Q&A for the Re-Invent Democracy Team
Question: What is your mission?Our mission is to accelerate the evolution of democratic forms of government as they incorporate advanced information technology, telecommunications and social networks. Our goal is to use the Re-Invent Democracy Web Technology to solve a public sector crisis that the public sector is unable to solve - the global governance crisis, by enabling voters across the spectrum to build consensus and end conflicts that far too many governments are proving themselves incapable of resolving. The global governance crisis is jeopardizing progress on virtually every front. It stems from the failure of governing institutions and lawmakers to devise effective solutions to life-threatening crises and conflicts in a manner that serves the public interest and responds to their constituents' needs and demands. The global governance crisis itself stems from the disconnect between lawmakers and their constituents, and the increasing tensions and confrontations occurring between them. Small numbers of lawmakers enact laws for millions of people who often encounter insurmountable obstacles when they try to use electoral and legislative processes to determine who is elected and what laws are passed. Many of these obstacles have been deliberately erected to erode the influence of the public. Other obstacles erode the public's influence indirectly, by enabling special interests to use money to induce lawmakers to pass legislation serving private interests rather than the public interest. Efforts to use traditional channels to reform dysfunctional governing institutions have been largely unsuccessful. These failures have led our team to conclude that its Re-Invent Democracy Web Technology is the most effective way to end the global governing crisis in the immediate future. It alone is capable of directly connecting citizens to lawmakers through a patented web-based consensus-building and conflict resolution platform and website that replace confrontations and legislative conflicts with voter-driven, multiparty consensus building. Specifically, this global social networking platform will enable voters to inject unique consensus-building structures into electoral and legislative processes, in the form of online voting blocs and electoral coalitions created by their members around collectively set legislative agendas. In concert with lawmakers, political parties, electoral candidates, issue groups, unions and civil society organizations of their choice, these consensus-building blocs and coalitions can formulate solutions to any problem, crisis or conflict they wish. They can become the driving forces of elections and legislation by attracting enough voters to adopt and elect common slates of candidates. By building consensus on the part of ever larger numbers of voters, blocs and coalitions can create electoral bases larger than the electoral base of any single political party. By so doing, blocs and coalitions can run and elect their own slates of candidates to enact their agendas. If they decide their elected representatives have failed to exert their best efforts to enact bloc and coalition agendas, they can run new slates of candidates to replace them in forthcoming elections. In addition to using the platform to build winning voting blocs and coalitions within a country, electorates, elected representatives, policy-makers, electoral candidates, political parties, unions and issue groups will also be able to use the platform and website to form transnational voting blocs and coalitions whose members work together across borders to resolve conflicts and build consensus on common solutions to transnational issues. After transnational blocs and coalitions set common agendas, their members can use the political organizing tools of the platform to build voting blocs and electoral coalitions in their home countries dedicated to enacting the agendas of the transnational blocs and coalitions. These domestic blocs and coalitions can nominate and elect lawmakers to enact the agendas originally set by the transnational blocs and coalitions. To fulfill this mission, we plan to build the world's first large scale consensus building and conflict resolution platform. Our social networking website, reinventdemocracy.net, will merge social media and politics to meet the unmet needs of the nearly three billion people who use social networks. Surveys indicate a surge of worldwide discontent with elected officials and governments that are locked in political stalemates and conflicts and and put the demands of special interests ahead of the public interest. The platform will enable those who are losing faith in democratic electoral and legislative processes to reform and re-invent them by inserting new voter-controlled consensus-building structures into these processes that can work with lawmakers to devise workable solutions. Our goal is empower voters to re-invent failing democracies by overcoming the disconnect between ordinary people around the world and their governments. Most people have little say in government decisions affecting their lives and well-being. Unfortunately, this disconnect is leading to government-caused stalemates, crises and conflicts, within and across national borders, which are making it increasingly difficult for people to obtain jobs that pay living wages and afford the basic necessities of life. These difficulties are largely due to the fact that elected representatives tend to put the laws demanded by special interests ahead of the needs of their constituents. This is most likely to occur when lawmakers depend on special interest money to get elected, which is the case with the large majority of U.S. lawmakers. We think our technology will prove especially useful in countries like the U.S. where minority rule by special interests has paralyzed the federal government in Washington, D.C. Legislative gridlock in the U.S. Congress is largely caused by uncompromising partisan conflicts among special interests, political parties and party representatives, while the needs of ordinary people and the public interest are ignored. The unique Re-Invent Democracy technology can overcome these conflicts by enabling entire electorates to get control of elections and legislation. Voters can build consensus online around legislative agendas specifying what they want government to do, or not to do. They can email their priorities to their elected representatives and mandate them to enact their agendas or risk defeat in the next election. If they decide to vote against their elected representatives in the next election, they can build winning voting blocs and electoral coalitions to run and elect their own candidates.
