Democracy is not inherently the best system, and some even describe it as the “tyranny of the majority.” The reason it is probably the best system we have available is because although the majority may falter, the odds of so many making corrupt decisions is lower than the odds of a small group doing so. At the same time, small groups of representatives enable greater personal responsibility, and most societies have decided that representative democracy is the best answer to the question of how we want to make decisions that affect us all.
After all, pure unfiltered democracy would basically amount to anarchy (coming from the latin prefix “an” meaning without, and “archy” meaning “ruler(s)”.) Because of the difficulty in organizing such a dynamic system, and because it is probably seen to give too much power to the people (and to the unnamed vote counters), representative democracy is the flavor of democracy that essentially every “democratic” nation has accepted as “tasting best.”
Theoretically, both these flavors of democracy sounds delicious: they sound like they put decision-making power into a relatively transparent and accessible processes. In reality, the forces of corruption (big business, banks, etc) have and will always seek out strategic bottle-necks in the voting process to increase the probability of the chips falling in their favor.
The three primary bottle-necks are:
  1. Voter registration/districting/accessibility of the voting points
  2. Ballot options/candidate selection
  3. Vote counting
The first bottle-neck is used to, for instance, limit the number and accessibility of voting points in low-income areas to make it harder for many of the people living there to vote, or by requiring specific types of photo identification (like a passport) to again reduce actual voter turnout. Although redistricting is often left unexplained, the requirements dealing with identification tend to be excused as efforts against voter fraud, despite the fact that this costs far more money than it solves problems.
The second bottle-neck is the unseen filter, as Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig describes it, that prevents “questionable candidates” from every getting into the position of you being able to vote for them. On issues where voters make a decision about a topic, the choices are always tightly defined: forcing the voter to pick from an extremely limited pallet of solutions. Simply having the options of voting yes or no to a solution leaves no room for discussion about what exactly the problem is, what solution is most fitted or most effective, or if the proposed solution actually fixes the problem. Forcing a choice between two options, without room for creating or debating other solutions, is a classic Machiavellian tactic to force public concern to either remain muffled or accept a sub-optimal solution. Saving 15% of the Great Barrier Reef, or none at all, is not the same as if citizens could decide not just if, but also how and how much, they want to protect the reef. This is the same as forcing citizens to pick between two pre-selected candidates who, aside from a few social issues, share the same agenda and interests.
The third bottle-neck, the counting of the votes, is exemplified wonderfully within the borders of the self-proclaimed defender of democracy: the United States. During the 3 election cycles between 2000 and 2012, there was widespread use of electronic voting machines. Theoretically, this was supposed to make the votes easier to count and remove counter bias, but for some reason the machines that were selected seem to have been selected based on how easy it is to tamper with them. One of the major producers, Diebold, was actually indicated and charged $50 million dollars for their unethical business practices and the design of easy-hack voting devices.
So, I want to ask you: is your democracy functional? Are these three bottle-necks being defended with transparency and checks and balances in your country, your region, your town?
If your answer is, like mine, a resonant “no” then we need to sit down and discuss solutions and strategy. I think there is reason to believe that the flaws in current democratic systems are not inherent in democracy, but are the result of ignorance, deliberate callousness, and laziness from current political figures.
The basic solutions, in the same order as the bottle-necks, are:
  1. Crowdsourcing districting and voter laws: allow communities to decide these things themselves. A town of 1000 people will never have any reason to require photo identification for voting. By enabling open and public discussion about where voting will take place, and under what conditions, we inhibit the forces of corruption from stacking all the chips in their favor behind closed doors.
  2. Prior to any type of “either-or” vote, transparent public discourse and brainstorming should occur. What exactly the problem is, and what different solutions exist, should be the first order of business. A type of transparent online venue for the discussion of problems, and potential solutions, should be around long before you travel somewhere to vote “yes or no” on anything.
  3. Systems of voting and vote counting need to be relatively transparent, but also secure. As ETT founder, and programmer, Aaron Jackson explains, “creating a hackproof and non-corrupt system is a simple task within a closed loop network. Using a wired closed loop network also means that the code could be open source and still wouldn’t be any more prone to exploits. The problem with the current systems are that they are either setup to give false results, setup to be easily exploited, or are connected to the internet.
There are major problems to deal with, both within our democracy and within industrial civilization in the larger context. Morgan Freeman actually sums up our situation pretty well: there is hope, but only if we are willing to do everything within our power to improve the situation. This includes both understanding where we are and are going, as well as working to help us move in a better direction.