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Icelanders vote to base new constitution on crowdsourced draft (gigaom.com)
78 points by mtgx on Oct 22, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 31 comments

Icelander here. The headline is completely false: "Icelanders approve their crowdsourced Constitution."

We Icelanders voted in a NON-BINDING referendum, where the first question was "yes / no, I want / do not want the proposals from the public constitutional congress to be used as the basis for a parliamentary referendum for a new constitution". It is then explicitly stated on the voting card that the proposals may change in the process of being worked into a parliamentary referendum for a new constitution - which then again must be approved not once but twice by two separately elected parliaments (i.e. voted through in parliament, parliament dissolved, voted in again, and the referendum approved again there).

Headline is FALSE and misleading.

— edit: that said, I support the establishment of a new constitution, and I like a lot of things in the proposals. There are also some things I do not like. The proposals need work to become fit to be a constitution, that's for sure.

Have the results been published where non-Icelanders can read them?

This sounds like a fantastic idea, but it would be problematic in the US, I think. My opinion is that we're too large a population and too disengaged/disenfranchised for it to be truly representative. Perhaps a bit too polarized, as well.

Yeah, it wouldn't work in the US. I'd like to see it thrown out as a hypothetical to see how people would react, though.

Which proposals are controversial to the general public there?

Text of proposed constitution, in English:


I cannot tell if a crowd-sourced consititution would be more or less likely to invent a phrase like "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"

That's the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution.

That's probably more a function of era than method. I doubt any constitution these days would be highly likely to construct such a turn of phrase.

And even there it was an odd confluence of particular circumstances. Two factors: 1) at that time, "life, liberty, and property" had become a catch phrase of sorts; but 2) Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin were both skeptical of property being a natural right (vs. a socially created right justified by other, more fundamental rights), so may have pushed for an alternate formulation (this is poorly documented and disputed).

"life, liberty, and pursuit of property", that is.

In the US at least, not nearly enough is known about Iceland's history with respect to democracy, rule of law, and arbitration. We hear about the Magna Carta but not the Althing

The Magna Carta was a founding document for principles of legal rights and property rights in common-law-based legal systems such as the U.S. Principles in the Magna Carta are still applied today in different forms. This is why American schoolchildren learn about the Magna Carta.

However, the U.S. legislative body is not based on a parliamentary system such as existed in Britain or the Iceland. While the Althing is probably historically relevant to countries which adopted the parliamentary system, it is of little to no relevance to a Congressional-based government.

FYI the idea of a parliament traces back to the royal council that first appeared in the Magna Charta. So that has nothing to do with the Althing.

However the Althing is a natural outgrowth of the Germanic tradition of a þing (usually transliterated as "thing"), which appeared in England as the wapentake. The legal traditions that were established there survived as common practice, forming the roots behind common law. Thus the Althing is closely related to the legal tradition from which we derive contracts, torts, and so on.

Remember the Jeff Bezos article that was up last week - those who are right most of the time are those who constantly update.

Having an open and living document this way is the only way to constantly update. Unlike our system where no politician is going to admit wrong.

You do realize that the US Constitution can and is updated, right? As is "our system" by which you presumably mean the US Code.

This seems to fly in the face of the whole "Veil of Ignorance" theory for creating a just constitution. It will be interesting to see if this document ends up with more or less self-serving language than constitutions written by smaller parties.

Stories about Iceland crowdsourcing it's legislation keep arising, but I have yet to see any authors talk about Iceland's incredibly small population of 300,000.

You make it sound as if that trivializes the process. But I agree that there's something to be written there. It sometimes seems to me that democratic processes around the world struggle (or fail) to scale to the number of people represented. Maybe 300k is just a good size for many of the decisions made by a legislature.

On an unrelated note, Athens during the golden age hat around 300k inhabitants. Of course, nearly half of them were slaves, and less than 10% of them got to vote.

It'd be worth rating the democratic quality of various cities and comparing their populations. The US has good number of cities that fall on both sides of that line. The results would be muddied by county/state/federal influence, obviously, but it'd be able to be suggestive.

The article says the "crowdsourced" constitution was written by 25 delegates. Legislation written Wikipedia-style would be an interesting, if scary, proposition.

Just as startups have a natural advantage to make big change due to the agility of a small group, big change will most likely come from countries with smaller populations.

Like Ghana, Costa Rica, Singapore, Dubai, Ireland, Chile, and Finland.

Like Dubai, Ghana, Singapore, Ireland, Chile, and Finland.

"technology is being used to give more normal people a say"

God bless technology. Without it we would run the risk of letting less and average normal people have a say.

It would be an interesting experiment to have a random selection of citizens formulate a hypothetical new constitution.

This is pretty scary.

The potential for abuse and fraud in a computerized referendum like this is tremendous.

Even if you trust Facebook and Twitter (which you shouldn't), they are open to being hacked and sockpuppeted.

Of course none of these risks are even mentioned in the story, as the uncritical, thoughtless media just eat it up.

The referendum wasn't computerized, only the drafting and feedback process.

These are just as subject to abuse.

Well, it was like this: 25 people were elected to serve on a council to draft a new constitution. As a part of their process, they set up a website where people could post comments and have discussion on certain articles, or the constitution in general.

There was no form of voting. Just discussion, serving as input for the deliberations of the council.

It's a nation of 300k people, of which only a fraction of course involves themselves with political discourse. I don't think there was any room for gaming or abusing the system here.

Computerized referendum? I'm not aware that it was any more computerized than anything else. Perhaps I'm not clear on what you mean. At any rate, this was a standard paper ballot deal.

Edit: I am an Icelander and cast my vote in this last Saturday.

You should check out Estonia's system.

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