THE BLOG
10/06/2014 03:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2014

Bring the Vote to the People

Experiments in democracy do not always turn out well. We have only to remember the crushing defeat of the revolutionaries in Egypt and the current chaos in Libya to prove this. Except for Tunisia, the spirited wind of democracy brought about by the Arab Spring that stirred the hearts of many across the globe has given out. When democracy is forced on people, as it was on the Iraqis ten years ago, faltering progress can sometimes wither into hopelessness and lawlessness, which we are currently trying to rectify today with limited intervention and a much more cautious foreign policy.

But countries with centuries of stable democratic governance often can experiment in democracy with much better results. The recent almost totally peaceful Scottish referendum for independence is a sterling example of how long periods of stability can allow free people to try out even more cutting edge experiments in democracy.

America is ripe for an experiment today. Congressional approval has been hovering in the low teens to single digits for years now. Former President Jimmy Carter, who recently turned 90, said last year that America "has no functioning democracy" because of the gridlock in Congress. Tragically, in 2013, despite polls showing 86 percent of people supported background checks for weapons bought online and at gun shows and 90 percent supported limitations on assault weapons, Congress could not enact the people's will.

It is no secret that besides political animosity, there is another force holding up democratic progress. Lobbyists and special interests line the purses of Congresspeople, making ordinary Americans ask whether their representatives truly have their interests in mind or those of their well-heeled donors. The Center for Responsive Politics has a lobbying database that you can access for a comprehensive account of just how much our representatives are beholden not to the voters, but to money.

When people respond in polls that they have almost no faith in Congress, but 90 percent of incumbent politicians are reelected, either Americans are wildly inconsistent or -- the much more likely case -- they are running into systemic sclerosis that is no longer channeling their voices.

I propose America engage in an experiment by amending the Constitution in order to replace the House of Representatives with a chamber whose votes are based on direct voting by the people. Many people will claim we do not have the technology to engage in direct democracy. Allowing people the freedom to vote from their home or a secure government website would be ideal, but some critics would rightly point out that malicious hackers could interfere with the democratic process. But if creating a secure Internet portal for voting cannot be done, establishing permanent polling stations that allow citizens to vote whenever a proposed bill garners enough threshold support to be voted on by the whole country would require changes, but would not be impossible. The unproductive 112th Congress passed less than 600 bills, and many of these bills were for special interest concerns, pork barrel projects and other issues not relevant to their constituents

The House of Representatives, the more intransigent of our two chambers, is supposed to be the "people's house." Originally created to reflect proportional representation of the people of the United States, it is the chamber most amenable to be replaced by a popular vote. In fact, if congressional elections were decided on popular vote, the Democrats would have won more seats in 2012. If presidential elections were decided by only popular vote, of course, Al Gore would have won the election in 2000, but that's another story.

It is quite clear that people are disconnected from government decisions, as the satirist Stephen Colbert made clear to comic effect on a recent edition of his show, using the example of our efforts to assist the people in Iraq and Syria from ISIS. In a July interview with our other great American satirist, John Stewart, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton admitted that America is experiencing nothing less than a "crisis in democracy."

While some view the crisis as a problem of our leadership class' mismanagement, this may not be a problem that our leadership class can fix, but one only the people can fix. Returning the people's house to the people would be an experimental and promising way to find out if that's true.