She envisions a future where decisions are made at two levels. Decisions that involve specific knowledge – macroeconomics, tax reforms, judicial regulations, penal code, etc. – or which touch on human rights are delegated “upwards” to the representatives. But then the decisions related to local issues – transport, urban planning, city codes, etc. – can be delegated “down” to citizens.
The mystery of the secret ballot
Ensuring the integrity of the votes collected through Democracy OS will be a real challenge. The American nonprofit association Black box vote has long criticized electronic voting systems as inherently flawed. âOur criticism of Internet voting is that it is not transparent and cannot be made public,â said Bev Harris, founder of Black Box Voting. âWith transparency for election integrity defined as the ability of the public to see and authenticate four things: who can vote, who has voted, the vote count and chain of custody. “
In short, there is no known way to conduct a secret ballot online because any system to verify that the votes were correctly counted will inevitably reveal who voted for what.
Democracy OS solves this by simply removing secret ballots. For now, the Net Democracy party will require people to register in person for Democracy OS accounts with their government issued IDs. âThere is a lot to be said about how anonymity allows you to speak more freely,â says Mancini. âBut at the end of the day, we decided to prioritize the reliability, accountability and transparency of the system. We believe that by making our arguments and decisions public, we are fostering a civic culture. We will be more responsible for what we say and do if it’s Public. “
But making binding decisions based on these online discussions would be problematic, as they would not only lean towards those who are tech-savvy enough to use the software, but also towards those who want their name publicly associated with their votes. Fortunately, the software is not yet used to collect real votes, just to collect comments from the public.
Harris believes banning anonymous comments is the right move for a system like Democracy OS, as it could help reduce the number of trolls, lobbyists and PR professionals using the forum to spread disinformation. âIt’s appropriate to amplify the voices of people willing to put their name behind what they’re saying,â Harris said. âThe overuse of anonymity on the Internet creates an abundance of pseudo-people, sometimes the same person under different phony identities, and those are the really amplified voices. There are only a few situations where anonymity is really necessary for democratic participation, such as confidentiality of the actual vote and speaking the truth to power in situations of autocracy or abuse. “
What if you started a democracy and no one came?
Ultimately, however, the biggest challenge may simply be getting people to use the software. This will all sound familiar if you’ve been following the German Pirate Party, which has its own open source app called Liquid feedback which allows members to vote on ideas and even delegate their votes to other members. Unfortunately, Der Spiegel reports, Liquid Feedback was somewhat of a failure.
“A poll of Pirate Party voters on a proposed law to regulate circumcision showed 17 votes in favor of fighting the proposed law, two by abstention and one against – 20 votes in a federal state of nearly 18 million inhabitants, “the newspaper reported. “It is a popular democracy where no one shows up to participate.”
Net Democracy hopes to avoid a similar fate by making Democracy OS much easier to use. So far, it is working, says Jorge Soto, the digital strategy coordinator for the office of the president of Mexico. “We received over 1,000 comments just for policy and over 300 [additions to] the document, âhe said.
As a political scientist and former activist, Mancini is well aware that engagement requires more than just sophisticated software. âOur challenges are not technological. They are cultural, âshe says. âWhat we’re trying to do is foster a culture. It’s not just about opening up a space, we have to work to facilitate this debate and work with public education and training events, not only open a new Facebook. “