A True Democracy in the Age of the Internet

It seems that everybody has a different idea of what the word Democracy means.  A search of the Internet yields a wide field of views on this subject.  Nearly every governmental system on the planet can fit within somebody’s definition of a Democracy.  The definition of a True Democracy can be even harder to nail down.  Every link followed leads to a different idea of what a True Democracy is.  For the purposes of this essay, the term True Democracy refers to a system of governance in which every citizen has equal voice in all of the decisions of the government, from mundane day to day actions, ratification or repeal of laws, and even to declarations of war or peace and the execution of war time actions.  Every decision is presented to the citizens for a vote, and the popular vote decides the course of action.  Such a governmental system has never been able to exist due to the logistic impossibility of involving the entire populous in day to day decisions.  The means of communication has never been capable of supporting the sharing of information that a True Democracy would require.  But now we have the Internet.  As of 2012 Google was processing 40,000 search queries per second (Internet Live Stats, 2012).  At that rate, a set of servers could process the votes of the current population of the United States in 7,975.9 seconds, or 2.2 hours (United States Federal Government, 2014).  That assumes that all 319,036,855 citizens of the United States are eligible to vote, and do so.  That is not the case.  The number of registered voters was 180,345,625 as of October 15, 2012 (The Guardian, 2012).  At 40,000 per second, a one hundred percent turnout of registered voters would get processed in just 4,508.6 seconds, or 1.25 hours.  These numbers show that the technology exists to use a completely online voting system, so daily votes are now possible.  The time it would take to process a real world vote would be much shorter, because there has never been a 100% turnout.  The only question that remains is the effect of this system on our country.  Would this system work in practice, and would it create equality, or would it create inequality?

The core structure of this True Democracy would need to be significantly different than what the United States currently has.  The registered voters of the United States would effectively replace the legislative branch of the government.  The people would thus replace the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Executive and Judicial branches would stay in place, but with altered forms and functions.  The Judicial Branch would remain largly unaltered; the primary difference being the need for impeachment procedures for the Supreme Court Justices.  A lifetime appointment with no method of removal gives a Supreme Court Justice no incentive to stay true to their task of ruling solely by the wording of the Constitution.  A method of removal offers recourse to the voters to address a rogue judge.  The Executive Branch would receive much more alteration.  The President of the United States would remain in control of the day to day operations of the government, but with the strict mandate to follow the course of action laid out by the voters.  He or she is simply the mechanism of action for the will of the people.  A very clear system of impeachment would keep the President from straying too far from the will of the voters.  This president would be very much a puppet president.  He or she would have little or no power to make decisions, only to act on those of the voters.

This system of government would have its inherent strengths.  In it, every voting citizen has an equal voice in the course of their country.  Each voter has the opportunity to make a direct impact on their world.  No minority group or special interest group can trump the interest of the greater populace.  Since every of the decision is made by a vote people, no legislation can be purchased by brute force lobbying power.  No matter how much money a corporation throws into a political party’s coffers, the final decisions lay with the voters.  The NRA cannot purchase legislation for gun owner’s rights, and Planned Parenthood cannot purchase legislation to lessen the restrictions on abortions.

Of course, this system of government would also have its limitations and faults.  A person can be logical, reasonable, and trustworthy.  A large group of people though, can be an unpredictable and panicky animal, capable of switching directions on a moment’s whim.  Consequently, the country would be liable to wild changes of directions or allegiances depending on the mood of the day.  The voting populous of the United States could easily be turned into a mob, flitting from one opinion to another like a bird chasing a bug.  As soon as another school shooting on the level of Sandy Hook Elementary happened, gun control advocates would take advantage of the emotion of the voters and submit legislation to take away gun rights, and in the emotion of the moment, the voting populous would gladly give away their right to self-protection.  In the emotion of the moment, the opinion would be, you would have to be a child hating sociopath to not vote for gun restrictions.  The media would become immensely powerful.  You would see targeted campaigns to sway voters one way or the other, depending on the interest of that media organization, and that interest could be swayed by lobbyists.  So, in the end, lobbying would not end.  The money would flow to media outlets instead of politicians.  The voting system itself would be a massive target for would be hackers, crackers and ne’er-do-wells.  The direction of the free world would depend on the voting system.  Any security breach would invalidate the entire vote of the day, and it would shatter the citizen’s confidence in the system’s viability.  A hacker would not even have to alter many of the votes to destroy the system’s validity.  The public’s knowledge that the system was compromised would do far more harm than even the most devastating changes a hacker could make.  Imagine the impact of a nation state gaining access to the voter system, such as China.  Then the foreign power would have more control over the direction of the United States that its voters.  The voting system itself would effectively disenfranchise an entire segment of the population.  The only people that could vote are those with access to the Internet.  The lower socio-economic class with limited or no access to online resources would be cut off from having their voices heard.  Some limited concessions could be made to include these people, but such systems tend to be ineffective at best and abused at worse.  Finally, in order to set up a True Democracy, the entire system of checks and balances built by the founding fathers would be dismantled.  Very little would remain of the elegant and well crafted system they built for us.

In conclusion, the overall effects of a True Democracy would be both good and bad.  The entire system of government would have to be changed, and it would significantly alter the function of every part of our country.  To a great extent there would be greater equality, because every registered voter would have equal voice in matters of government.  The lesser extent is the exclusion of the lower socio-economic class with limited access to the Internet.  Decisions would be made by the people for their own interests.  But these people could be easily swayed by the emotional events of the moment and the agenda of the media.  No special interest group can purchase legislation directly.  But targeted advertisement campaigns could significantly sway public opinion enough to get what the corporation or lobbyists want.  And no matter how secure any computer system is made, there are always security holes.  With sufficient access and time motivated hackers would find ways to exploit the system for their own agenda, even if only to cause mayhem and get their hacker alias in the spotlight for a moment.  For all of the appeal of a True Democracy, it is human nature that is its downfall.  The reason it can never work is due to the unpredictable and selfish nature of people.  A person is reasonable, but people are not.  A person can make decisions that are against their own interests because it benefits someone else they love.  People will not.  As flawed as our system of government is right now, it is still better than a True Democracy.  We have a solid governmental system, and this significant a change could only result in catastrophic consequences.  The inability to communicate on large enough a scale to facilitate a True Democracy is not the only thing that has stopped it from being used in the past.  It is not a viable system of government.



Works Cited


Internet Live Stats. (2012). Google Search Statistics. Retrieved October 7, 2014, from Internet Live Stats: http://www.internetlivestats.com/google-search-statistics/

The Guardian. (2012, October 15). US voter registrations by state. Retrieved October 8, 2014, from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2012/oct/15/voter-registrations-us-election

United States Federal Government. (2014). U.S. and World Population Clock. Retrieved October 7, 2014, from United States Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov/popclock/