Transforming Democracy Through e-Government.

In many modern democratic countries the choice of leadership often comes down to two parties who hold the majority of power. This is then augmented by having many other less powerful parties who, whilst they don’t hold any significant power by themselves, help to ensure that other less mainstream ideals are still represented in the decision making process of the country. However they still have to choose a preferred side to default to which returns the small amount of power they wield back to one of the two major players.

“Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others.” – Winston Churchill

For the most part this works well. Having two major parties constantly at each other does lend to most policies undergoing a considerable amount of scrutiny and you can be assured that if there’s anything truly damaging in a piece of legislation that the opposition will ridicule the government for it. However the act of voting someone in doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with all of their policies and directions, as no candidate can accurately represent the individuals desires for the leadership of the country. This is probably my one of my beefs with the two party system, whilst I can vote people in based on a political ideal I can’t vote out legislation that I might oppose. So whilst I do have representation in the form of a candidate that I had a hand in electing once they’re in office I am at their mercy when it comes to creating and voting on legislation.

This came up last night when I was discussing with my parents why I felt giving to charities was ineffective. Whilst the act of giving to charity is an altruistic ideal I feel disconnected from my act of giving and the impact that act will have on someone less fortunate then me. I proposed a system whereby they could track my donation using a unique ID and show me where the money ended up. So if I gave $50 I would love to see where that actually wound up, even if it was just 50 loaves of bread. I then thought that such a system could revolutionise the way the democracy works in Australia.

Let me lay out the specification for such a system for you and how it would be used in Australia. Currently everyone who pays taxes has a Tax File Number (TFN). Using this ID your tax dollars could be flagged and then put into pools of cash broken up into something like postcode or arbitrary number. When the government wants to fund something it draws from one or more of these pools and associates the funds with a project. Then using a web interface any Australian with a tax file number could log in and see where their tax dollars were being spent. You could actually see your tax dollars at work building hospitals or new schools.

A simple augmentation to this system would then be to allow all users to assign preferences for their tax dollars. This then forms the basis of micro-voting with your tax dollars. So say you support increased spending on education and a reduction in defense. You log into this website and select your preference for education as 1 and defense as 10. With enough participation in the system you in essence give the power back to the people and could mandate that the government allocate funding along the public’s lines (within reason of course).

I identify myself as a libertarian without most of the crazy (I don’t think markets are the answer to everything) and as such I see this as a way of giving people the choice to not only vote in the party that they align with but also allow them to have a say in the operations of the government once they’re in power. I’m also partial to the idea of taking some power away from lobbyists who have a considerable amount of power in democracies like the USA.

Of course this idea has its issues, and the majority of it would come down to voter participation. Whilst voting is mandatory in Australia the USA attracts about 50% to 60% of eligible voters to the polling booths. Given the additional option of this system I’m sure less than 100% of those people would want to participate which reduces the value such a system would have as resource for the government. Still even as an opt-in part of voting I still believe that it could prove useful and I believe initial implementations could be used by the government to form policies that the public at large supports, rather than employing political devices such as soft power to make the public believe that they’re getting what they want.

I guess the next question is, would this improve the democratic process?

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