Question: What is the technology?Answer: The technology includes the recently patented Interactive Voter Choice System and the System for Playing an Interactive Voter Choice Game.
Question: How does the technology work?Answer: It enables voters to build voting blocs and electoral coalitions that comprise broad cross-sections of the electorate and can acquire more political influence than political parties. These blocs and coalitions, which can comprise and align with political parties, can build electoral bases that surpass the voting strength of political parties and their ability to elect candidates of their choice. Here's how:
Question: How do these voting blocs and coalitions compare to political parties?Answer: There are three major differences:
Question: How does the technology promote consensus buildingIn order to grow large enough to win elections, our technology motivates blocs and coalitions to continuously reach out to new voters to build consensus. They can use it to open dialogues with prospective new bloc and coalition members an to discuss, debate and vote on common agendas and slates of candidates. This drive to increase bloc and coalition voting strength encourages continuous consensus building by ever larger numbers of voters working together to set common legislative agendas. Technically speaking, the technology's electronic data processing capabilities make it possible to connect voters, elected representatives, candidates, policy makers, and members of political parties, issue groups and non-governmental organizations online on a scale never before possible. By discussing, debating and voting on agendas to resolve political problems, crises and conflicts, they can build large multi-stakeholder voting blocs and electoral coalitions around common agendas and run and elect common slates of candidates.
Question: What are the ultimate goals of the technology, websites and game?Answer: The goals are to enable voters and democracy stakeholders around the world to replace minority rule by special interests with majority rule by injecting voter-controlled consensus building structures and processes into elections and legislative decision-making. These structures and processes will enable them to put an end to the political stalemates and legislative gridlock caused by constant in-fighting among special interests, political parties and politicians. The reason they can do so is because they can grow transpartisan electoral bases large enough to defeat incumbents by running and electing their own candidates.
Question: Could failing democracies be reformed through traditional legislative and legal channels instead of relying on technology?Answer: This is unlikely because democracies have fallen prey to deeply embedded obstructions in the form of campaign finance and election laws, etc. that prevent their electorates from deciding who runs for office, who gets elected, and what laws are passed. The large majority of lawmakers who use these obstructions to get elected would be unlikely to pass laws to overturn them -- especially U.S. laws and court decisions like Citizens United that allow special interests to make virtually unlimited contributions to political campaigns.
Question: What is the impact of these obstructions?Answer:
Question: Can the Re-Invent Demcocracy web technology be used to solve transnational conflicts?Answer: Yes, the technology enables voters to build transnational voting blocs and coalitions to solve transnational problems, crises and conflicts. These transnational blocs and coalitions can win elections in multiple countries by having their members create blocs, coalitions in their home country to elect lawmakers who pledge to enact the agendas of their transnational blocs and coalitions. Blocs and coalitions can also influence decisions by their executive branches of government when they grow large enough to determine the outcome of future elections.
Question: Who is behind the Re-Invent Democracy web technology?Answer: An international team of technologists, entrepreneurs and social scientists with public and private sector experience and roots in Denmark, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the U.S. (See list and biographies of team members below.) The team is led by the Swiss-American web entrepreneur and political scientist Nancy Bordier, Ph.D. She is the inventor of the Interactive Voter Choice System and the System for Playing an Interactive Voter Choice Game. She is also the founder and CEO of Re-Invent Democracy, Inc. and the Re-Invent Democracy Foundation Intl. You can read her personal political story below describing the political events that led her to invent the technology and, with the help of the team, expand its scope and take advantage of capabilities similar to those of a "complex adaptive system".
