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posted by Fnord666 on Tuesday May 22 2018, @10:41AM   Printer-friendly
from the by-the-people-for-the-people dept.

In 2015 Ada Colau, an activist with no experience in government, became mayor of Barcelona. She called for a democratic revolution, and for the last two years city hall, working with civic-minded coders and cryptographers, has been designing the technological tools to make it happen.

Their efforts have centred on two things. The first is opening up governance through participatory processes and greater transparency. And the second is redefining the smart city to ensure that it serves its citizens, rather than the other way around.

The group started by creating a digital participatory platform, Decidim ("We Decide", in Catalan). Now the public can participate directly in government as they would on social media, by suggesting ideas, debating them, and voting with their thumbs. Decidim taps into the potential of social networks: the information spreading on Twitter, or the relationships on Facebook. All of these apply to politics — and Decidim seeks to channel them, while guaranteeing personal privacy and public transparency in a way these platforms don't.

"We are experimenting with a hybrid of online and offline participatory democracy," says Francesca Bria, Barcelona's Chief Technology and Digital Innovation Officer. "We used Decidim to create the government agenda — over 70 per cent of the proposals come directly from citizens. Over 40,000 citizens proposed these policies. And many more citizens were engaged in offline collective assemblies and consultations."

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  • (Score: 2) by richtopia on Tuesday May 22 2018, @12:19PM (11 children)

    by richtopia (3160) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday May 22 2018, @12:19PM (#682610) Homepage Journal

    I'm curious how this direct polling works long-term. Perhaps on a city level it will work, however there is a lot of decisions that the city makes on a regular basis. I'm afraid that after the initial excitement of being heard people will stop participating. At which point how are decisions are made? If only 10% of the population votes, can you make a decision? Low turnout is prone to passing decisions by special interest groups which don't always reflect the community.

    On the other side, if participation remains high, I doubt people will spend sufficient time evaluating options before giving a thumbs up/down. At which point proposals could feel like Kickstarter: make a cool video or name and your proposal will make it; otherwise it will be left by the wayside.

    I really hope this works, but I am very skeptical.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by driverless on Tuesday May 22 2018, @01:31PM (2 children)

      by driverless (4770) on Tuesday May 22 2018, @01:31PM (#682624)

      That was my thought as well, but for a slightly different reason: Institutionalising mob rule may not be the best idea in the long run. Initially it's fine when the main contributors are idealists, but once the crazies realise they can flood the system to push their pet agendas it could turn to crap very quickly.

      • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 22 2018, @08:54PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 22 2018, @08:54PM (#682798)

        Agree. It might end up looking like the "two party" system in the US.

        I wouldn't wish that hell on anybody.

      • (Score: 3, Informative) by PartTimeZombie on Tuesday May 22 2018, @10:28PM

        by PartTimeZombie (4827) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday May 22 2018, @10:28PM (#682828)

        Mob rule would indeed be bad, as the French Revolution shows, but this looks more like the public making proposals and their representatives making the actual decisions.

        I could be wrong of course and it might degenerate into the sort of unpleasantness they have had recently in their dealings with Madrid, but on the face of it this looks like a Good Thing™.

    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Immerman on Tuesday May 22 2018, @02:03PM (5 children)

      by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday May 22 2018, @02:03PM (#682629)

      What if you could "transfer" your vote to someone else - i.e. if I don't cast my vote, it will automatically mimic John Doe's? Right up until the moment I change my mind.

      Representative democracy without the elections or lock-in. Piss off your base, and you could lose all those votes to a competing politician overnight.

      To limit abuse of power you would probably want to make sure people couldn't tell exactly who had given them their votes (don't want your boss, reverend, etc. being able to harass you for not letting them cast your vote), but it should be public how many votes they're carrying, as it's intensely relevant to policy discussion. As for how you vote - that should probably be private unless you're casting other people's votes.

      • (Score: 1, Offtopic) by Runaway1956 on Tuesday May 22 2018, @03:06PM (1 child)

        by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday May 22 2018, @03:06PM (#682660) Journal

        (don't want your boss, reverend, etc. being able to harass you for not letting them cast your vote)

        Some few of us might actually enjoy that kind of "harassment". I truly enjoy putting an "authority figure" in his/her place. "Hell no, you can't by my proxy. WTF do you think you are? You think you're smarter than me? You're trying to make some corrupt connections, so you can retire early? I'll vote whatever I want to vote, and if I know what you're voting, I may very well vote the opposite! Now, kindly just fuck off and die, BITCH!" And, no matter how crude and vulgar I make it, I'm justified. Sumbitch expects me to let him vote my conscience? Nonsense, he wants POWER!

