Home US Congressman Tries Digg for Politics

US Congressman Tries Digg for Politics

Launched a couple of weeks ago by U.S. Representative John R. Kuhl, Jr., a Republican from New York’s 29th District, the “Fix Washington” project aims to make DC politics a user generated affair. Noting that the majority of Americans aren’t happy with the way Washington is run, Kuhl is soliciting ideas for bills until July 18th. Kuhl will then choose his favorite 5 submissions and users will vote for the best, and the winning idea will be introduced on the floor of the US House of Representatives. It’s a novel idea, certainly, but is it a good one?

Last week, we mentioned Oh Boy Obama, a “user generated campaign think tank” that used Digg-style voting to seek campaign ideas for presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama. We said that even though the site’s “users will be the most dedicated campaign supporters — not representative of the country at large — the site can be used as an early testing ground to gauge reaction to new ideas,” and noted that it would likely energize the grassroots. But commenters were less sure.

“There is a certain element of mob mentality (ala Digg) that may … hinder actual progress,” said commenter Megatron. “The internet is great for giving everyone a say, but it tends to bring out the wackos.” While commenter Morgan noted that you risk alienating many of your constituents if you pay too much attention to the type of people who would participate in a site like Oh Boy Obama — which as we said would likely be the most fervent campaign supporters.

Kuhl’s “Fix Washington” campaign is essentially the same idea — a user generated political think tank — but on a more local level. Dr. Denny at Scholars and Rogues isn’t buying it. “Rep. Kuhl has reduced the American system of government to a reality game show,” he wrote. “He’s asking for his constituents to do his thinking for him.”

However, like Oh Boy Obama, Kuhl’s idea isn’t necessarily a bad one — though it does have faults. Kuhl is actually following two of our rules for crowdsourcing. He’s realized that crowds are better at vetting content than creating it — though he’s asking for idea submissions, the real meat of his project is in letting users vote on the best from a preselected list. And therein lies his second smart move — he’s realized that not everything can be democratic and will be selecting the five top submissions himself.

Kuhl’s idea also has the same problems as Oh Boy Obama. It’s very unlikely that most of his constituents have ever even been to his web site, which means that the people submitting and voting on ideas are likely not the best representation of his district. Further, it will be interesting to see how he’ll verify that the people voting on and submitting ideas actually are his constituents. However, as Tip O’Neill said, all politics is local. Kuhl’s idea, while not perfect and perhaps just a publicity stunt, is a novel idea that puts a little extra legislative power in the hands of the voters at a local level… should they choose to participate. I’ll be interested to see how it turns out.

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