60 Months

Democracy can be a beautiful system for deciding who governs a group of people. The idea is that each member of a group votes and the majority decide who then leads the collective for a given term. I think this works well when the voters consider their votes and the parties that can be voted for are good. If the elected group performs positively and have the right plan going forward they stand to be reelected unless competition presents a better alternative.

This is straightforward enough, but the success seems to vary massively depending on a myriad of factors. Culture has too pronounced effect and this can fall prey to popular sentiment. It seems all over the world politicians are pandering to opinions in order to be elected or retain power. Some of the decisions made are so convoluted that the consequences are not directly related to pain the people were trying to resolve. Brexit seems to be driven more by a dissatisfaction of an inequal elite society and misunderstanding of the root causes than actual anti EU desires.

In South Africa the politics is more a reaction to the too recent terrible past than to modern day needs. It is country built on a gold mine that struggles to keep the lights on and insists on using fossil fuels in a world were the prosperous nations are knowledge economies and striving to be carbon neutral.

South Africans blame each other. We blame other voters for their poor choices without understanding their lived experiences, we blame the private sector for not doing enough without understanding restrictions and responsibilities, we blame the government and the people in charge for being too quiet or not speaking up but fail to see that it isn’t a singular entity. We can find try to individuals at fault, but I think the system is too big and that individual people are not necessarily the issue. It is the collective cohort of individuals selected by and for counterproductive purposes; all too often to meet internal party mandates and sustain the waterfall of kickbacks.

Attributing responsibility solely to the president is lazy thinking. The democratic system can’t be so dependent on one individual elected in a moment every once in a while. It shouldn’t be so susceptible to personal power grabs. I think we can and should do better as self organising societies.

Our lives are too short for poor political decisions that take generations to act or correct. I’m impatient. Intragenerational change shouldn’t just be possible, it should be minimum standard. I think the checks and balances that result in direct accountability are key to this improvement in governance.

General elections happen every 5 years in South Africa. The feeling is that in election years improvements seem to happen quickly. Evidence that we have the capacity to do the job. Suddenly politicians are responsive but also just play their roles generating good feeling amongst the voter base. Rallies, free t-shirts, young people duking it out on social media with unsubstantiated claims against each other due to hallowed party affliations are the norm. After the election, there are celebrations for “winning” parties full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The cycle repeats.

When the Greeks invented democracy the intention was for the people to rule. It’s doubtful the first ballot paper had the perfectly crafted smiles of people who would wish to lead super sized nations to utopia or ruin. Since then we’ve invented a pervasive ever connected world that at its strongest unites us all across the globe, and at its worst promotes misinformation through fake news driving us apart.

I can understand why an ancient civilisation would need to wait for elections. It was surely a burdensome effort to pick a day, send the call out, manually collect and tally votes. An inconvenience too time consuming to repeat regularly. Today, we could conduct an election with the opinion of every person on earth in every known language within a minute.

The beauty of digital technology is not how we can accomplish something in an instant. It is how remarkably easy it is to repeat and redo anything with negligible increased cost.

The evolution of the periodic democratic election is a constant democratic election. Take South Africa for example. Keep the 5 year period and transform it into a continuous 60 month rolling average. Every eligible voter chooses their preferred party and is able to change their chosen vote a maximum of once every 30 days. A vote needs to be updated, reaffirmed or changed, once in a 365 day period or become inactive and uncountable. The 30 day cooldown reduces the fluctuations of opinions away from impulses and the 365 day period ensures people reconsider their opinions.

Political parties will be able to see immediate reactions to their decisions but they won’t immediately be removed from power if the majority were to suddenly shift. Changing governments is a costly exercise as well, a power drop would be not be instantly threatening but it would inspire fast action to encourage voters to change back their votes. Sometimes governments need to make unpopular decisions which might need time to reap rewards. To make such decisions requires small losses for greater gains enabled through research and planning, two features seemingly absent from governments that rest on their cushioned parliamentary seats after elections.

A well performing government would not see considerable fluctuations in their rolling average. A poor performing one would see their power erode and the rate of erosion reflected strongly by the present dissatisfaction. Poor performers would have some runway to improve or watch as power shifts to the opposition.

In this system newly eligible voters will be included in the system immediately, able to select their preferrence on the day they come of age. Specific lengths of periods could be tweaked to figure out what works. Complex timing may also be possible such as long performance streaks leading to a longer total moving average evaluation or a recent power shift could result in a 6 month vote change freeze to ease in newly empowered incumbents and prevent rapid flip flop states.

I believe such a system would critically limit the reign of individual presidents who despite performing poorly continue to be propped up by their parties based on the strength of the previous often distant election. Parties that grab power and resources while the going is good would find it only increases the rate of their destruction and reduces the elasticity of their returning back to power. It also means new arrivals might have a chance to appear quickly on the scene but also be rapidly removed if they don’t live up to expectations rather than wasting seats across a long election cycle. It would inspire more political innovation.

A system like this would also inspire more people to vote. Voter apathy is a growing problem where people don’t feel they have anyone to vote for and that their votes don’t matter. Imagine being able to change your vote and watch as it is instantly counted in the total for your chosen affiliation? Or the satisfaction of seeing a party you once believed in lose an edge due to your departure!

Democracy is overdue an update. The core concept is fine but in an ever changing world with instantaneous information available beneath our fingertips, we need a faster more responsive connection to our leaders.

And more importantly, they need one to us.