        OK, my contributions of late seem to be more complaining than anything. - Aristarchus
        • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Tuesday May 22 2018, @08:18PM

          by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday May 22 2018, @08:18PM (#682780)

          And then you're fired, socially ostracized,etc. For completely unrelated reasons of course.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by edIII on Tuesday May 22 2018, @07:24PM (2 children)

        by edIII (791) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday May 22 2018, @07:24PM (#682768)

        You just described Congress Critters and Senators, as well as politicians all the way down to city councils. When I vote, if I feel that deluded that day, I AM transferring my vote to that politician. Afterwards, that politician regularly votes with other politicians on what becomes law. We do know they represent many votes, and how many votes that they represent with a fair amount of precision.

        My lamentation about the process, is that politicians are slimy mother fuckers that will outright and directly lie to my face to get the vote. Afterwards, they NEVER vote in my interest. They vote in the interests of people how have THE MOST MONEY.

        Fuck Obama. I almost voted for him, but had issues at work on the day I was to vote. I did so because unlike all politicians before him, he was super fucking slick and said all the right "revolution" buzzwords to rally the youth. So I would've handed Obama my vote, and then he proceeded to immediately break a huge campaign promise. That promise was to bring AT&T executives and NSA agents out in the light to face justice for violating our privacy and engaging in unlawful, unconstitutional, and unconscionable surveillance of American citizens. Not only did he not stop mass surveillance, he increased it!

        So who do I give my vote to again? Who isn't going to be instantly tainted and corrupted on the first day of office? If Obama, the slick used car salesman that he is, couldn't fight back against being tainted, who can? He was like the next coming of Jesus to young progressives and liberals that frothed at the mouth to get him elected. I cannot describe his performance relative to the progressives and liberals as anything but utter betrayal.

        What I notice about Catalan now, is that they are effectively taking power away from the *real* voting class of citizens, the politicians. That's always a good thing. I'll take mob rule over corporate avarice filled rule any day. At least with mob rule there is a chance for empathy and compassion, a chance for the humanity of people to trump the cynical avarice of the Elites.

        • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Immerman on Tuesday May 22 2018, @08:50PM (1 child)

          by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday May 22 2018, @08:50PM (#682796)

          You overlooked a few major differences which I think would completely change the dynamics of the situation:

          - Congress critters are pre-selected by the primary process (and lots of money and power-brokering behind the scenes), while transferable votes would allow *anyone* to amass such power, without any bureaucratic process or third-party approval involved.

          - You wouldn't have elections as such - instead you'd have continuous "approval voting", since every one of the people who "voted for" you could revoke their vote at any moment, and give it to someone else that they felt would represent them better. No more "free ride until a few months before the next election", every day would be a competition to represent your base better than any of the many others trying to court them away.

          - It would be difficult for representatives to "betray" anyone paying any attention - you would always have the option to cast your vote personally, rather than letting them do so on your behalf.

          Party politics would likely be changed dramatically as well - probably weakened I would think, and that's probably a good thing. After all, incumbent Representative R isn't just competing for (possibly gerrymandered) votes against Opponent D every few years - they're also competing against every other R for votes on a daily basis, including all the ones that didn't have enough "popular appeal" (or the right backing) to make it through the primaries.

          Not to mention all the smaller parties which would suddenly become viable - when whoever you "vote" for is *guaranteed* to gain the power of your vote, suddenly voting your conscience becomes much more rational - you can't possibly split the vote, because there is no magical election day "finish line" that determines winners and losers - anyone who gets *any* votes gets to wield that slice of power for as long as they can convince their base to follow them.

          • (Score: 2) by edIII on Wednesday May 23 2018, @03:49AM

            by edIII (791) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday May 23 2018, @03:49AM (#682931)

            I had not considered the continual nature of this voting process, nor the 3rd party benefit.

            I agree, it does change the dynamics. I'd participate in it, at least for testing purposes. Like maybe a test case for Portland.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 23 2018, @04:16AM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 23 2018, @04:16AM (#682943)

      Another solution, if you worry about a more representative democracy failing due to apathy of the majority, is to look at the ancient Greeks for inspiration.

      The pro-democracy ancient Greeks were against elections, because elections led to the already powerful accumulating more power (it takes resources and influence to win an election).

      Short of direct democracy (they had some of this as well), the pro-democracy ancient Greeks supported a representative democracy where the representatives were chosen by random lot, similar to Jury duty. And, like jury duty, it was a civic obligation to serve.

