It's Time to Plug in to Digital Democracy

Article excerpt

Imagine: You're in your recliner, deciding the fate of the nation. It's the voting channel, and you and millions of other viewers are linked to Washington via interactive television sets. Already, entrepreneurs are preparing such channels (at present, decisions will be nonbinding).

There is no turning back. With Al Gore at the prow of the ship, the Clinton administration is championing what it calls a national computer superhighway that will greatly expand the data-carrying ability of existing phone and data lines.

Political reformers see this emerging technology as an opportunity to change the system of legislative government. Conceivably, we could restructure the way Congress does business. One simple example would be the following scenario:

Congress formulates and deliberates on legislation. When it comes time for a bill to go to the floor, it is scheduled for a televised vote. At periodcial intervals, let's say twice a month, a televised program is aired. Members of Congress and perhaps other advocates debate the legislation. Then at the end of the program, viewers have the opportunity to vote by telephone or interactive television on each of the bills proposed. Final decisions are determined by you, the body politic.

The ancient Greek city state of Athens, the birthplace of democracy, conducted its business similarly. Periodic meetings of eligible citizens were convened, and policy was hammered out by way of direct vote.

If such a system is theoretically conceivable, why isn't America doing something about it? Everyone seems to be fed up with the way our government doesn't work. Congress is irresponsible and enslaved by special interests. Presidential candidates are equally burdened by the demands of expensive campaigns. Advertisers and spin-operators determine the voting agenda. The success of billionaire H. Ross Perot in the last presidential election is evidence enough that many of us are so fed up with the system that we'll try almost anything. …