Frequently Asked Questions

Say only a few people actually vote through the system on a particular issue. Wouldn’t it be undemocratic for a candidate to vote based on the votes of a handful of people?

When you create an account in IserveU, on any issue you choose not to engage in, a candidate will carry the weight of your vote for you. This is called deferred voting, and is very similar to the current representative democratic process. The difference between deferred voting on IserveU and the current representative democratic process is that when an issue you are passionate about comes up for a vote, you have the ability to cast your vote as you see fit. If not, the person you elect can vote on your behalf. Our system takes the strengths from both representative and direct democracy letting people engage how they want to, from people who don't want to vote outside of elections to people who want to have their say on every issue.

We expect people will rise to the challenge. Yellowknifers do generally care about their communitiy, especially when they know that their input counts. Secondly, right now all decisions are made based on individual votes by Councillors. How all councillors come to these decisions is varied and could include direct engagement with the public, chatting with friends over coffee or protecting an interest group they're a part of. The reality is all individuals have beliefs that affect their voting decisions. The current system places trust in a handful of people. IserveU wants to put more power in the hands of the many.

If someone doesn't wish to vote on issues they can defer their vote to a councillor to represent them and still have their voice heard.

Won’t it take a lot of my time to vote on every council motion?

If you voted on every decision in IserveU, it would require you to be very engaged. However, you don’t always have to vote. If an issue isn’t particularly important to you, your vote is cast by the elected councillor(s) using IserveU. IserveU provides a democratic outlet for any resident who cares about any issue, without any further obligations for issues you aren’t as passionate about.

On issues important to all Yellowknifers, there is a real possibility of large voter turnout via IserveU. In these cases, the IserveU vote would serve as a pseudo-plebiscite. While only candidates dedicated to IserveU would be compelled to lodge a vote on behalf of the masses, major voter turnout would show the rest of Council what an engaged portion of the electorate thinks about important issues.

Essentially, IserveU combines the best options of both direct democracy and representative democracy.

What happens if a candidate decides that they can’t, for whatever reason, vote the way the site has directed them to vote?

The voluntary pledges are primarily made to define roles and responsibilities and ensure both IserveU and the candidates have complete understanding everything that using IserveU will include. We are very lucky to be working with Councillor Rommel Silverio this term, who believe citizens deserve a stronger voice in decision making, and that his job as a councillor is to represent the public, even in potential situations where his personal opinions do not match the will of Yellowknifers. 

Both parties are acting in good faith, and with a clear and comprehensive pledge in place, we know we are on the same page.

So can someone vote on a decision even if they didn’t vote for the IserveU candidate?

Yes, anyone eligible to vote municipally in Yellowknife can use the IserveU platform.

In fact, we strongly encourage this, as growing the use of the IserveU service beyond its original voter base will be a determining factor in its success.

How will people register securely? What prevents people from making multiple accounts?

To keep things simple, a self-regulating vouching system will be in place requiring two Yellowknife residents to confirm your name and address. This is the same standard required to get a Canadian passport. 

IserveU will then check the information against the electoral registry. 

How do you get a public to balance its own decision making? If a balance isn't achieved you get a situation where the public votes to spend money on a bunch of improvements, but also cut mill rates.

There is already a problem with balance within the current system. Politicians often only hear from small interest groups and make questionable financial decisions frequently.

Most options to address this issue come from the administrative (staff) side of municipal government, but options can include zero-based budgeting, which requires every line item to be approved (rather than just new additions and variances), and communication with voters regarding the fiscal repercussions of spending-related decisions.

Switzerland provides a good example of how direct democracy integrates with balancing a budget. Through direct democracy (referendum) Swiss voters decide how high taxes will be and express preferences about domestic and foreign policy. Switzerland is considered a corporate tax haven, with low taxation, but their income taxes are quite average and they have the lowest public debt as a % of GDP in Europe. In fact, the closest political system to the one we wish to implement has 74% less public debt as a share of GDP.

We hope the discussion on IserveU will be as valuable as the voting. The forums available will undoubtedly contain robust discussion about fiscal issues just as day-to-day political discussions do. This certainly brings up the fact that we cannot lower revenue and increase spending without consequence. Ultimately, city administration would issue a reality check in the following year's budget if every safeguard failed, a fact many communities have already become all too familiar with under our current systems. 

Finally, budgets rarely balance, which is a large part of the reason Canada currently has the highest public debt in history through spending decided by representative democracy.

What about those people with poor computer literacy and/or minimal access to computers?

IserveU will begin with providing a few portable, touchscreen voting machines which will be available to the public at different locations around Yellowknife.

IserveU officials and Councillor Rommel Silverio will also work with the City to advocate for the public to vote on municipal issues with the partnership pf City Hall’s administration - potentially including touchscreen voting stations in the City Hall foyer with current front-line staff trained to assist anyone who has a question regarding the voting process.

Publicly available touchscreen voting machines, provided by IserveU, will allow people without computers or phones to cast votes.

But this is on the internet. Won’t this be easy to hack?

We will be adding two-factor authentication and encrypting all website traffic.

This means a hacker would have to know your password and steal your phone to access to your account. This also makes the effort to hack even just one vote quite significant. If an account is somehow compromised, real people with IserveU will help the account owner regain control of their account and reverse any votes quickly.

How will our candidates serve/make decisions on City committees?