      If we must settle for representative democracy, we should, at least, prevent those who simply seek power (which is the opposite of what our current system promotes). Adopting a system like the ancient Greek's random selection of representatives would achieve this goal.

      That said, Catalonia has a proud history of direct democracy (aka anarchist rule). They have proved they are capable of achieving this ideal already. I wish them success in this first small step back on that path.

      A good story that also provides a window into what Catalonia's society looked like to a visitor during their anarchist period (Orwell fought with the Catalonian anarchists against Franco and his fascist allies):
      Homage to Catalonia - George Orwell []

  • (Score: 3, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 22 2018, @12:25PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 22 2018, @12:25PM (#682611)

    Just don't try a secession referendum.

    • (Score: 2, Troll) by realDonaldTrump on Wednesday May 23 2018, @12:07AM

      by realDonaldTrump (6614) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday May 23 2018, @12:07AM (#682856) Homepage Journal

      Crimea, they voted to secede from Ukraine. To join back with Russia. And it's been tremendous for them. Beautiful new bridge to Russia -- to the rest of Russia -- look at Runaway1956's journal about that one. And Britain, they're leaving the EU. I think it's going to end up being a very good thing, but it will take time. They exercised the sacred right of all free peoples. And voted to reassert control over their own politics, borders and economy. But I think Spain is a great country, and it should remain united.

  • (Score: 2) by looorg on Tuesday May 22 2018, @01:10PM (5 children)

    by looorg (578) on Tuesday May 22 2018, @01:10PM (#682620)

    Sounds like a perfect platform for influencing politics via bots, or just paid click-slaves, and such by lobbyists and special interest groups. All under the guise of being the common man.

    • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Tuesday May 22 2018, @02:10PM (4 children)

      by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday May 22 2018, @02:10PM (#682632)

      What if your account needed to be verified - e.g. to get a Decidim account you had to go to the DMV (or wherever) with your driver's license to make sure it's connected to a real person? That would mean you would have to forgo some measure of anonymity to participate in the civic forum, but is that necessarily a bad thing? No reason you couldn't still hide from the public at large behind a pseudonym, but the administrators would know who you are.

      • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 22 2018, @02:18PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 22 2018, @02:18PM (#682633)

        Other than your vote, what other act of political contribution can be done anonymous?
        There are a few I can think about where you can hide in the masses. (Or not much masses but still go unnoticed.) E.g., going to listen to a city-hall meeting, join protests and rally's, ...
        But sending in proposals, talking to politicians, joining your town's civil advisory committees (if that exists where you live), ... all things that this platform tries to make easier. None of those are anonymous.

        (And you can argue that in the surveillance state, the ones that were as joining protests aren't any longer)

      • (Score: 2) by edIII on Tuesday May 22 2018, @07:29PM (2 children)

        by edIII (791) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday May 22 2018, @07:29PM (#682769)

        No problem. Your identity is verified, but the provisioning process is anonymous. You could walk into a privacy booth, be handed a couple of 256 bit IDs to vote. The IDs are not associated with a citizen at all, and they don't need to be. All you need to do is control who can be provisioned, and who cannot. With 256 bit IDs, good luck with brute forcing votes.

        This would allow people to see a full list of votes, and they could cryptographically verify the integrity of their vote.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 22 2018, @09:00PM (1 child)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 22 2018, @09:00PM (#682800)

          Hmm, can it defeat rubber hose cryptanalysis when Vinnie needs to borrow your ID the next day?

          • (Score: 2) by edIII on Tuesday May 22 2018, @09:25PM

            by edIII (791) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday May 22 2018, @09:25PM (#682805)

            Yes. You give the "extortion" ID to Vinny. The one where whoever he sends to the voting booth is met by police at the exit.

            Like VeraCrypt (Formerly TrueCrypt) with their Matryoshka containers.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 22 2018, @05:34PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 22 2018, @05:34PM (#682722)

    good for them for their good intentions. i too have concerns that the two wolves with vote for lamb for supper.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 23 2018, @12:09AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 23 2018, @12:09AM (#682858)

      This is why votes should be 'payer votes'

      Payer Votes?

      Basically, the people who fund the policies, decide the policies.
      Pay rates? get votes, pay local taxes? get votes, local charity donations? why not, local volunteer work (verified)? why not.
      Use (paid) local government services (public transport, etc), sure, get more votes.
      Want more votes? voluntarily donate more..

      Basically the opposite of 'User Pays' which is generally an epic failure, as politicians just find ways to make more 'users', and up the rate of 'pays'.

      Very unfashionable I know. Reality often is. It would give FAR too much power to the middle class who actually pay for most things...