Could digital democracy reboot legislative process in W.Va.?
FAYETTEVILLE — The co-founder of software meant to foster public debate and voter education, Pia Mancini, shared thoughts on how technology can upgrade the political system in West Virginia Thursday at the 2015 Create West Virginia Conference in Fayetteville.
Mancini said DemocracyOS software was used in Argentina to help leverage support for legislation to help overworked and underpaid nurses in Buenos Aires. Using technology, elected officials were directly engaging with their constituents, and more citizens became part of the political process.
She said existing democratic systems were designed more than 200 years ago around the printing press. Moreover, the traditional system produces apathy because citizens don’t feel like they can participate in the democratic process.
“That’s the problem. We only matter every couple of years when we have to cast our ballot, and then we are sent home,” she said. “Our representatives average between .0003 and .001 percent of the voting population. How is that representation?”
Building on the ancient Greek idea that representatives should be randomly selected, she proposes the idea of “liquid democracy” where voting power is delegated to those who have knowledge in certain areas. For example, one citizen might vote on economic issues but delegate their voting power on health issues to another with more knowledge.
This model changes the hierarchical structure of the legislative process to a broader-based model with more people voting on all issues and representing fewer peers.
“This allows emerging social leaders to take on a larger role in their area of expertise. We can do that now using the Internet,” she explained. “This kind of system, instead of being concerned about professional politicians and their donors, is concerned with how we educate our citizens. How to make sure everyone has broadband in West Virginia, and how to make sure everyone understands the issues.”
Poet and self-proclaimed “social media senator” Crystal Good is already using technology to shape democracy in West Virginia. She created her own online legislative seat to represent the digital district of West Virginia, aggregating public sentiment and lobbying for passionate citizens who can’t spend each day following the Legislature.
She pointed out that low voter turnout across the state is frightening, but citizens continually engage in discussions and debates on social media platforms.
“We are meeting people where they are and leveraging technology to be a friend to the community,” Good said. “How can you talk about democracy if citizens don’t have access to vote or understand the issues?It’s a rural state, and West Virginians face many challenges, but we make excuses instead of looking for ways for people to gain access.”
While DemocracyOS is playing a role in the existing democratic system in Argentina, Mancini believes there is the possibility for an Internet-based system to supplant the traditional one.
“We are not bound by the systems we develop. They are ours to rethink and redesign. What democracy do we want? It’s a work in progress,” Mancini said. “The day democracy stops being a work in progress — the day it becomes absolute — is the day it is not a democracy anymore. It is up to us, today, to rethink our institutions.”
Photo Credit/Caption: Brad Davis/The Register-Herald Pia Mancini, voter co-founder of DemocracyOS, delivers the keynote speech during the Create West Virginia Conference Thursday night at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building in Fayetteville. DemocracyOS is a software designed to put constituents directly in contact with political leaders and representatives, giving more people access and means to participate in their political system. In Argentina, the software was used to help overworked and underpaid nurses (background) in Buenos Aires organize support to finally push legislation through to increase their pay improve their working conditions.
The 2015 Create WV Conference continues today and Saturday. For more information, visit www.createwv.org.
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