By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
TAMPA— Consider the large grassroots movements of the past four years—including the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street—and you’re likely to conclude countless Americans believe the country is moving in wrong direction.
That’s backed up by the latest Ramussen poll from Aug. 8. It reveals that only 27 percent of likely U.S. voters say the country is moving in the right direction.
But rather than take to Capitol Hill with American flags or occupy public spaces around the country to show their discontent, two men in two different states are turning to the democratizing power of the Internet for a solution to the nation’s problems.
A mathematician and computer scientist by trade, Dodds and Hansen, respectively, are the most unlikely of political heroes. But they enthusiastically assert that the problems facing their respective constituencies can be tamed by more democracy.
“There is a better way to do this. Increasing the amount of constituent feedback can only be a good thing,” said Hansen, an associate professor of computer science at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont.
“I’m an engineer by training,” said Dodds. “So I’m looking at the current system of elections and politics we have and I’m seeing this flaw: the system is open to be hijacked.”
United by a distrust of politics as usual, the candidates connected over the Internet after discovering the other’s independent candidacies for public office, deciding to pool their resources in order to more effectively frame their message of allowing citizens to directly engage their elected representatives.
“Normally, there aren’t tools that give representatives a systematic way of understanding the overall will of the people,” Dodds told Florida Watchdog.
Hansen said he conceived the project in the mold of the vibrant town hall meetings that are tradition in Vermont local politics.
“This works. It’s worked for 200 years. I was inspired to take it along with 21st-century technology and bring it to the state level—not a stretch of the imagination for most Vermonters,” Hansen told Florida Watchdog.
“Technically, I’d call it a hybrid between representative and direct democracy,” said Dodds. “Once elected, we’ll still vote in Congress, but we’re going to give that vote over to the people of our district for them to vote first.”
The experiment in direct democracy is put into action on DirectRep.us, a slick portal with issues drawn into blocks, allowing users of the website to choose ‘pro’ or ‘con’ and add additional comments.
“It’s a pragmatic twist on direct democracy,” Dodds explained to Florida Watchdog. “Most people see it as: I’ll get to go online and tell you what to do.”
The site would allow citizens to tally their point alongside their fellow constituents, providing a recordable consensus that the representative would then use to directly cast their vote—a true delegate.
In the event that both candidates lose their respective races, Dodd remains hopeful that the idea will live on to foster a new culture of accountability and democracy going forward.
“One of my goals would be to get a lot more people interested in this for 2014, state representatives and U.S. representatives alike,” said Dodds.
In the general election, Dodds will face Democratic businessman J.R. Gaillot and the winner of the four-way GOP primary on Aug. 14.
In that contest, incumbent Rep. Cliff Stearns, of District 6, is challenged by state Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, Clay County Clerk of Courts James Jett and veterinarian Ted Yoho of Gainesville.
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