Re: Legislation

From: Ross A. Finlayson (
Date: Tue Jun 13 2000 - 22:07:40 MDT


I write some more about this.

One key feature that would be good for the practice of democracy is the
ability for each and every citizen to register their opinion on any vote of
legislature, as well as to enter testimony into the public record in regards
to any legislation.

This is quite, especially in our age of technological ability. It would be
an almost insignificant budget item to enable this, certainly much less than
288 billion dollars. Quite simply, there would be a physical address for
each legislating body (state, federal, perhaps local) as well as an
electronic mail address and telephone numbers. The telephone system would
enable any citizen to select any bill under consideration and register their
approval or disapproval of that revision of that measure, or to do the same
for any recently (one month, six months, more) questionned legislature,
using the verb participle questionned in the sense of previous question or
having been decided by vote. By mail, any testimony in the form of print or
handwriting on paper would be scanned to be stored exactly as the document
represents it, as well as having optical character recognition applied that
it be searchable, and the document images would be indexed according to
author, issue, date, etcetera. The same goes for e-mailed testimony, where
the actual content e-mailed would be stored against an index of its
contents. As part of the public record, anyone could access any of it at
any time.

Here, one issue is whether anonymous testimony on any issue should be
allowed into the public record, or if only proof of citizenship is required,
or if upon proof of citizenship identity may be discarded.

Back to popular legislation, after posting this I did some small research
into how this is done state-by-state, and have not found a federal system
for proposing legislation besides getting Constitutional caucuses from each
state. I started my clumsy research first by going a few states offficial
web sites, which are generally accessible at, where
xx is the two-letter state abbreviation. Generally, under some area of the
legislature's web site, there will be a document that is the rules of that
legislature, and some of the ones I have read say that legislation can be
introduced by members of the legislature, although I was browsing somewhat
conservative states.

In terms of referendums, they are allowed by the State Constitutions in
about half of the states. One resource at the Ballot Initiative Strategy
Center, perhaps a little leftist for my tastes,, has a list of state requirements in those
states where ballot initiative or referendum is allowed to effect policy.

In other states, those without the mechanism of popular referendum, there
are mechanisms within each of these States' Constitutions to amend their
rules to allow popular referendum. How to do something like that is a
lesson in old-school politicking.

How is a federal referendum initiated?

Back to regular popular referendums, it appears that the laws that describe
the procedures are somewhat archaic in cases in the various states,
requiring, for example, a certain size of printed paper (in some states,
larger than letter or legal size paper), or having other subjectively
pointless or interferistic procedural elements. In at least one current
movement for the ability to introduce some legislation to the public to vote
upon it, the movers are using the Internet to distribute letter-sized
affirmations by state citizens that they endorse the proposed legislation
being presented to the people.

In the near future, the mechanism of which might be quite accessible to all
citizens, anyone will be able to use a digital representation of their "wet
ink" signature for any or all of these processes where a citizen endorsement
is required. Then it will be simple, instead of goig to a web site,
printing the form, and posting it to the government to tell it to do
something, it will be a matter of going to a website or sending an e-mail
with the matter signed by any of a wide variety of free and commercial
signing software.


Ross A. Finlayson wrote:

> What is the mechanism so that citizens may introduce legislation into
> the legislature? I am aware there are mechanisms to get public
> referendums on ballots by gathering a certain quantity of validated
> signatures of citizens.
> I guess what I am finding is a flaw in our representative democracy in
> that the representatives aren't representative of the interests of the
> people who elected them, for lack of any better one.
> In this age of modern technology, we should use some of it to enable
> cyber-grassroots mobilization. What has come to mind is a web interface
> to a wwide variety of proposed legislation, a clearinghouse for it, as
> it were. Say that as a U.S. citizen you can write suggested legislation
> on any of a variety of topics that are legislatable. Then, legislation
> is organized so that different topics and causes will have compromises
> hammered, or separate proposals if they are incompatible. Then, as
> legislation is developed in this virtual town hall federally and for
> each region, separately or as one, then as legislation passes through a
> public peer-review process and reaches the point where credible
> volunteers vouch for its Consitutionality and value depending on other
> merits, then the legislation is fast-tracked into the requisite forms
> for each jurisdiction, ie, from electronic community, communication,
> discussion, review, and mobilization, then the real world requirements
> for placement in the processes of legislation are fulfilled, and the
> virtual communities' mobilization is used locally and extra-locally to
> satisfy any requirements, where some of the first legislation might be
> to enable electronic satisfaction of the requirements.
> As electronic signatures are now as valid as written signatures, they
> may be used to denote citzens' affirmation of some proposeed legislation
> to be considered for public referendum, or even to be de facto proposed
> as sponsored by the locale in regular legislature.
> This leads to some other issues, for example, a citizen may choose to
> develop a profile of his/her views that are shared or not,
> incrementally, depending upon his preferences about it.
> This might be seen as being about reforming the government, but moreso
> it is about making the government (here in the U.S.) more as it was
> designed to be more than two hundred years ago, representative of its
> citizens.
> Ross Finlayson

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