IMPLEMENTING THE TECHNOLOGY
The reinventdemocracy.net website is being built around the core features of the Interactive Voter Choice System contained in the patent issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (U.S. Patent No. 7,953,628).
It comprises a "computer based network", a "website on the Internet," and "computerized databases of objects, each object representing a stance on a policy option of concern to voters." The system, which creates "aggregates of voters with similar preferred policy options", is designed to enable voters to "build consensus, coalitions and voting blocs that can run and elect their own candidates for office and induce elected representatives to enact their agendas."
The system is unique in terms of its potential to connect democracy building stakeholders across the political and ideological spectrum, including electorates, elected representatives, electoral candidates, political parties, issue groups and non-governmental organizations around the world.
For the first time in history, virtually unlimited numbers of individual stakeholders will be able to connect to each other on a continuous basis; set their agendas, individually and collectively, across the board and partisan lines; and build transpartisan voting blocs, electoral coalitions and electoral bases that can elect lawmakers to enact their agendas.
Moreover, the technology possesses an inherent incentive and unprecedented potential to unite voters rather than divide them as political parties do, because it will connect multiple groups of stakeholders who might otherwise be divided along partisan lines. They will be united by their goal of ensuring majority rule by building transpartisan blocs and coalitions from the "bottom up" by sharing their ideas, knowledge and needs while negotiating and voting on the priorities to be included in common transpartisan agendas.
Thanks to this on-going consensus building process, the members of these blocs and coalitions will become more numerous and as well-informed as the small number of elected representatives and policy makers authorized to enact legislation and policies. When these officials receive mandates from blocs and coalitions, they will recognize that the mandates have been formulated by people who are as knowledgeable as they are, and possibly even more knowledgeable, because the mandates come from the grassroots and the people most affected by the legislation and policies in question.
People, groups and organizations can choose their priorities in several ways, including composing their own priorities specifying the legislation they want to see enacted, as well as by using customized databases that will be accessible online on the reinventdemocracy.net website.
Elected representatives, electoral candidates and political parties will also be able to use the technology to poll their constituents and supporters on a continuous basis to find out what their priorities are.
They will be able to use the website to engage their supporters in discussing, debating and voting on their agendas.
Representatives and candidates who succeed in generating widespread support for common legislative agendas that they set with their supporters will be able to forge winning electoral bases of voting constituents without special interest financing. Elected representatives who know what their constituents want, and honor their constituents' priorities rather than those of special interests, will be able to cast their votes in legislative bodies without conflicts of interest.
For example, if you are a member of any of these stakeholder groups, you can:
There are four ways your blocs and coalitions will be able to use the reinventdemocracy.net website to pressure lawmakers into enacting your agendas and hold them accountable if they fail to do so.
The reinventdemocracyfoundation.net website is being developed by the Re-Invent Democracy Foundation Intl to create a global community of democracy builders.
The goal is to increase the use of democracy building technologies to strengthen democratic forms of government around the world and overcome their vulnerability to obstructions that prevent majority rule.
This global community will comprise people from all geographical areas and walks of life, across the political and ideological spectrum.
It will include voters, elected representatives, policy-makers, members of political parties, issue groups, civil society organizations and international agencies that work nationally and transnationally.
The Foundation will encourage these stakeholders to play pro-active roles in utilizing web-based technologies that enable ever larger numbers of people to participate actively in electoral and legislative processes.
The Foundation's ultimate objective is to enable democracy stakeholders to elect governments and lawmakers who will enact legislation and policies that serve the majority will and the public interest.
The website and community will provide you a variety of opportunities for communicating with the Re-Invent Democracy team and your fellow democracy-builders around the world. You will also be invited to share with us your views about the technology-based tools and services that will be provided to you free of charge on reinventdemocracy.net when it is fully developed, and ways and means to improve their effectiveness.
