Crowdsourcing a Constitution


Iceland is rewriting its constitution through 21st century methods -- social media. Last year Iceland elected 25 people to sit on a constitutional council. Upon meeting, the council opened the process to the nation's 320,000 citizens via a website, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. Being that over two thirds of Icelanders are on Facebook, most citizens can easily voice opinions regarding their future governing document.

“It is possible to register through other means, but most of the discussion takes place via Facebook,” Berghildur Bernhardsdottir, spokeswoman for the constitutional review project, told the Associated Press. “The sort of argumentative and negative discussion that has been common on Icelandic blogs and news sites, especially since the economic collapse, has been almost entirely absent.”

The council is also streaming its weekly addresses during which registered citizens can make comments and interact with one another. Through these methods social media is not only helping shape the document, it’s creating an accurate historical record of the process, debates, and discussions pertaining to each law to be included. For the first time in history direct democracy directly shaping legislation.

So far numerous ideas have been flooding in such as providing substantial healthcare, making corporate campaign contributions illegal, and new regulations pertaining to the fishing industry. As ideas are presented, the council is opening up further discussions under each topic and weighing how important each idea is to the public.

Iceland gained independence from Denmark in 1944.  Although Iceland has long been one of the most progressive nations in the world (Iceland recognized civil partnerships for gays and lesbians in 1996, for instance) its constitution was  Denmark’s, only with word substitutions such as switching “king” to “president.” It has long been anticipated that a comprehensive review of the constitution would take place since Iceland’s independence, now it’s finally underway. Shortly after the economic crisis of 2008, when, within a week Iceland’s dominant banks collapsed, the krona plummeted, and protests toppled the government many Icelanders felt it was about time to pen an original constitution.

Here in the US we have the oldest written constitution of any democracy in the world, and in over two hundred years it has only been amended twenty-seven times. It was written in 1987, behind drawn shades, by 39 people initially intending to amend the constitution that was in place but deemed out of date, the Articles of Confederation. At the time America consisted of 13 states. Congress had 26 senators and 65 representatives, most of who owned slaves. The entire population was about four million people, that's one percent of today's.  America was a pre-cotton gin agricultural society, with no industry; the flush toilet was the latest technological feat.

That is not to say that the US constitution is not an exceptional work and a shining historical expression of liberty. But just because it holds such prestige doesn’t mean that it is current or even democratic. Two particular aspects of the constitution are extremely undemocratic: the Electoral College and the senate.

The Electoral College has spread apathy by making votes unequal and in some cases, ineffective. Unequivocally empowering scarcely populated states over the voice of the economic base of this nation, its citizens, would be unacceptable if some people didn't already feel the system is too broken to be fixed. Currently, in the presidential election, one person’s vote in Wyoming is worth 4 people’s votes in California.

Further more, Presidents only campaign in roughly five to seven major states, usually the ones they may be able to sway. Texas always goes Republican so rarely will a Democrat go there because the individuals don't matter, it's winning the state that's important.

In regards to the Senate, Delaware’s 885,122 people have representation equal to California’s 37,341,989, people. In the information age, and following a 140-year trend towards urban migration, this is especially absurd.

You might think that Iceland doesn't have any reason to be proud of its political traditions in the same way that the United States does. Well, think again.

Iceland is home to the world's oldest parliament still in existence, the Althing, established in 930 A.D. The rocky ledge on which they gathered represents the beginning of representative government in the world. Iceland reveres its history, and yet it's willing to revise its constitution to meet the Island's contemporary needs. Perhaps if we don't learn their process we're solidifying our fate to fall as Rome once did.