After a couple of decades of running startups, Australian entrepreneur Adam Jacoby began to think about a new challenge: democracy. Could politics become fairer and more inclusive if he thought about democracy as a product of his newest venture?
The result—a new app and proposed political party called MiVote—aims to rethink how citizens participate in governance. Instead of voting only in elections, people using the app can share their views on every issue the government considers. The idea is that parliamentary representatives of the "MiVote party" would commit to support legislation only when it's in line with the will of the app's members—regardless of the representative's own opinion.
"This started off as a result of me getting slightly concerned as a father that my children were growing up in a world in which their voice was less and less relevant," says Jacoby, who began working on MiVote three years ago. "It gets to a point where you sort of have to say, I can sit on the sidelines on Twitter and social media and bitch and moan about how terrible things are, or I can actually go and do something about it."
Like Democracy Earth, a nonprofit that started in Argentina, MiVote uses the blockchain to make digital voting and identity fully secure. Democracy Earth also plans to use a similar model of representation, running candidates who promise to adhere to the results of online votes rather than a particular ideology.
But MiVote takes a somewhat different approach to gathering opinions. The app will give users a notification when a new issue is addressed in the Australian parliament. Then, voters get access to a digital "information packet," compiled by independent researchers, that lets them dive into four different approaches.
"We don't talk about the bill or the legislation at all," says Jacoby. "If you put it into a business context, the bill or the legislation is the contract. In no business would you write the contract before you know what the deal looks like. If we're looking for genuine democracy, the bill has to be determined by the people . . . Once we know where the people want to go, then we focus on making sure the bill gets us there."
If the parliament is going to vote about immigration, for example, you might get details about a humanitarian approach, a border security approach, a financially pragmatic approach, and an approach that focuses on international relations. For each frame of reference, the app lets you dive into as much information as you need to decide. If you don't read anything, it won't let you cast a vote.
"We're much more interested in a solutions-oriented approach rather than an ideological approach," he says. "Ideology basically says I have the answer for you before you've even asked the question. There is no ideology, no worldview, that has the solution to everything that ails us."
Representatives of this hypothetical new party won't have to worry about staying on message, because there is no message; the only goal is to vote after the people speak. That might free politicians to focus on solutions rather than their image.
"Now, most of the time, we're not pitched any ideas," says Jacoby. "It's a pretty visionless environment politically. What we have are a group of parties who effectively fight with each other like children most of the time, and then occasionally think about how to take us into the next few decades. What we do is remove all of that."
It also removes corporate influence. MiVote has pledged only to take individual donations, and because future representatives would have to vote based on what the people want (with a 60% majority), there's no opportunity for companies to try to sway those votes.
The app is in beta testing now, and should be ready for use by the end of the year. Because Australia recently held elections, no politicians pledged to MiVote would run for seats in the senate for a few years, but it plans to run candidates in state elections. Membership is growing. Because of the unique nature of Australian politics—less than 1.3% of the population belongs to one of the major parties—MiVote expects it can gain traction quickly.
The startup may also spread to other places; the founders have had interest from 22 different countries. "I think the model is highly transferable," Jacoby says.
It's a way, he says, to return to the original intent of democracy. "We don't have democracy. We don't have anything that comes even close to democracy. I believe that's the case in America, and in England, and pretty much everywhere. Democracy is about enacting the will of the people."
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