Over the last number of years, residents of Port Angeles have witnessed a series of actions taken by their elected representatives that clearly go against the wishes of the people these politicians asked to be elected by. Long-time residents will remember then Mayor Richard Headrick threatening to shut off the water to Gales Addition in 2004, as a way to force the residents to agree to annexation. Headrick had said such a requirement was a way to for the city to get eventual annexation of the sales-tax rich U.S. 101 eastern corridor in exchange for providing wholesale water from its Elwha River source.
More recently, the City Council voted to ignore
the results of an advisory vote, where a majority of voters opposed the continued addition of fluoride to the city’s potable water supply. When significant protest by residents developed, the same City Council reacted by changing public participation and comment rules to restrict the public’s ability to voice their views to their representatives. How people organize the management of public services through governance has created many different approaches. Thousands of years ago, royal families and those favored, ruled by dictate. The citizens of the country were taxed to support the royalty, and had virtually no say in the development or execution of policy. Variations included rule by theocracies, where the priesthood ran the country, and the people had very little say in what was done.
But also thousands of years ago, “ Direct Democracy” was employed in the then city-state of Athens, Greece. As early as 500 BC, a large proportion of citizens were involved constantly in the public’s business, although women, foreigners and slaves were not allowed to vote. The Roman Republic, also starting around 500 BC, had a system of citizen lawmaking, citizen formulation and passage of laws, and a citizen veto of legislature-made laws. Early America had Direct Democracy in the form of town hall meetings in New England, where most or all the members of a community came together to legislate policy and budgets for local issues. This is the oldest form of direct democracy in the US, and existed for a 100 years before the founding of the country.
In our current world, Switzerland sets an excellent example of a modern system of direct democracy. Every 3 months, Swiss citizens can vote on any kind of issue, at every political level. They can vote on the building of a new street in their town, the financial dealings involved with the approvals of a new school building, changes to the countries constitution, or on the foreign policy of the country! There is no voter registration; every citizen receives ballots and informational brochures which are mailed in. The Swiss adopted citizen lawmaking in 1890.
With the advent of the personal computer, Electronic Direct Democracy (EDD) is now being explored. In England, the People’s Administration has worked for years to create a blueprint that utilizes the internet and telephones to enable the majority of voters to create, propose and implement policies. In America, Presidential candidate Ross Perot advocated for electronic town halls in his 1992, and 1996 campaigns.
Currently, a number of different efforts are underway to replace the world’s elected legislatures with an electronic based system. One, called “Flux”, envisions an issue based direct democracy. It is most active in Australia, but has groups established internationally.
As recent elections around the world have revealed, citizens are increasingly dissatisfied with the top-down form of representation that has been the norm for so long. What will replace it?