Interactive features such as the Re-Invent Democracy Community Blog, the Re-Invent Democracy Founders' Blog and The Democracy Exchange will facilitate dialogue, debate and exchange of information about challenges to majority rule in specific locations, and ways and means to use democracy building technologies to address these challenges.
In addition, the Foundation's E-Democracy Technology Consortium will provide technology developers opportunities to work with each other, democracy builders around the world, and the Re-Invent Democracy team to evaluate the effectiveness of existing and emerging technologies.
The team will be inviting feedback and input from these groups as it seeks to enhance and integrate state-of-the-art and emerging technologies into the reinventdemocracy.net platform -- especially advanced technologies that protect user privacy. The Foundation will strive to become a global leader in facilitating the utilization of the most advanced encryption technologies.
THE CITIZENS WINNING HANDS® GAME
The Citizens' Winning Hands® Game is multi-party online game of electoral strategy that is being developed around the System for Playing an Interactive Voter Choice Game, a companion technology to the Interactive Voter Choice System. It is called the Citizens' Winning Hands® Game because it is designed around two decks of cards.
The game will enable voters to learn how to use the agenda-setting, political organizing, and consensus building tools of the Interactive Voter Choice System to form winning voting blocs and coalitions around common agendas and slates of candidates.
A World Changing Game
The game belongs to a new genre of "world-changing" online games where players develop real world skills for making the world a better place by collaborating online.
The renowned game developer, Jane McGonigal, points out that many of the 500 million people who play online games every day — especially massively multi-player online games — prefer games of collaboration and camaraderie to games of warfare and aggression.
She observes that these players are creating a global "collective intelligence" about ways and means by which ordinary people like themselves can dramatically improve the quality of human life and solve societal problems that cause preventable physical and emotional suffering.
McGonigal believes that many people play world-saving games because real world environments and institutions deny them the power to be heroic. Participation in these games adds meaning and happiness to players' imaginary lives by enabling them to make valuable contributions to their communities.
While they are playing these games, they are developing interpersonal skills that they can put to use in the real world to play collaborative pro-active roles that enable them to join forces with legions of other people to solve problems causing human suffering.
The Citizens' Winning Hands® Game belongs to this genre of world-saving game because it shows disillusioned voters who are losing faith in failing democracies and elections how they can collaborate online to assure majority rule by building voting blocs and electoral coalitions large enough to win elections.
By playing the game, they will have an opportunity to see that the Interactive Voter Choice System enables entire electorates to get control of electoral and legislative processes and elect representatives who will enact their legislative mandates.
THE RE-INVENT DEMOCRACY STORY
by Nancy Bordier
A Rude Awakening
The story of the Re-invent Democracy web technology begins back in 2004 when I attended a campaign event for a U.S. presidential primary candidate. Six months earlier when the candidate first threw his hat into the ring, he advocated priorities similar to my own.
But as soon as he started to raise campaign funds from special interests, he drifted farther and farther away from his original priorities towards those of the special interests. He lowered the priorities of early supporters and actual voters like myself down on his list of priorities in order to make room at the top for the priorities of his special interest contributors.
As soon as the candidate teleconferenced into the campaign event I was attending and started hedging on his priorities without giving us a chance to articulate our own, I came to a sudden and unexpected realization. U.S. election campaigns have become meaningless rituals in which voters are led to believe they are calling the shots when they are in fact pawns in a special interest-dominated process over which they have virtually no control.
The event was a disillusioning eye-opener for me. It motivated me to start paying closer attention to what was happening in Washington, D.C., where I observed a growing gap between voters' and lawmakers' priorities and the legislation enacted. The more I saw members of Congress vote against the priorities and needs of their constituents in favor of the priorities of their special interest campaign contributors, the more I came to doubt the U.S. has a fully functioning democracy at all.
Ten years later, my observations have been confirmed by numerous researchers, academicians, and political analysts. They have shown that special interests (such as organized economic and business groups that do not have a vote) often decide what laws are passed while average citizens and groups representing large numbers of voters have little or no impact.
