The ultimate digital townhall has arrived, and with it, have we seen the flicker of opportunity for pure democracy? A recent experience tells me the time has arrived for a bold politician to consider offering an experiment in such democracy.
A few evenings ago, my home phone rang. When I answered, a robodialer asked if I'd like to join the Town Hall being conducted my my local Congresswoman, where her team was available to answer questions on the Affordable Care Act and the insurance process. I pressed the assigned key and was dropped into a conversation in which other constituents were queing up, asking questions, and getting answers, all shared with everyone one the line.
I want to be clear - I had not signed up or indicated interest in any way. I have not yet been able to confirm, but it appeared that the robodialer called the home of every voter in the district and the call had no limit on participants. Kudos to my Congresswoman, Carolyn Maloney, because her assembled team answered a myriad of diverse questions during a call that went on for a long time.
During the course of the call, one of the staffers would occasionally ask a survey question and ask the constituents to enter their vote through their phone keypad. This is when my enthusiasm really picked up.
When I first moved to New York City many years ago, before email and the web, I wondered if the sheer proximity of an entire constituency would make it possible to experiment with truly representative government, for an elected official to actually accumulate the opinion of the people on an issue and vote according to the majority. At the time, I envisioned ballots dropped in stacks at buildings, or delivered with the newspaper, or some equivalent. The logistics of collecting the returns were achievable but labor intensive.
In the mechanics of this digital town hall call, were the mechanisms for achieving such an experiment. The robodialer combined with Q&A for difficult details and a phone survey would make it possible to get meaningful and representative constituent input. And, this can be done asynchronously, so no need to get all constituents at the same moment.
When I speak about LegalTech innovation, this is the sort of thing I'm envisioning. With all due respect to those who are offering enhanced document management applications for the legal profession, that's not what I'm seeking. Technology offers the opportunity to implement the law as we know it in completely new ways, or to create wholly new legal paradigms. Here is the opportunity for a bold politician to offer to represent his or her constituents in the most pure form of democracy. Any takers?