It sounds like one of those fake causes on Facebook: “If this law I made up gets 50,000 likes, Congress will have to vote on it.”
But in Finland, such a system is now a reality.
In accordance with a law passed in March and a recently launched website, Open Ministry, any Finland resident can now login and propose a new bill. And if 49,999 fellow citizens add their name to it, the Finnish Parliament will have to vote on whether or not to pass it.
To make sure users only get one vote, citizens’ accounts are matched with their bank or cell phone accounts.
Finland already has a high voter participation rate: more than two-thirds of its 4.2 million eligible voters participated in the 2011 elections. And they’ve already gotten started collecting votes for new bills, like one to legalize gay marriage, an issue that a majority of Finns support but went largely unmentioned in last year’s elections.
The United States already has a somewhat similar, but considerably less successful, system. In 2011, President Obama launched We The People, a website where anyone can submit a proposal to the president, again with a required goal of 50,000 online signatures.
For a successful petition in the U.S., however, the president is simply required to address the topic in some capacity; there’s no actual requirement the government to take any action. Obama has so far responded to 82 petitions, which range from addressing human rights violations in Sri Lanka to requesting that the Army no longer use monkeys in training exercises.
In fact, the White House was forced to respond to a We the People petition demanding that the Obama Administration take We the People petitions seriously. (The White House responded: "We're listening. Seriously.")
By contrast, Finnish elected officials might soon find themselves forced to vote on a range of issues they might never have brought up—from keeping energy drinks out of the hands out of kids younger than 16 to repealing the tax on owning a dog.
Photo of Finnish Parliament via Wikimedia Commons