Indiana Senate Democrats, half of whom are from right here in the Region, have developed a site where Indiana residents can voice their concerns on the issues and vote on which ones are most important to them. The top results will be the party’s legislative priority in the next session.

I think this is a GREAT idea. Regardless of the issues or even the party, this sort of channel can give a better, clearer voice to elected officials’ constituents.

But is this a good thing, considering the kind of stuff people do on the web?

Here are some ways it could be positive:

  • This could be an interesting way to get young people, a voting bloc for whom voter turnout is generally low, more involved in the process. Who knows? Maybe if this is a success, it could lead to a push to make voting via computer or even smartphone a reality, which might ensure greater participation by removing the effort of physically going to your polling place.
  • Traditional polling methods are becoming less accurate, as the model is mostly built on conducting polls via landline phones. Remember landlines? Those phones from back in the day that had no text function or Internet access, that were attached to walls, and where you had to physically press individual buttons to make a call? Well, one certainly would think online polling is the way to reach the under-30 crowd.
  • Aside from voting on issues that are already in the news, users can submit laws that they would like to see, which can then be voted upon by site visitors. If corporate lobbyists can literally write bills for Congress, then why not regular people?

And now, some corresponding drawbacks to each of those things

  • Do we want to make something as important as selecting our leaders available with the same level of thought and effort as a taking a Buzzfeed quiz, or liking a Facebook post, or favoriting a Tweet? Heck, the voting button on the site looks exactly like the “upvote/downvote” functionality on Reddit.
  • Ballot stuffing, or other poll manipulation. Even if a poll is set to where each person can only vote once, web users can create throwaway usernames or even simply use another browser window to manipulate results.
  • Have you even been on the Internet? Well, it has this tendency to bring out the id in people, in all its anger, venom, ignorance, and xenophobia. The notion that a hateful and horrifying idea might be put forth on a platform like this is secondarily disheartening to the fact that I could see people supporting it, possibly a lot of them. And let’s not forget the trolls who’d abuse it.

In spite of all that, I still think this is a great idea. In fact, I’d say the political process could use more direct interaction with the people via the web. I just recommend that people running the site be able to tell the different between the trolls and the people who are serious about it.

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