Rommel still takes part in committee discussions and debate, just as any councillor. This is the same for in-camera (private) sessions, which are private generally because they include discussion of a privacy concern or a business’ pecuniary interest requiring discretion. IserveU is just one more tool in Rommel’s skillset that brings in additional feedback and diverse opinions, and can influence his vote on regular motions and Council items. Rommel’s opinions are still his own, and he has no trouble voicing them on committees of Council, or in in-camera meetings. 


IserveU is also working to make website tools that will allow Yellowknifers to, for instance, allocate funding recommendations for grant applicants, and have input on the 2017 budgeting process, which will bring more decisions into the public sphere in the coming years.

What if someone bribes a bunch of people for their vote?

It’s not impossible that someone could buy someone else's vote. This has been regularly documented with many current governments. The IserveU difference is you’d have to buy thousands of votes from regular people instead of just a handful from politicians.

Basically, it's unlikely anyone will be able to bribe thousands of voters without one blowing the whistle.

What if the Society went bankrupt during the term? Who maintains the system?

The society is well funded and currently staffed entirely by volunteers. By balancing our revenue with expenses, the ISU model will run continuously as a permanent society. Apart from campaign expenses, our costs are minimal and after the election we could operate for 10 years on our reserve fund alone. We are here to stay.

At this point, we will be able to operate on small donations like we are currently receiving and our code will be maintained by our dedicated team of volunteers.

How many votes does an issue need to pass?

Like the current electoral system, there is no minimum, only a requirement that the outcome of the vote produces a majority. On issues with little engagement, the decision is ultimately deferred to the councillor (by the weight of uncast votes - see "Say only a few people actually vote..." above) and they vote while considering the informed discussion presented on the IserveU site.

How long does an issue stay open to vote on?

Right now, the City of Yellowknife generally announces its Council agenda the Thursday before the Monday Council (or Municipal Services Committee) meeting. IserveU strives to have these agenda items posted on the website by Thursday evening, giving citizens the same amount of time as Councillors to discuss, debate, and decide.  

Other major issues, which do not yet have a Council vote date assigned but are major public issues, will be given a poll and ongoing public discussion well before the Council decision. This could be for issues such as (previously) whether or not to keep the Con Mine headframe, or whether to place a bid for the Canada Winter Games.

Council agenda items will be posted the same day they are made available to councillors (generally the Thursday before the Monday Council meeting), and larger community issues will be posted for non-binding polling and public discussion before the Council debate is even scheduled. 

What about tyranny of the majority?

The tyranny of the majority is when decisions made by a majority place its interests above an individual or minority group. It constitutes active oppression and, unfortunately, is inherent to democratic government. In the IserveU system this concern is mitigated further than in most democratic models. Users will be able to comment and read other comments on the issue. The most compelling arguments for either side will appear at the most prominent position on the site. This discussion portion of the platform ensures all sides are fairly represented. No matter the proportion of those for or against, you will have to face the "other side" of any issue when casting your vote.

Concern for the public's ability to vote in the public interest has been a major concern in almost every historical advancement made in the democratic process. In Canada, this was a concern when the vote was extended outside of property owners, then to women, and later, to treaty Aboriginal peoples. Those concerned with the public being unable to responsibly represent the public interest have been consistently left on the wrong side of history. 

Don't we pay politicians to be experts so we don't have to be?

Politicians are not usually experts in the subject matter, especially at the city council level where it's a part time job. The real expertise is in the institutional and professional knowledge of city staff, engineers, planners, finance officers etc. City staff recommend a course of action and the council vote on it, based largely on the professional recommendations of city staff. Many decisions over the years have been made like this including the purchase of Range Street lots and each year's city budget. The range of views and perspectives represented on an ideal city council is exactly what an eDemocracy has by default. Our system still gives candidates a strong voice and the ability to justify why they think we should make a certain decision, while also making the professional recommendations of city staff available to the public.

Our government pays highly qualified specialists to be experts; they advise the politicians and can also advise the public.

What if the total number of IserveU users only make up a small portion of eligible voters?

Wouldn’t this create a situation where a small portion of the population could force the hand of the IserveU councillors, and in effect, direct municipal decisions because too many people are not engaged through the IserveU system? 

According to the City of Yellowknife, there are currently approximately 8700 eligible voters*. The 2012 election saw roughly 49% voter turnout—4289 votes**—which is very low. As international, national, and local media coverage continues to ramp up, and our site goes live so people can see the engagement environment, we see participation in the IserveU platform eventually exceeding participation in the current form of governance.

However, during the development of IserveU we had to address the possibility of this scenario. We determined that if under any circumstance there were only a very small group of Yellowknifers that engaged on the system, we would delegate to councillors the virtual votes of all eligible voters in Yellowknife who chose not to use the system, thereby avoiding a small portion of the population forcing the hand of IserveU councillors. 

Why Do Candidates Matter?

The system is a hybrid system (see our animation for more information) so it's very important that you vote for the right candidates. Candidates cast your vote for you on the occasions that you don't care to vote, so if one of the IserveU candidates isn't someone you're happy with representing you on those decisions you might not want to vote for them.

Having said that, with IserveU councillor(s), if you ever disagree with them you can get in there and do something about it which means even a candidate you don't always agree with isn't that bad. We think the fact that the candidates are willing to give you that real influence on their decisions, tells you a lot about their character. In the future, the more IserveU councillors on Council, the more influence your vote has when you cast it.

Councillors using IserveU are important because they are representing you on the motions that you choose not to vote on and you want to make sure they are representing you well.

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