Jon Jones, who is running in this year's election for Atlanta City Council (District 2), is using technology to build an interface that will allow every resident to vote directly on the issues before City Hall.
"The movement to deliver Direct Democracy to Atlanta has officially begun," proclaims Jon Jones to a room of web developers and HTML 5 architects. Jones, who is a candidate running in this year's Atlanta City Council election, says his primary goal is not about working in government - it's about wanting to change the way that government works. And if his rhetoric isn't soaring enough for you, you should listen to his ideas. If elected, Jones intends to institute a system of "direct democracy," which is a democracy in which the power to govern lies directly in the hands of the people rather than being exercised through elected representatives.
Involving everyone in the nitty gritty of government "sausage making" seems like a lesson in chaos theory. Yet Jones contends that modern technology can be harnessed to make civic engagement simple and effective. "We bank online. We shop for food, clothes, and cars online. We even meet new people, and share pieces of our lives with them online. Why has our government not kept pace?" he asks of his programmers. Jones spends weeknights working with them to construct an online interface - loosely styled after social websites like Wikipedia and Reddit.com - that will enable residents of his district to vote on bills, write legislation of their own, and propose changes to existing laws, all electronically.
Ideally, Jon Jones envisions a system wherein every initiative put up for debate in City Hall is debated by the general public first. With the belief that elected representatives are inherently susceptible to making decisions in their own self interest, Jones has stated often that this makes the current system of electing representatives flawed; and he pledges to never vote on a single bill without the consensus of his district.
Admittedly, a handful of the techies behind the project share a hint of skepticism. Yet every one of them, when asked in private, shared that they are completely devoted to making Jones' dream of a more-inclusive government happen. "I think it's a good idea. I think we can build a civic/social network; and if it works, there's no question that it could have larger implications," Doug Cooley states outside of Jones' campaign headquarters.
The system that Jones and team are building, or "ADDI" as they call it, is an acronym for the Atlanta Direct Democracy Interface. Still in its early development stage, Jones has released a beta version of the software to the public so that future users can get a sense of what features ADDI will have (you can test it at ATL-DDI.com). When asked what factors will make his campaign a success, Jones decisively answers, "THE PEOPLE!" Introducing a new idea to the electorate will be an uphill battle for Jones, as explaining the concept of Direct Democracy to unfamiliar voters will take a lot of resources. And getting a diverse constituency - made up of elderly and low income residents - to adopt internet technology borders on the impossible.
But Jones remains determined. He likens the plight of ADDI to other start-up websites like Facebook and Instagram - both social networks with modest origins, but which now boast international reach across millions of users. "I'm on a mission to make Atlanta the first American city with a Direct Democracy; but ultimately, that fate lies with the people," Jones affirms.
The election for the (District 2) City Council seat Jones wants to fill will be held on Tuesday, November 5, 2013.