In an article in the Economist the columnist Garry Kasparov, who was born in the Soviet Union, wrote passionately about the need to digitise political processes. Here’s a couple of quotes which challenge us to think in new ways:
First is “advisory voting”. It is a virtual town square that allows citizens to turn public opinion into a politically tangible thing. It can scale down to the province, state or city level, letting people debate and vote about the issues that interest them most. Fringe candidates and extreme positions often dominate conversation online but fail at the ballot box—a comforting fact, but one that is becoming less true all the time.
Advisory voting offers the advantages of digital deliberation without the heat. It is open to all citizens, topics are proposed by the people, and the votes provide a lens into public opinion to inform policy. But because people are identified and need to participate in order to vote, there is goodwill in discussions, not just anonymous online anger. Even The Economist celebrates one form, citizen assemblies, that have proven effective in Ireland, Spain, Taiwan and elsewhere.
To support advisory voting, governments can create an official body to manage it—the town hall for the digital era. It would have verified accounts and be transparent, nonpartisan and not-for-profit. Eventually, formal government petitions, that typically rely on signatures on paper, could move onto the platform—making them easier and more responsive. Most developed countries already possess the building blocks for this, from driving licences and passports to social-security numbers. It would mark a powerful evolution in supporting democracy to bring those old record-systems up to digital speed to enhance the political process.
Another mechanism to enhance democracy is to foster issue-based coalitions of politicians aligning across party lines. There used to be right-left alliances on national security, for example, or social liberals who were fiscal conservatives, and vice versa, allowing for compromise and bipartisan policies. It is something nearly unimaginable today in America and elsewhere. Adhering to rigid party ideology leaves moderates in fear of challenges from radicals in their own party, should they dare join forces with members of the other.
Hence, instead of striving for a potential third or fourth party to provide more political choice, we need more fluid groupings that put issues and results over any party at all. Technology can be used to identify common issues and form coalitions that have wide public support, in the spirit of Kickstarter campaigns but for policies. For example, environmental issues are associated with the left and pro-business policies with the right—but that misses how companies have reoriented themselves around green industry.
Political coalitions could form to fuse such goals. But it requires an open mechanism for political preferences to be expressed. This is especially important at the local level, which can be a centre of gravity for moderation and compromise. It would help citizens move beyond decaying political parties that represent so many things that they barely represent anyone. Competition for office and power based on parties will remain, but publicly uniting on common ground would push policies towards the mainstream. We want our politics to align with the majority of voters, not the plurality of angry tweets.