Finland Flirts With Crowd Sourced Legislative Initiatives

We brought you timely news about Iceland’s crowd-sourcing of constitutional reform. Now we invite you to look at what Finland is trying. This time it’s not the constitution but rather legislative initiatives that well up from the citizenry. A project called Avoin Ministeriö (Open Ministry) funded by the Ministry of Public Affairs invites citizens to place a legislative proposal online, where others can then vote to approve or disapprove of the idea. A successful idea will be put before the legislature.

The Slate magazine story on this experiment explains “success” this way:

Each suggested law gets six months to gather traction. Whether the majority is in favor or not doesn’t matter, as anything with 50,000 total shares (likes or dislikes) moves on to the next, official round of voting.

In my own exploration of the Finnish site I’ve been unable to find references to a second round of voting, but I’m hampered by having to rely on machine translation. I also wonder if Slate is right when it says “dislikes” count towards pushing an initiative over the hurdle: it seems illogical, if you consider a crank or hateful proposal that’s roundly trounced by the public. The critical passage in Finnish is:

Silloin alkaa kansalaisaloitelain mukainen kuuden kuukauden mittainen ajanjakso, jonka aikana aloitteelle pitää kerätä vähintään 50.000 sähköistä ja/tai paperista tuenilmaisua.

which Google and Bing, respectively, translate as follows:

This will result in a citizens’ initiative at the six-month period during which the initiative must collect at least 50,000 electronic and / or paper on the expression.

From time to time in accordance with the law citizens ‘ initiative begins a six month-long period, during which time the initiative must collect at least 50,000 electronic and/or paper support.

I’d welcome clarification from any Finns who come across this.

At the moment the only initiative that is bound for the legislature is a proposal to ban farming of animals for fur. All other suggested initiatives (e.g. banning sale of energy drinks to children, limiting government debt, obligation to place married couples in the same retirement or nursing home) are on track to fail at the six month point, according to the helpful dynamic calculations that appear in a sidebar, setting out the relevant numbers and rates.

I’m uncertain about whether this sort of crowd sourcing of law would be a Good Thing in Canada or not: California’s experience with popular initiatives hasn’t been a great success, it seems to me. At any rate, if we tried a similar thing here, our barrier, if set proportionately to Finland’s population of five million, would be around 300,000 votes of support.

Is there any appetite out there for this sortie into direct democracy? If you’re keen, you will soon find the open source software behind Open Ministry up on GitHub; the mobile version is already there but the online version has been taken down temporarily for a bug fix.

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