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Wikilegislate : a plan to return political power to the people
The purpose of this project is consider ways by which community members and organizations can use Wikis to draft legislation, and to experiment with individual bills to test the strengths and weaknesses of the approach. The plan is to use Wiki-based collaboration to collectively draft wise legislation with broad support that is checked carefully by many eyes. This proposal has been spurred on by the recent suggestion by Sen. Chris Romer that this should be done for a specific bill concerning a highway toll, but this site is not associated with Romer and is neutral toward this legislation. If it reaches full implemention, Wikilegislation could act not only as a political forum for individual organizations, but as an effective fourth branch of government to correct significant flaws with the current process.
The United States government has grown much larger and more complicated than it once was, and the strain that this creates has led to bad decisions. This becomes obvious when the overburdened legislature makes decisions that are not just controversial, but are opposed by nearly everyone in the country, including the members of the legislature itself.
- For most of the 1990s, concerns about genetic discrimination by employers led people to call for action from Congress. Despite nearly universal support, Congress repeatedly failed to produce a bill, citing scheduling problems, and Clinton finally enacted the measure by executive order in 2000. While that might have addressed the problem, it does not reflect well on the state of American democracy. "Executive orders" are potentially not much different from dictatorial decrees, and although they can be overridden by Congress, can a Congress that doesn't have time to pass a popular law find the time to overturn a controversial executive order? If Congress is losing control over what is legal and what is illegal, does it even have a role in the future?
- Pork barrel politics, especially "Christmas tree bills" (bills written to offer tax giveaways to particular corporations), often rely on stealth for passage. The representatives vote for a bill with a fine sounding name, then say either they had no idea what they were giving away. After all, if bills are hundreds of pages long and are passed every day, who can read them all?
- Congressmen should meet with their constituents to "represent" their districts. In practice, the usual outcome of a letter to one's congressman is a form response, and people feel ignored. To be fair, it is no simple task to convert an arbitrarily phrased opinion letter into a subsection of a bill, and legislators don't have the staff to ponder over every letter. It is hard to imagine any way that special interests with the money to hire lobbyists and draft model legislation could not have more direct impact on the text of a bill than individual constituents.
Perhaps wikis could be that way.
The idea to be tested is that a large number of people can coordinate their efforts to develop specific pieces of legislation. The goal is not to find one "winner", but to pick out several alternatives that have greater support than other similar versions. The task of proposing legislation drafts is to be handled in Wikis; the job of voting on the drafts is for the legislature. This requires much progress beyond the standard Wikipedia procedure.
- Most people will substantially disagree on the desired outcomes
- The degree of support for each version needs to be measured precisely
- Not all of the participants may have time to discuss issues with one another
- Most participants will not have time to consider a specific bill at all, and will desire to use smart proxies to delegate the weight of their opinions
- Participants will desire some way to verify that each person has one "vote"
- The server(s) may not have space to keep every version proposed by anyone
Methods to tackle these difficulties may be informed by the system of majority, concurring, and minority opinions used by the judicial system, combined with a system resembling both the Internet and the interlocking "cells" of radical organizations.
- Individual citizens have the power to directly say yes or no to any draft, or to provide a fractional vote if they wish.
- Individuals may choose to have a user agent (generally a computer program running on a server), which votes yes or no for them based on analysis given to it by other entities, most typically political organizations or well trusted individuals. The user agent may perform logical or mathematical operations on this data to determine its vote.
- Individuals may be members of discussion circles, which are groups of people willing to read and vote on one another's drafts and to return amended versions.
- Liasons from several discussion circles can form a discussion circle at a higher level. At each step in a hierarchy, liasons may require drafts to have a certain threshold of votes or come from certain sources to be considered.
- The highest level organizations (likely corresponding to political parties or very popular activist organizations) receive polished drafts from a vast membership and can document a large number of votes in support of the precise wording of these drafts. Nonetheless the way for them to obtain the largest number of votes is to be able to include many people willing to approve a draft from outside their core membership.
- It is the right of any legislator to choose the most popular draft, a less popular draft with which he agrees, or even a very unpopular draft or one he wrote himself or was handed by a lobbyist. As such, the "Wikilegislature" serves purely as an advisory mechanism. Even so, the popularity of the draft chosen will be knowable by other legislators, informing their opinions, and the average popularity of all drafts chosen by the legislator over his term can be calculated and can be used to determine whether his opinions have broad support.
- It is possible for more than one "Wikilegislature" to exist. However, there is a strong impetus for one to receive drafts for consideration from the other and for the two to issue statements of joint support. Provided each can recognize one another's vote counts as legitimate, or at least as worthy of mention, it is inevitable that any two such groups will become one effective entity (much as the Internet is "one" entity).
How you can help
- Propose a bill that you are interested in developing or checking over for discussion as a sub-page of this Wiki
- Volunteer your organization's input, using a subpage as a test bed to develop a new bill or to work out the details with a like minded group.
- Add your ideas on how to make this mechanism work. For example:
- Decide how best to implement a vote on proposals - how would you address issues of citizenship, privacy, anonymity, vote-selling, and fraud that will emerge with a large scale implementation?
- How you would implement a computerized "user agent"? Where would the program reside and how would it operate for the most reliable and tamper-proof results?
- Click on the Discussion tab and say if you think this idea is worthwhile!