Party’s over: the disruptive prospect of e-Democracy

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Leadership Monday, June 08, 2015 View Count = 3093

Party’s over: the disruptive prospect of e-Democracy


Jon O’Connor is a Toronto and Ottawa-based communications consultant and video producer currently developing the “Democracy App”,
a web application that enables citizens to direct how elected officials vote on issues. O’Connor plans to run for office in the 2015 federal election and, should he win, has pledged to vote in the House of Commons solely on the basis of his constituents’ preferences as expressed through technology. In today’s guest post, he gives his political and theoretical rationale for the project.

Advances in technology have created the massive game-changing dynamics now affecting business models globally. “Disruption” is any innovation that changes or creates a new system, undoing an existing system in the process.

While governments are not run as profit-driven corporations are, the public sector is not immune to these same disruptive forces. In the Information Age, consumer habits intersect with citizen expectations: the mechanics of democracy are about to change.

Electronic Direct Democracy (EDD or e-democracy), the ability to engage, consult and measure the exact will of the people is within our ability right now. This means that disruption in politics is assured and the main focus will be the “industry” of government - the political party.

The political party is not a natural element of democracy. It only became cited in the Elections Act in the 1970s. Its great art has been a long slow hack of the system to an anti-democratic result, by pulling power to the party and away from the voter.

All industries are eventually disrupted by innovation. The motor vehicle disrupted the railroad and the horse as modes of transportation. This change was previously measured in decades and can now occur in years or even months. Microsoft was a desktop software giant but lost the market initiative with the advent of networking and cloud computing. Kodak was disrupted by the mobile phone despite inventing digital photography back in 1975. Blockbuster video stores now seem downright Paleolithic with shelves full of physical media. Failing to foresee the streaming download, they also missed three opportunities to buy Netflix.

It’s ironic that those entities that are in the best position to capitalize on the disruption—with access to resources and possess market share—repeatedly neglect to do so. These actors tend to be too invested in the old processes, and have a bias against change. They continually fail to pivot at the critical moment in their own history.

But how can the Internet disrupt the old network of the political party? Technology has become cheaper, more accessible and its use more widely spread. Regardless of some infrastructural constraints and telecommunications monopolies, the story of the Internet remains the story of the shift of power from the gatekeepers to the network. The Internet’s core design aspect is decentralized control. Only now can the electorate see a way to take back its franchise, unseat undue party influence and reset the balance of democracy. It can do it through its only viable resource: its network of millions.

Party leaders now have incredible power to dictate policy, while the members of parliamentary caucuses are expected to vote accordingly. Exit interviews conducted by Samara with former MPs show that they “were eager to discuss changes to the entity they felt created the real problems in Ottawa: their own political parties.” The gridlock and antagonism that has created a sense of hopelessness has resulted in voter withdrawal from an unresponsive system.

For disruption in politics I foresee a future where “direct democracy” (the votes of individual citizens) will meld with “representative democracy” (the election of officials standing for electors). With e-democracy, the franchise of choice is returned to the individual, and voter apathy is negated by active political participation.

This will be a time when partisanship is deconstructed and replaced with cooperation, where the special interest lobbies need to appeal to the population, not just people in positions of influence. This will be an era where the constituent loyalty of politicians is no longer shared and divided by a political allegiance. This is an age where the once-mighty party will simply fade from relevance.

If elected as Member of Parliament for Whitby, I will be an agent of this technological change. As I am running as an independent candidate, I am free from the controls of any political party, and I will vote exactly as directed—through the technology—based on the clearly measured views of my constituents.

All disruption is unthinkable at first. Recall the time when you’d wait a week for your pictures to process, or the novelty of your first cell phone call, or even the time when you would pay a dollar to rewind the VHS cassette that was late being returned to the store. Now do you still think this is impossible?

JO headshot
Jon O’Connor is creating the “Democracy App” and testing the concept with voters as an independent candidate in the 2015 federal election. He works in Toronto and Ottawa as a communications consultant and video producer.


(Image credit, top: Wikipedia Commons)

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