of the people we elected to be most knowledgeable about the topics at hand.  I would start by saying I would weight it by taking a number that is 25% of the house or senate, and then attribute a number of votes based on the percentage of the population that voted a given way. For instance, 25% of 100 (Senate) is 25. 30% of 25 is 7.5, rounded up – 8. That way, even if 100% of people voted, it would still only weigh the legislative process in one direction or another, the representatives still have the majority of the control, but would need to operate in a more bi-partisan fashion if they want to get things done that the people don’t agree with. This is only speaking at the Federal level, because that is what most people know about, but this same approach can easily, and in a lot of cases more easily, apply to the local and state levels as well.

That’s it in a nutshell, Hybrid Democracy, it keeps the costs of the legislature low, while giving the people a true voice in the legislative process, backed up with a little bit of teeth, to encourage participation and build voter confidence in the political process again. Next we’ll have to talk about what I think is the best way to enable this voice. Obviously we’re not likely to get 238 million voters to independently navigate around bad websites to find information and then call their representatives to tell them their vote. We can do better.

vote_voice

My Solution

In my last post I talked about what the concept of Hybrid Democracy actually was, and a bit about how we could consider votes under this system. Now I want to talk about one way I thought of which could be used to actually capture and provide a history of the votes being cast. I know there is a lot of discussion around the safety and integrity of internet-based voting systems, I’ve read many of the arguments and counter-arguments. I believe we have the ability to make it safe enough to be as reliable or more reliable than the current systems. I’ll write another post later that covers the concerns about using online voting and keeping voting records. This post is about the system I thought might work to give us a better view into our government, and more control over our political system. Right now, I call it Constituency.

01-selection-page_edit

I’ll dig into more details later, but basically – there is a portal for legislators to upload legislation, propose ideas to their communities, or review public opinion and there is a portal for voters to cast votes, browse open legislation, and browse current or upcoming election details.

This is a view of the voter portal:

voterpage

This is a first pass so a lot of the info on here will probably change, but this is basically your dashboard. Gives you a quick view into the legislation and proposals you care most about, based on your profile settings. At the top you can jump into views of just your city (local), state, or federal legislation/proposals. In the image area you can see a picture of the voter, their name, location, salary (only when viewing your own page), and their political affiliation. On the right, based on the details you enter regarding your salary, you will see a breakdown of your tax liability by area and how much you should get to take-home after taxes, as a percentage. The bottom section is a filterable list of the legislation and proposals that are upcoming based on the area you’re viewing. This list can be filtered further if desired, but, this is where you see whats happening and you cast your vote. Since all legislation goes through a budget evaluation you can see right away how much money you’ll gain or lose based on the proposal, who wrote it, the actual document, the date it was posted, and a short description of what its about. On the right you can vote on how you feel about it. That’s it, pretty simple.

Next we can take a quick look at the legislator view. This view is more for the benefit of the voter, how they would view the legislator when navigating to their page, not so much what the legislator would see when they logged in:

legpage

Pretty straightforward. You can see the name of the legislator, what area they represent, their political affiliation, and what level of government they work for. On the right you see who their most common campaign donors are. At the bottom you see what they have up for proposal and on the right you see the proposals they’ve made that have already completed. This could be adapted to give a better view of their voting record and the types of proposals they’ve suggested/implemented.

To help legislators and other voters know who is voting and how they’re voting, there will be a demographics link for each proposal, you can click it for a quick popup of some basic voter info, something like what is shown below:

votedemographics

All of this info is in the application, so it is easy to pull together.

There are other pages for adding proposals, entering financial info, and performing other functions of the site, but those aren’t worth covering here. We can review more details later. This should give a pretty good idea of what I’m thinking we can do to allow voters to see whats going on around them and give their opinion on how the country should move forward on those topics. There is a ton of work to be done to get this ready for prime time, but its a good first step in my opinion. This is a web view, but we’ll get it on android and iOS too, that way its super easy to engage with any time you’re ready.

quickguide

How to get it done.