Political Parties, Special Interests, and the Corruption of Democracy
Political parties are essential to democracy. The Re-Invent Democracy web technology enables voting blocs and coalitions to include and align with political parties of their choice, as well as to work independently of political parties.
However, voting blocs and coalitions that use this technology will be able to circumvent and counteract the negative influence that political parties and candidates backed by special interests have been injecting into electoral and legislative processes.
In the U.S., this negative influence derives from parties' and candidates' dependence on special interest money to win elections. Elections are no longer local because millions of dollars from external special interests flow into localities from outside to skew election results. They dwarf the contributions candidates received from people who actually reside in the district and have the right to vote.
The resulting dependency relationship between candidates elected by external special interest money and the special interest contributors themselves requires that candidates who are elected accept special interest demands regarding the passage or rejection of specific legislation.
These dependency relationships also lead to the tendency of parties and their elected representatives to subordinate the public interest and the needs of the American people to the priorities of their special interest backers.
My view is that these relationships have fundamentally corrupted democracy in the U.S. and ushered in minority rule by special interests. I do not see any way to put an end to this corruption other than by the Re-Invent Democracy web technology because the passage of enough legislative reforms to permit majority rule appears extremely unlikely. (See my article Un-Corrupting Congress: A System-Changing Solution.)
The reason I believe reforms are unlikely is because the obstructions of majority rule that the political parties and special interests have embedded in U.S. electoral and legislative processes at all levels of government are far too numerous and deeply rooted.
For example, the two major U.S. political parties have spent decades at the state level passing laws to rig the outcomes of elections by changing the boundaries of election districts in virtually every state. The representatives of the major party controlling a state legislature have changed election district boundaries in the state to include voters likely to vote for their candidates and exclude voters likely to vote against them.
The electoral advantages the major parties have gained by changing boundaries are compounded by the unfair election laws they have also passed to prevent third parties from having a fair chance to run and elect candidates against major party candidates. As a result, the large majority of Congressional representatives live in "safe" districts that do not have competitive candidates on the ballot.
And, to make matters worse, many states have adopted laws, rules, regulations and technologies designed to suppress the vote. They actually prevent people from voting and having their votes counted.
But that's not all. Parties and candidates who have rigged U.S. elections have also poisoned the waters of legislative processes in legislative bodies such as the U.S. Congress. They have done so in two distinct ways. One is by adopting such extreme, opposed stances that they can rarely agree to pass legislation. The other is to adopt rules and practices that allow a minority of members to block legislation supported by a majority of representatives. These Congressional minorities are also minorities of the population as a whole, enabling Congress to flout the will of a majority of Americans on major issues, as reflected in public opinion polls.
Candidates and parties that rig the outcome of elections in their favor by preventing candidates from having a fair chance to defeat them adopt extremely partisan stances on political issues and prospective legislation for two reasons. One is due to the fact that there is usually no one to oppose them in future elections. The other is due to the fact that extreme stances help them raise money from special interests to pay for future electoral campaigns.
The result is that decision-making at the Congressional level in Washington, D.C. is gridlocked much of the time, paralyzing the federal government. This is true even in the face of life-threatening crises such as those caused by climate change/disruption and extreme weather. Even though legislative policies and programs are desperately need to prevent and cope with future injuries, deaths and destruction caused by extreme weather, the U.S. is alone among industrialized countries with respect to its failure to enact and implement far-reaching policies and programs for dealing with this clear and present life-and-death threat.
One of the most counter-productive things these politicians do in their conflict-producing mode is to deliberately aggravate and even instigate inter-group conflicts among people from different regions of the country and different socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicity, race, color, religion, etc.
The tensions and antagonisms they fabricate are really disappointing to me because of my European background as a citizen of Switzerland as well as the U.S., with parental roots in Denmark, Germany and Ireland. I have observed that people and lawmakers in these countries usually can and do find ways to live together and govern their countries without the kind of vitriol that plagues U.S. politics.
Necessity: The Mother of Invention
These disheartening discoveries that the U.S. no longer has a fully functioning democracy are what motivated me to create a new technology to re-invent failing democracies, the Interactive Voter Choice System.
