The Internet and National Referendums

For nearly 40 years, the Gallup organization has been polling Americans about various political reforms. This morning, Gallup released another poll that showed 68% of Americans favor a national referendum on an issue if enough voters sign a petition to request a vote on it. Three Americans favored this proposal for every one who was against it. (See below.)

Many U.S. states allow voters to decide key issues directly rather than have elected representatives decide all issues. Sadly, the notion has yet to gain traction on a national level even though Internet technology would make national referendums both practical and easy.

I can envision a site called USreferendums.gov that would allow voters to sign petitions. Voter registration boards in each state could issue unique user IDs and passwords for the site to keep zealots from logging on multiple times under different names.

Any petition that got the support of, let’s say, 10% of each state’s registered voters, could be put on the next federal election ballot.

Referendums could reduce the influence of lobbyists.

In this way, we might pass legislation that represents the public’s interest rather than special interests. After several mass murders late last year, bills were introduced to ban assault rifles and high capacity ammo clips. Another proposal called for more thorough background checks on gun purchasers. Both had overwhelming public support. And both went down in flames. A national referendum on these issues would have had a much different outcome.

So here we are, Bubba. We let psychos buy assault rifles to kill children. But we don’t give citizens the right to vote on proposals that could save them. What’s wrong with this picture? Perhaps its time for a national referendum on national referendums.

To be clear, I’m not proposing that we cut legislators out of the loop. Someone still needs to formulate legislation.

The biggest issue I see: How do we determine which petitions get put on USreferendums.gov?

Regarding this last point, I modestly suggest that when public opinion polls differ from legislative outcomes by a wide margin, it’s time for a public referendum. This would keep everybody honest, make government more responsive, and still allow legislators to handle the vast majority of work.

The Internet can now provide the same kind of check-and-balance, watchdog function over government that the professional press does. There’s an opportunity here to make democracy more democratic. We should take it. In my opinion, we should begin a series of national referendums on important issues when Congress fails to represent wishes of the public.

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One thought on “The Internet and National Referendums

  1. What? Find a way to make Congress accountable and responsive to citizens? What an amazing and radical idea!

    Y’know, I think that if the Founders had had even the slightest idea about the Internet, they would have done away with this Electoral College idea and been all for the Internet.

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