Would it be better for the United States to have a direct democracy?Would it be better for the United States to have a direct democracy?

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litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

With modern technology and an educated populace, it is possible for us to have a direct democracy. The electoral college was established as a check on the people. It was also more efficient in a time when counting every vote was not possible. We have the technology now.
brettd's profile pic

brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Direct democracy is better in theory, but impossible in practice outside of tribal governments.  we are too big, and our population too large to consider government with a direct democracy.  We would be more paralyzed than we are now with an indirect one, unable to make even the most practical decisions in a timely manner.

enotechris's profile pic

enotechris | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted on

I'm not sure what the Founders had intended -- but as products of the Enlightenment, and scholars of the ancient world, they were all well aware of the direct democracy of Athens.  Given that the newly minted United States were not compacted into a city-state, that large and long distances in travel and communication existed, the concept wasn't feasible -- but I wonder if today's technology were available at the founding if they wouldn't have opted for a direct democracy.  I suspect that we would still have a body like the Senate, but perhaps the House would be vastly different - representatives would by necessity be much more responsive to their constituency, and that's a good thing.  The argument that "it's too complex" for the average joe citizen to be involved is erroneous.  There are good laws and bad laws, and we need citizens to be the watchdogs of government. So I say "yes!" to direct democracy!

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Ophelious, I hope the people who didn't care wouldn't vote, but I fear that it would be very easy to demagogue them into an incomplete understanding -- the whole "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" deal.

As far as your last paragraph, I'm not all that comfortable with the idea that you need to have what we pointy-headed poli sci types call "descriptive representation."  Not sure that women can't be represented by men, minorities by whites, whatever.

ophelious's profile pic

ophelious | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

I just can't agree with you, Ophelious.  Even if I grant that you're right about the intelligence of people in Congress, they have the budget to pay staff to understand stuff for them.  You and I wouldn't have the luxury.  It's not a matter of intelligence or technology, it's a matter of time and inclination.

True, but those without the time or inclination would not vote on a particular issue.  Even if only 10% of the population chose to vote on an issue, you would still have about 20 million votes cast compared to the 100 in senate. That's a lot more representative of the population at large.

My problem is that the "indirect" democracy we have now is extremely disenfranchising.  In theory, if I am a Democrat in a Republican dominated area than I am not being represented well in congress at all.  My opinion will not be heard.  With the prevalence of gerrymandering the district lines, my opinion will probably never be represented in Washington.

Take it further...how well are the 50% of our country that are female being represented in a senate that is only 16% women?  And don't even look at minorities...from what I can see, there are only 3.  That can't possibly properly represent the number of districts with a majority minority population.  If everyone had a direct vote on issues, everyone would have their opinions represented 100% of the time regardless of race, sex, or whatever.

Just some food for thought.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I just can't agree with you, Ophelious.  Even if I grant that you're right about the intelligence of people in Congress, they have the budget to pay staff to understand stuff for them.  You and I wouldn't have the luxury.  It's not a matter of intelligence or technology, it's a matter of time and inclination.

ophelious's profile pic

ophelious | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

I don't know...call me crazy, but I don't think this would be such a bad idea (at least sometime in the future.)  With the advent of the internet, there really is no reason why people can't have more input on legislation.  Remember, congressmen act as representatives of the people for logistical reasons.  Were voting allowed via internet, mail, or permanent polling places, the logistical roadblocks are reduced.

This country has an annoying quality where senators and representatives are elected and then inject their own personality into their voting.  They are supposed to represent the people of their district.  If 60% of the people in their district feel a certain way about an issue, why is the congressman/woman allowed to vote a different way?  Why do their personal beliefs really matter at all?  They are supposed to be voting the way their district wants regardless of what they personally believe.

I know, I know, things can be horribly complicated and the average person can't possibly understand all the issues they are voting on, but last I checked their is no intelligence requirement to be in the government...many people in governement now are dumb as a box of rocks.  They don't have to be smart to be elected, they have to be personable and have good advisors working in the background.

Imagine being able to directly vote on education issues, warfare issues, and being able to prioritize budget items.  Instead of blaming the morons in congress we would only be able to blame ourselves when things went horribly wrong.  Of course, some form of standing governement would still be needed for a lot of reasons.

Again, I know the technology is not hot enough right now to provide the secruity that would be needed, etc, but it won't be long...

 

mshurn's profile pic

Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I would favor the direct election of the President by eliminating the electoral college, but I have to agree with the previous post that the idea of the American people proposing and passing legislation by direct vote would be untenable. (If you've ever worked on a committee, imagine a committee of 300 million people!) I do wish, though, that our working democracy was more democratic in regard to citizen participation. Once senators and representatives are elected, our job shouldn't be finished. We have a civic responsibility to be informed about issues, monitor the performances of our elected senators and representatives, and to hold them accountable. It has become more apparent than ever that lobbyists are exercising too much power in Washington. Power fills a vacuum. Lobbyists gain power when American citizens stand back and let them.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

This is, of course, an opinion question.  So mine is not the only possible right answer.

In my opinion, no.  Direct democracy involves having all the people vote on the laws that are proposed.  This is as opposed to a representative democracy as we have now.

I would say that the average citizen does not have the specialized knowledge to understand many of the proposed laws, nor the time to become informed on these issues.

In order to look at what the US would be like if we had direct democracy, look at states in the Western US where we have some amount of direct democracy through intiatives and referendums.  We often pass legislation that is, in my mind, short-sighted because these laws sound good to people who do not have enough knowledge to know better.

Governing in a complex society like ours is a full-time job.  Most of us don't have the time to learn enough to do a good job of it.

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