New party takes aim at Congressional seat

July 25, 2008
By

JOHN RUCH

A new political party that calls for rule by online opinion polls claims to have a candidate for the local 8th Congressional District seat currently held by US Rep. Mike Capuano.

The Free Government Party, which has yet to identify its nominee, did not respond to a request for comment for this article. Alison Mills, a spokesperson for Capuano, declined to comment.

The Boston-based party exists mainly as the web site FreeGovernment.org, which apparently was launched on this year’s Fourth of July. The party has no political platform beyond creating a way for citizens to vote on individual pieces of legislation via online polls. The idea is that this would make government “free, convenient, and transparent.”

The party intends to run a candidate who would act like a voting machine. “If elected, you will be bound by contract to act as no more than [a] proxy for our district by voting on bills only as do online verified voters, and by introducing and sponsoring bills only with significant support,” said the party’s open advertisement for a candidate. The ad was posted July 6 on the classified ad web site Craigslist.

The party’s web site claims that about a week after posting the ad, it selected an unnamed candidate for the Nov. 4 election. The 8th Congressional District is the only district where the party will run a candidate. It is unclear why the district was chosen. The site appears to make no references to Capuano.

To get on the ballot, the candidate will have to submit at least 2,000 voter signatures to local election officials. The deadline is next Tuesday, July 29.

The party calls itself a nonprofit organization, though it did not appear to be registered with the Secretary of State’s Office as of last week. It appears the party is the brainchild of a software developer named Foy Savas and a dental student named Sophia Chou.

The web site features discussion forums and online polls. It is intended as a place to review pending Congressional bills and propose new ones. If the party had a member in Congress, that member would cast votes mirroring the site’s online poll results.

While the site theoretically has the potential for creating direct democracy, its real goal is establishing a representative system of “advisers.” Advisers are like super-members of the site who commit to voting on behalf of many other site members. Site members can select advisers who seem to match their politics and can be trusted to vote their way, allowing for a “convenient hands-off approach to voting” on the many bills before Congress.

The party’s member in Congress would then obey the final results of the advisers’ total votes. To ensure that voting is representative of the district, the party proposes that polls must have a quorum of votes equal to 50 percent of the number of votes the candidate received on Election Day. It is unclear what the member of Congress would be expected to do if there was no quorum, or in political situations that do not involve votes.

In essence, the site would create a kind of shadow Congress that ensures at least some citizens would review all legislation before its official vote.

Any person or group can be an adviser, and site members can appoint as many advisers as they want.

Voting access and voting fraud would seem to be significant issues with the process. If it were to win the seat, the party proposes spending part of the office budget on setting up a program that would cross-check the web site’s registered member list with lists of registered voters—basically, creating a shadow election department. The party acknowledges some sort of system would have to be created to allow people without Internet access to vote, but makes no suggestion about it.

It is also unclear how the site would avoid other political parties, lobbying organizations or other powerful interests from dominating the adviser positions.

Decision-making via online polls is becoming popular among new, reform-minded political parties. Another example is Britain’s Blah! Party, which uses online polls to help set the party’s agenda as a direct democracy method.