THE BLOG
02/26/2013 05:26 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2013

How to Keep Your Legislators Accountable

In our current political system, many United States citizens are unsatisfied by the work Congress is doing -- or not doing. Congress started 2013 with a measly 14 percent approval rating, with 81 percent of Americans disapproving of the performance of our congressional leaders. But social media and the Web are changing the way we spread and share information. Maybe it's time to crowdsource our political views to hold our leaders accountable.

A nation that doesn't approve of its own government isn't much of a democracy after all, certainly not one "of, by and for the people." But how can we keep our legislators accountable? Accountability is a process in which our officials either deliver what citizens want or they account for why they can't or won't deliver it -- they report to us. Could we have an accountability system here in the United States?

I believe we can. In Iceland, citizens recently crowdsourced a new constitution by voting online. If we want an accountability system in the United States, first we need to know what we want as citizens. And to know that, we have to vote.

But there's currently no way for Americans to pool their ideas and stances on issues in one collective place. While we cast a ballot to elect a president, we have no system for gaining insight on our positions on key issues, besides occasional polls.

My site, PeopleCount.org, allows users to vote on current issues facing the country -- even ones we don't often hear about in the mainstream media. Using the collective power of the Web, the people can finally let legislators know what they want, and legislators can explain their actions.

It's no secret that representatives are reluctant to broadcast messages. They want to please those of us who approve of their actions, but they don't want to make the rest mad. My site will allow representatives to write messages targeted to people based on their positions on an issue. This way, supporters can hear the good news, and the opposition can hear how legislators ensured their actions weren't extreme and how rights were protected.

Candidates will also be able to communicate directly with citizens, to whatever extent each citizen chooses -- a true accountability system. Right now, you mainly see challengers from the other party -- it's just too expensive for someone in the same party to challenge an incumbent. With an online accountability system, challengers will be able to reach citizens easily and cheaply. Incumbents will have to satisfy their constituents to stay in office.

United States citizens need to take a cue from nations like Iceland, and turn to online crowdsourcing and collective sharing of ideas to create an accountability system for our legislators. If we continue with a system that neither knows nor delivers what the people want, are we truly living in a democracy? Crowdsourcing our laws will not only help us to design the future of the United States, but also ensure it's built.

Rand Strauss is the President and CEO of PeopleCount.org, a nonpartisan organization that enables the public to communicate constructively by taking stands on political issues influencing the country today. Connect with Rand and PeopleCount.org on Twitter and Facebook.