OpenGov Voices: How an Open Source Candidate can Save the US House of Representatives

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.

Kyle Karp is the founder of OpenSourceCandidate.com — a platform that provides real-time polling technology with 100% participation rates, for elected representatives to make better decisions. Kyle is also the creator of ProxiCast — a scalable, real-time proxy voting algorithm. You can receive updates from Kyle at  @OpenSoCan, or contact him directly by emailing kk@opensourcecandidate.com, or calling +1 (646) 420-4324.

The principal-agent dilemma is defined as: the problem of how person A can motivate person B to act for A’s benefit rather than following B’s self-interest.

This is the reason why if you were on a company’s (principal’s) expense account, you (the agent), would go out to a sushi bar (the special interest) instead of having tuna salad for lunch. You are hungry, the company has the cash and sushi is tasty!

In government, we the people are the shareholders of this (likely bankrupt) company and special interest nigiri is in a permanent bull market. Special interests have become incentivized to hack our Representatives and elections rather than to convince the people on the merits of their positions; this is the problem we are trying to solve.

“The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of … the special interests.”

Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States

Special interests largely derive their power over House members because they offer:

  1. Votes
  2. Money, to acquire votes
  3. Threat of negative votes

Moreover, special interest influence is increasing because the cost of getting elected to the House is both high and is rising:

Opensecrets
Source: Opensecrets.org

House members need a low-cost way to get elected, that also increases their bargaining power to deal with special interests. We can achieve this today, through the Open Source Candidate pledge and ProxiCast voting technology.

The Last Campaign Pledge A Candidate Has to Make:  Open Source Candidate Pledge

At Open Source Candidate, we created a pledge to help bring more transparency into the voting process by ensuring that the public is able to see how and when a representative votes — as he/she votes. Within the sample text in the pledge is proposed language such as:

“If elected, I will cast each vote in Congress by a real-time poll of my constituents; And only override after posting a public explanation.”

The pledge is about transparency and doesn’t bind the voting power of the House member. The scope is merely one specific power (voting) of a Legislator (in a non-binding way), in half of Congress (House) in a third of the branches of government (Legislative).

In fact, our statistical simulations show that a Member override of their constituents on an important Congressional vote is likely to happen less than three times per year. A Member is really just pledging to be in sync with their constituents; and to be transparent. Even though in practice this may appear to be a very minor change, the net effect is a transfer of power from special interests, directly to the voters.

Open Source Candidate is really about changing the “system default setting” to directly be the voters’ interests.

I first conceived Open Source Candidate as a college intern for then Senator Chris Dodd fielding angry constituent calls about his vote to confirm John Ashcroft as Bush 43’s Attorney General. His vote was shaped by a human, personal experience of wanting to avoid the kind of spectacle he endured with his father, Thomas Dodd. The staff respected him for this personal view even if they disagreed politically; I recall thinking the constituents might respect his view also, if put in a direct and open way. The lesson was that transparency has the power to connect people to their leaders.

At that time, in 2001, I saw two problems with Open Source Candidate and shelved it. The problems were:

  • The Dotcom bubble collapsed and the public generally started to lose faith in unproven internet technology ideas. There was need to support the idea of real-time voting.
  • Voters don’t have time to study, understand and then directly cast votes on every issue before the Congress with meaningful voter participation.

What’s changed today is that not only is internet technology proven, but implementation has become trivial. People carry supercomputers in their jeans and more than 1 in 10 of us actually do startups!

The second problem of voter participation was trickier. I came to see an elegant voting algorithm solution many years later as a Math graduate student at Stanford, while studying certain repeating algorithms. After years of careful programming, simplification of the idea, testing and simulation, I eventually convinced myself this voting algorithm could finally make Open Source Candidate a reality. I call it ProxiCast.

ProxiCast: a Scalable, Real-Time Proxy Voting Algorithm for 100% Voter Participation

Source: http://opensourcecandidate.com

A proxy means you effectively “elect” anyone in your district to be your personal Congressman who votes for you when you can’t or don’t vote.  A relative, neighbor, church leader, professor even the candidate who ran against your current Congressman but lost– anyone to whom you trust this responsibility can be your proxy.

You may fire or change your proxy every 2 years… or at any time you like; for any reason or no reason at all.

ProxiCast ensures 100% voter turnout, on every issue ballot, in real-time. The silent majority is always heard. It just works. It’s not merely a simple user experience (UX); it falls into the background and is 99.999% UX-free. Unlike trying to establish online voting for federal elections, which is fraught with legal, technical and ironically special interests challenges; our solution is available now.

Now is the time. Congressional approval ratings are at 5%. 60% of Americans would fire every member of Congress. The technology to securely implement ProxiCast has become trivial.

Through the Open Source Candidate pledge, we the people can demand this of our Representatives and will this into existence. This is inevitable.

We deserve better.

Join us.

Interested in writing a guest blog for Sunlight? Email us at guestblog@sunlightfoundation.com.

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