The people of Taiwan, for example, had their first opportunity to vote for a president. Haitians had the chance to re-establish a semblance of order, returning to the democratic process. In Russia, the people advanced their fledgling electoral system, evolving the democratic process. And in the upcoming United States election, voters will be participating in the oldest democratic process in modern times.
Although these elections support peaceful, democratic change, the electorates' voices rise only to address perceived national concerns. We need to extend the right to vote to the global level. We have the right to determine and then act upon issues that affect the world and humanity as a whole, such as the environment, economics, technology and conflict resolution. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in Article 21(3), affirms the right to vote: "The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures."
Elections and voting bring everyone into the process of making and enforcing law. The electoral process demonstrates the sovereignty of individuals who decide on real world issues and who then act upon what they voted. By voting, we can enforce our political will, like a court upholding a contract between individuals who have agreed upon a joint course of action.
To bring voting to the global level, we need world forums in which people can fully express their views. World referenda allow individuals to express their sovereignty both horizontally and vertically.
In other words, on the horizontal plane in national voting, some people have complete access to the voting process while others have no access. In global voting, all humans will have equal opportunity to enter the arena of political decision-making. On the vertical plane in national voting, people are limited to deciding local or regional issues. In global voting, people can decide on issues that affect the planet as a whole.
Matt Shermer, founder of the World Referendum Association, is the author of "You Must Run the World" and a long-time proponent of the world referendum concept. He argues that democracy must be extended by empowering all humans to participate in voting on "life-or-death issues" of humanity and the earth. Shermer writes, "Referendum voting by the world's people on international issues can serve to point a new direction . . . toward peace instead of war, away from dissension toward unity. The world's biggest stumbling block -national sovereignty-can be by-passed through use of the referendum method."
Through the borderless cyberspace of the Internet, all humans potentially can vote on the issues that affect us as a species. (Of course, universal access to the voting process will only occur once everyone's basic needs are fulfilled.) On its World Citizen Web site at https://worldcitizen.org, the World Government of World Citizens has already established an on-line world referendum. The referendum covers issues such as, "Do you wish to enjoy a healthy global environment?" and "Do you want nuclear weapons to be declared illegal?" Of the seventy-five people who have so far voted, all marked "yes" to a healthy global environment. Of the twenty-six persons who have thus far voted on the illegality of nuclear weapons, three persons voted against declaring them illegal. The overwhelming majority of those participating in this world referendum have thus favored world law, that is, outlawing nuclear weapons and war and supporting individual participation in global issues.
Voting and elections are alternative forms of conflict resolution, as opposed to war. As a peaceful way of deciding how to govern ourselves, voting entails debating options, planning for the future, and choosing our priorities as a society. However, without adequate opportunities for people to participate in pre-referendum debate, voting at the global level could be marred by an oppressive majority. How do we counteract a majority rule that is in violation of rights of a minority? How do we temper the voting and elections process with affirmative global action to protect silent majorities or, once everyone is on-line, minorities? It is a function of democratically enforcing human rights law.
Proactive global action can fully implement Articles 1 and 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They state, respectively, that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights" and that "everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized."
A primary goal of proactive global action would be to eliminate illiteracy because only voters who can weigh the advantages and disadvantages of proposed legislation will be able to incorporate their knowledge into an educated vote.
We are entering the era of self-representation. Each person can maintain her or his own Web site on the Internet in which political views of any sort can be expressed. We are moving away from the national political mode to that of the individual linked directly with global politics. Through world referenda, we will voice our support for holistic decision-making agendas. Instead of merely voting for individuals to represent us, we will be able to represent ourselves.
Elections in the 21st century, then, will be about choosing individuals whose roles are not so much to decide what programs to sponsor, what bills or statutes to pass, or what investigations to conduct, but who will actually implement our projects, laws or investigations.
As everyone enters the voting process-as we all become legislators-our elections will be about executing our needs and desires. Perhaps representatives will continue to debate the issues and then every political party will present to the public a cost/benefit analysis of each proposal, leaving the final vote on implementation to the public. Thus, representatives will have a three-fold obligation to facilitate public debate on the issues, present advantages and disadvantages of various options, and enforce the public will. In this way, global government leaders will maintain responsibility to the world public rather than authority over it since the authority will still reside among the people.
Yet, where will the checks and balances be in this system? Will the free flow of ideas in the political marketplace ensure that one segment of the population will not take advantage of another segment? Here is where a global judicial system will be empowered to aggressively defend the rights of minority viewpoints-to adjudicate and help balance the inequities of a purely democratic system in which majority viewpoints generally rule.
As an adjunct to a global judiciary, a consensus building system will have to be created. to include arbitration, mediation, negotiation and other methods of alternative dispute resolution. One of these alternatives might include ombudspersons, who may intervene in conflicts to provide a third-party, non-vested interest viewpoint and to make sure that the rights of persons with minority views are respected.
Since it will express our local and global needs, global voting will become a boon to freedom of expression, as well as to the right to engage in the political process. Elections will be about ideas, implementation and action rather than about personalities, political favors and the almighty pocketbook.
David Gallup is the General Counsel of the World Service Authority.