What happens when a politician crowdsources every policy decision?
Ryan Asbert, a 31-year-old freelance web developer, intends to find out. He’s planning to run for Seattle City Council seat eight, the position that longtime Councilmember Tim Burgess is vacating. Asbert is developing an app that allows residents to vote on policy and he says he’ll make all decisions based on that feedback.
In the video below, Asbert announces his candidacy and explains his radical plan:
In addition to his campaign, Asbert is also launching a new political organization which he calls The X Party. He envisions a non-partisan group that makes it easier for ordinary people to participate in politics.
“The X Party does not stand for big or small government, liberal or conservative values,” Asbert says in the video. “We as an organization stand only to make our government, and its processes, more accessible to the people.”
He likens the X Party to Wikipedia, a user-driven platform with engaged moderators.
“We just oversee the software which will be essentially user-controlled,” Asbert said in an interview with GeekWire. “We’d operate in that same general capacity but we’d also be running our own candidates or essentially bound by the rules of the party to act within a specific set of protocols and guidelines. If ‘x’ votes meets certain thresholds, we’d vote one way. There could be a whole number of different rule sets for how we’re supposed to behave, given certain scenarios and circumstances. A lot of that is still up in the air.”
Asbert has a plan to verify that the people using the app to vote on policy would actually be affected by the outcome. He says The X Party will ask users to submit an address when registering with the app. He’ll cross check the address with Washington’s public voter registry and then send a verification code to that location.
“It just seems like the easiest and most feasible way to get it rolled out right now,” he said. “But obviously, therein lies a problem. We wouldn’t be able to verify people who aren’t registered to vote in Washington, so we’re going to explore other avenues, aside from that. But just right at this particular point in time, this seems like the best way to go.”
Asbert says he’s in the process of filing to run but wants to ensure he qualifies for Washington state’s new Democracy Voucher program first. The initiative, which launched this month, sends residents vouchers for up to $100 that they can donate to political campaigns of their choosing. The idea is to democratize campaign donations and level the playing field with wealthy donors.
Asbert believes the new program and his campaign are a perfect match.
“With Mr. Burgess not seeking re-election and the democracy voucher program all coming together at the same time, it just seemed like the right move to make,” he said.
Asbert’s voter registration records show him living in Kent, Wash. but he says that information is outdated; he lives in Seattle’s Central District now.
Asbert knows there’s a weakness in his plan. If he uses an app to crowdsource political action, he may get a skewed sample. Only people with access to a computer or basic tech literacy would be able to participate.
“Those are very real concerns, things we take really seriously,” he said. “The integrity of our system is kind of key. If people don’t believe in the integrity of our vote base, obviously they’re not going to use the system. So we have to be very diligent in how we approach, how we construct every layer of security, every layer of UX. It’s going to be a very interesting effort but I’m pretty confident we can get there.”