This week, Independent candidate for Dublin Fingal Roslyn Fuller concluded a month-long experiment in digital democracy. The project which utilises Canadian software Ethelo to ask voters for preferences and peer-to-peer engagement ran throughout September. It attracted users from across the region, the country, and even the globe, with results later filtered to produce a picture of what people in Ireland in general and Fingal in particular stated their preferences to be.
“Although it was a relatively small sample, some of the voting patterns were so overwhelming that, even allowing for a wide margin of error, the results are still quite clear,” Fuller said, “It is also striking that the voting patterns between Fingal-only voters and all voters were pretty similar. For example, there was virtually no support for either TTIP [the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership treaty between the USA and the EU) or for moving Ireland towards a privatized healthcare system on the American model.”
Some of the most popular proposals involved banning zero hour contracts, improving mental health services and enshrining neutrality in the Constitution. Proposals to push for Reunification with the North and to introduce basic social income proved more divisive.
Fuller said that although she has spent a great deal of time canvassing and speaking to voters over the last 18 months, she was still surprised at some of the results, “We put forward three options on healthcare: full privatization, like the Americans; full taxpayer model, like the Canadians; and state-regulated insurance, like the Germans. I had thought that people would favour the German model, as something close to this has been floated in the past in Irish political circles, but the Canadian model won hands down.”
Fuller said that she was also surprised that her own proposal to increase the number of income tax bands so that income tax rises more gradually was so popular. “It made sense to me, and I circulated this proposal during the last election, but I had no idea people liked it so much. I certainly feel more justified in continuing to pursue this point.”
When asked to choose a top priority for Fingal, participants rated improving public transportation slightly ahead of increased Garda coverage. Keeping property tax low trailed both by more than 20 points.
“Politicians are famous for getting elected and not keeping their promises. I keep mine even without being elected,” Fuller says. Fuller intends to action as many of the most decisively answered points as she can over the coming months.
“Something I’d like to get on right away is a move to limit election posters to designated areas. During the last campaign, several people congratulated me for not putting up any posters. At the time, this was purely for financial reasons. However, it happened often enough to get me thinking and I decided to ask people more systematically. The results were clear: people hate election posters. This is something I’d like to try to move forward on with the Tidy Town Committees in our area. Perhaps we could agree that only candidates who refrain from postering other locations in a village would get a spot in the designated area.”
The project entitled ‘Fuller Democracy’ was one of the first of its kind in the world and Fuller hopes to run it again in the future. “We take suggestions for questions, expert input, you name it. The idea is to facilitate bottom up decision-making.”
However, she hopes that in the approach to the budget, the Government will take note of the project’s results.
“There are a lot of things coming through here, like limiting unpaid internships to no more than one month or introducing rent control, that are budget neutral. Others, like shortening the asylum process for those seeking refuge in Ireland, and legalizing and taxing cannabis would save money or create revenue respectively. According to our information, these are policies that people favour and they don’t cost a cent. The need for a balanced budget as a hindrance to progress tends to be overstated. We can still move forward in positive ways that make an impact on people’s lives, and there appears to be a very high level of consensus on some of the things we could be doing.”