In addition to the reasons I have already given for turning to technology, an even more important reason is that this technology enables us to leap frog over technologically obsolete processes for electing governments and enacting legislation.
Modern web technologies like those incorporated into the Interactive Voter Choice System, and the reinventdemocracy.net global consensus building social network, make it possible to vastly expand the number of people who participate actively in elections and play an ongoing and determining role in guiding the legislative decisions of their elected representatives and policy makers.
As a member of the team that launched one of the first large scale social networks, the $1 billion consumer network, Prodigy, I experienced first hand the unique power of social networking technologies to connect large numbers of like-minded people who would otherwise never be able to find each other.
The rise and global expansion of the Internet has created unprecedented opportunities for large scale, politically-oriented, social networking and web-based collective action. When combined with my invention, this technological combination empowers voters across the political and ideological spectrum to join forces to fundamentally transform democracies that have been undermined by minority rule by special interests into democracies with majority rule by the people.
An Historic Political Transformation
Interactive Voter Choice System possesses an inherent and unprecedented capacity to empower the members of entire electorates to organize multi-stakeholder voting blocs and coalitions capable of building the broad-based consensus. This technology-based empowerment, in my opinion, is the only realistic, near-term option we have for overcoming the corruption and partisan disagreements and conflicts that have been created by special interests in concert with political parties beholden to them.
Research has shown that most people have legislative preferences and priorities that cross partisan lines and do not fit neatly into the ideological confines of political parties. However, since political parties do not allow their supporters to vote on their agendas, supporters have no choice but to accept ideologically-based party platforms even when they do not embrace key planks within them.
The result is that voters are unable to articulate their priorities across the board or give lawmakers legislative mandates based on voters' priorities. The citizens of typical democracies are saddled with paralysis-prone governments where small numbers of highly partisan, polarized lawmakers jockey to take advantage of every opportunity to misrepresent and ridicule each others' political stances.
Since we cannot change this status quo using traditional reform processes, and countries with stalemated governments are bringing entire nations, and possibly the whole community of nations, to the brink of disaster, I would argue that the most promising and possibly the only option we have for implementing an immediate system-changing solution is the Re-Invent Democracy web technology.
Transnational Voting Blocs and Electoral Coalitions
In closing, and with reference to the proliferation of violent cross-border conflicts that are occurring around the world, I want to call attention to the capacity of the Re-Invent Democracy web technology to enable democracy stakeholders around the world to build winning voting blocs and coalitions across countries as well as within countries.
When the reinventdemocracy.net website is fully developed, any individual, group or organization will be able to form a voting bloc and coalition to solve any problem, crisis or conflict anywhere in the world. These blocs and coalitions can include anyone they wish, including and especially people from different countries and regions that may be associated with these conflicts and crises. Together, they can explore solutions and collectively discuss, debate and vote on these solutions.
They can continually reach out to bring in new members and grow so large that lawmakers and policy-makers will have no choice but to pay attention to their recommendations because the blocs and coalitions will have the votes in the countries involved in the crises and conflicts to determine who is actually going to be elected and who is going to be defeated.
After these transnational blocs and coalitions set common agendas using the Re-Invent Democracy web technology, they can build voting blocs and electoral coalitions in their home countries dedicated to enacting the agendas of their transnationalblocs and coalitions. These domestic blocs and coalitions can pressure incumbent lawmakers to enact their agendas, and subsequently nominate and elect lawmakers to replace them if necessary to enact the agendas originally set by the transnational blocs and coalitions.
This technological leap forward will dramatically increase the prospects of avoiding the typical escalation of cross-border conflicts that we see when heads of state make war-and-peace, life-and-death decisions among themselves without obtaining votes of confidence and directives from their constituents.
In contrast, the Re-Invent Democracy technology will enable us to take the high road to world peace and majority rule simultaneously. Ordinary people at the grassroots will be able to join together online to build consensus behind their own collectively devised, collaborative solutions to these difficult conflicts, and directly transmit their peace plans in real time to every decision-maker involved. Their plans will get the attention they deserve because their blocs and coalitions will be able to acquire the voting strength they need to determine the outcomes of future elections.