The process to implementing this change in our society isn’t quite as simple as “Build it and they will come”. Political engagement is horribly low, and most voting eligible people, even though they often vote in the more important elections, still feel like government doesn’t work. The good news is that there really aren’t any laws that are stopping this from happening; but there would need to be laws created to allow for the full impact. We can dig deeper and theorize about what those laws could look like in the future. We’re going to start with phase 1 though, and in phase 1 we really don’t need any new laws and there isn’t anything to stop us from getting started. If you haven’t already seen the post regarding the platform we can use, then check that out first – this post is going to cover what happens after it’s built.

The last decade has seen confidence in the government plummet across the board; we don’t think government is effective, we don’t think Congress is doing its job, and overall we think the country is headed in the wrong direction. This is a pretty crap trifecta, and along with confidence goes trust, and along with trust often goes engagement. If you can’t believe in your government, and you don’t trust them to listen or treat your opinion as valuable then many times you simple won’t engage, on most minor issues – until it comes time to vote for elected officials. Even then, we’re still struggling. With approval only around 30%, that is the biggest hurdle to really getting this change in place. Voter turnout in mid-term elections tends to be pretty low, probably around 30-ish percent. To vote takes very little knowledge or energy, I would expect engagement with our site to start off exceptionally low, similar to any startup. We would be lucky to crack 1% of eligible voters to start, which is around 2 million people. Judging from petitions on the white house petition site, there are probably about 700,000 to 1 million voters that would fairly quickly engage with something that will let them express their opinions on topics that require a bit more in-depth knowledge. Without a lot of effort on our part. We need to do a lot better than that, government 2.0 has to drive up political engagement in a way that we haven’t seen in at least a decade. In presidential elections we’re getting just over half of eligible voters involved, this year 139 million of the 232 million available voters cast their ballot for president. I think this 139 million would be our initial target, but caring about the president is a lot more general than caring specifically about an abortion bill, or a bill funding the military, the IRS, or NASA. I think on individual issues, turnout will vary from very low to decently high. The Trump cabinet picks have been a pretty hot topic over the past week and the Senate has received a record number of calls about it, around 1.5 million, calling a Senator takes a pretty high level of political engagement; this helps to solidify our starting point of probably around 700K to 1M off the bat. To grow from there, I think it’s going to take a marketing campaign, and a grassroots effort from local activists. With engagement and confidence in the crapper, there is a big challenge ahead.

The goal of the initial marketing, following the roll-out, is to get people to see the value in considering themselves as voters. I’m defining voters as people who share their opinion to create change in the world. Once we identify as people that vote, that will impact how likely we are to vote in general. The site will be simplified to start, because all features cannot be implemented right away. It will basically have the profile UI, scraped legislation from across local, state, and federal sites, and the ability to share your opinion and view statistics on the captured opinions on those pieces of legislation without any automatic impact in actual government; aside from a one-stop-shop for legislators and the media to see what people think. We will hopefully be able to add an additional input for admins where we can take the pulse on other political topics outside of what is available from a legislation perspective. So, to start to get people to think like voters, we’ll start by talking a bit about a few local issues across a spectrum to see what interests them, then ask them to grab the app, and share their opinion (just thumbs up or down, maybe we can allow short comments through a link with Twitter or something, not sure yet on that). This approach is also advocated by some people who research political engagement and disenfranchisement. If we can start with something simple and local, we might be able to see those opinions translate quickly into real change, even without the votes counting for anything officially. Then once any change happens, we need to start pushing the results to the media and social media to get coverage of the impact the site can make (positive for some group, probably negative for another). Getting media coverage will help us to grow our users. Not all media coverage will be free either, it really will need to become a marketing campaign where we get as many touches as possible, radio, internet, in-person, workshops, town-halls, friends + family, social media, guerrilla marketing, sponsorship’s, endorsements, even TV if possible. More planning and research needs to go into each strategy to place it on the timeline and figure out what partnerships we can build and leverage at each level to determine how many users we could impact with each approach. People want to be heard, but we need to prove that using the system will lead to them getting heard in a way that makes their investment worth it.

Changing the status quo isn’t easy, it will take a lot of effort and energy from a lot of people. In this case though, it’s worth it. This is the change we need if we want government to start working for us, and stop  doing whats best for just a few.