02. Ayenay

Participatory democracy

The Ayenay project seeks to increase citizen participation in democracy. This is the overarching goal of AyeNay.

It is incumbent, but not obligatory, for every adult citizen in MoCo to vote in the periodic elections of government officials. Yet, an election is only one way point in the Democratic process. There are numerous opportunities in-between elections where citizens are, capable of, but, again, not required to, shape public policy.

At its heart, democracy is dependent on elections. Elections are exact surveys of the electorate. For example, if the electorate consists of 100 voters, and two people “X” and “Y” are running for office, the results might be:

60 votes for “X”
30 votes for “Y”

Doing the math, we conclude that 10 voters did not vote.

Another type of survey is a polling survey. When people vote in an election, they self-select themselves as voters by going to the polls. A polling survey reverses that. A polling company selects a sample of the electorate to answer questions such as who the voters intend to vote for.

Then, using statistical techniques, the company extrapolates from its collected data to make predictions.

An AyeNay survey is a hybrid of these two approaches to polling. On the one hand, AyeNay seeks to survey the complete electorate within a given district. This is similar to how an election poll is done. On the other hand, AyeNay seeks out the electorate to survey voters, similar to how a polling company operates.

Ultimately, the results of AyeNay surveys are shared with elected officials, and with candidates for office, and we believe these results carry weight. As we refine AyeNay, this supposition will be tested further.


The goals

AyeNay has three goals.

(1) To reduce political campaign fundraising. The line between fundraising and bribery is just too blurry.

(2) To make local democracy more transparent.

(3) To increase participation in democracy by making it easier for citizens to participate.


Smartphones: good or bad for democracy?

This article questions whether society has outsmarted itself with the ubiquitous use of smartphones:
“‘If politics is an expression of our human will, on individual and collective levels, then the attention economy is directly undermining the assumptions that democracy rests on.’ If Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are gradually chipping away at our ability to control our own minds, could there come a point, I ask, at which democracy no longer functions?”

AyeNay does an end-run around that question and leverages the smartphone as a device that encapsulates the democratic process by emulating online most of the practices of democracy such as polling and discussing.


Analysis of AyeNay goals

Let’s examine in more detail how the three AyeNay goals contribute to the overarching goal of increasing citizen participation in government.

The first goal is to reduce political campaign contributions.

In general, an elected official balances three inputs to reach decisions. The three inputs are (a) what the voters want, (b) what the campaign contributors want, and (c) what he, the elected official, wants.

That’s a simplified model. It’s more complicated than that. For example, a voters may be also be a contributor. In that case, the money amplifies the voice of one voter. Or, what the candidate wants is often arrived at through discussion with his staff, family, and close advisors. So,

In general, though, it is a zero-sum game. The more money in a campaign, the more the voice of the voters is reduced.

What follows from this is that as less money is contributed, automatically the more the voice of the constituents plus the officials’ own thinking play a role in government. And conversely, the more a candidate or elected official has input from voters, the less need there is to spend money in order to connect with voters to engage and sway them.

The second goal is to make local democracy more transparent. Greater transparency gives confidence to voters that they can measure the power of their voice. Thus, voters are less likely to become jaded and less likely to stay on the political sidelines.

The third goal is to make political activity easy. Making it easy to engage with elected officials means the threshold for participation has been lowered.

In regard to the latter point, I write to my Congressman from time to time about issues in the news. For example, I go to the contact page of my Congressman’s website. Then I enter my zip+6. Then my title, name, address, and I have to pick a topic from a list, etc. After writing my comment, I’m asked to check a box if I want a response from the Congressman. But I rarely or never get a response. And then I have prove I’m not a robot!

How much easier and less frustrating and more satisfying to just vote Aye or Nay and then have AyeNay present my vote along with others’ votes to my Congressman’s staff, and then follow up later with the staff and get back to me.


AyeNay is not partisan

AyeNay is not connected with any political party. AyeNay does not lean in any particular direction. Terms like “Democrat”, “Republican”, “Left, “Right”, “Conservative”, “Liberal”, etc. are mostly irrelevant in the AyeNay universe. Although these terms may come up in the AyeNay discussion forums, they are meaningless for AyeNay. What matters most at AyeNay is effectively presenting voter preferences to candidates and elected officials.

For this reason, a central focus of AyeNay is increasing voter participation in primary elections. We feel that the key to AyeNay’s success is voting in candidates — regardless of their party affiliation — who will subscribe to the principles of AyeNay. Studies show that voter participation in primaries is usually low: even under 10%, I’ve been told by an expert.

Thus, AyeNay can make its mark in politics by stressing the importance of participating in primary elections.

And, in the final analysis, candidates who eschew campaign contributions and focus on finding out what matters to the electorate as opposed to what matters to whomever shows up at their fundraisers with a check, and who are responsive to the public once in office, are far more valuable in a democratic society than candidates and elected officials who are loyal to their party and to the thinkers, pollsters, and traditional pundits within this or that movement.

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