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Friday, November 6, 2009

Independent Candidate B.T. Marking Promotes Nationwide e-Democracy

Seth Tupper pops the press release first; the general media follows up with a couple sentences: professed independent B. Thomas Marking from Custer has declared his candidacy for South Dakota's lone U.S. House seat. Lifelong government employee Marking offers some small-government talk about citizen rights and small bills—but seriously, people, this idea that a bill is bad because it is long is wearing thin: screaming, "Oh no! So many pages!" feels like a lazy freshman's excuse for not engaging with the true complexity of policy issues.

Marking also offers some views on energy independence (o.k.), a vague call for personal responsibility as the solution to health care costs (dodging the issue), and securing the borders (any daylight between him and pro-immigration Black Hills neighbor Thad Wasson?).

What really catches my attention, though, is Marking's call for electronic democracy. Far from the pointless Tea Party hyperventilations of "Republic not a Democracy!!!" Marking actually thinks we need more direct democracy. In an October 11 comment in the Custer County Chronicle, Marking calls to task editor Norma Najacht for a little "RNAD" ramble:

Walt Whitman, in about 1860, noted that democracy \"is a word the real gist of which still sleeps, quite unawakened . . . It is a great word, whose history, I suppose, remains unwritten, because that history has yet to be enacted.\" Whitman\'s words are as true today as then. The ideal of democracy has never been achieved, not in ancient Athens, not even in modern Switzerland. And pure democracy may never be achieved on the level of the nation-state. That said, this beautiful concept must be kept alive and vigorously defended. It will always be the standard by which we gauge the shortcomings of all other forms of government, most especially our own.

...A constitutional republic was the best we could do in colonial times. It was a revolutionary departure from oppressive monarchy -- the system the founding fathers really feared. In the past 233 years, however, our world has changed a bit. At least one founding father, Thomas Jefferson, knew that \"laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind.\" Alas, our institutions of government have not kept pace. Furthermore, if modern technologies can take us closer to democratic governance, why settle for something less? [B. Thomas Marking, comment, Custer County Chronicle, 2009.10.11]

Marking's #1 goal is to use modern technology to allow us, the voters of South Dakota, to directly control his work in Congress:

Within 90 days of being sworn in, my staff will set up a secure computer system and register all interested South Dakota voters, so they can begin voting on national policy issues (domestic and foreign). The majority decisions of these referenda will dictate my voting on bills brought to the floor of the House. (Relax. If the internet isn't your thing, we'll accept paper ballots.) [B. Thomas Marking, "Goal 1," campaign website, retrieved 2009.11.06]

Wowza! That's actually a cool idea, a step more radical than the relatively simple participatory but non-binding information system I've conceived of for the South Dakota Legislature (shades of OpenCongress.org). Mr. Marking has even written a novel, Amendment XXIX, on the issue.

I suspect even amidst Tea Party fervor, South Dakota's voters (and the mainstream media, which needs a much simpler two-party battle narrative) probably won't give half a hoot about independent candidates. But I hope Mr. Marking can get his foot in the door and start a conversation about electronic democracy.

What would Jefferson do? Given the Internet, he might side with Marking and recognize that today's tech tools make possible a direct, lively democracy that the Founding Fathers couldn't make work in horse-and-buggy days.


  1. I get it and I like it. I could say that I would most likely participate.

    But, I can use our own indoor pool issue as an example.

    Those who show up to vote are the ones who are most passionate about the issue. The ones who like the idea are content and are willing to let the issue progress. We had a turnout of 9-11 percent of registered voters. Even though the majority won the vote I feel the minority ruled. There is no proof and no one can tell me otherwise because we didn't have a 60 or 70 percent voter turnout. Plus we are talking about registered voters here. Not the entire population of Sioux Falls.

    The people who started the "keep our outdoor pool" campaign had also promised that they would do their best at keeping the ball diamond even though nothing was stated about it in the description. So some of those who voted, placed their vote in order to keep the ball diamond. There is no ball diamond. So I do have concerns about people getting involved who don't know the facts. There are also many examples going right now that rely on fear rather than what is actually going on. I suppose my vote would rely on the candidate that would be able to sort through all this.

    Thirdly, our officials are out there meeting and greeting a bunch of people that I don't know and will never meet. When I vote, I am also placing my vote on their gut feeling and intuition that they get when they are shaking hands and sizing up if this person is a smarmy jerk or if this person has honest intentions. If this guy is going to ignore his own sensibilities in public favor I might not be so eager to place my vote in him.

    I like the idea as long as it is used as an information gathering tool and not to have us do his job for him.

  2. The idea is very interesting. I would love to have an iPhone App that would ask for my input and relay it to this system as my vote. The options could yes, no, and no opinion (as I imagine I won't have a view on every issue).

    I think such an app would get everyone involved because it would require 0 effort minus the getting registered part.

  3. Democracy and the iPhone -- amazing potential! All the more reason we need to support rural broadband/wireless, so there is no rural/urban divide in the coming e-democracy.

  4. iPhones around here????? Please do tell.

  5. Oh yeah, that's right: AT&T won't hook us up with iPhones yet. e-Democracy requires universal coverage!


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