I like this idea a lot. The only caveat is that we could potentially be ruled by “the will of the people” in a way that degenerates into the worst kind of populism.

However, I get the feeling that if this happens often enough, in practice it would be at worst benign, and at best a net benefit to democracy.

The preferendum is a highly promising instrument for public decision-making, especially when it is preceded by a well-designed, deliberative group of citizens representative of the public at large and succeeded by clear government action. It can be integrated within existing structures of public participation and might help bridge the gap between deliberative and representative processes.

An explanation of how it would work:

At the polling station during the next general election, you get not one but two ballot papers. The first is your usual list of candidates and their political parties. The second is something new — a document with 30 different proposals that you are invited to analyze, one after the other.

Underneath each idea it says “strongly disagree,” “disagree,” “agree,” “strongly agree,” etc. It feels like one of those online questionnaires you’ve seen many times before.

At the bottom of the form, you are invited to highlight the five proposals you care about most. Every citizen in your country on voting day would be looking at the same list and doing what you are doing in the voting booth: rating and ranking proposals. The goal is to establish a list of shared priorities.

The process looks like a referendum, a process you might’ve participated in before. But where a referendum asks you for a straight yes or no answer to a certain question, this new process — this preferendum — has a much richer interface for indicating your policy preferences. You get to translate your individual preferences into the collective priorities of your community.

Source: Democracy’s Missing Link | NOEMA