Democracy Is Hard

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Marnie Webb says that steps to make voting simpler are understandable but miss one important truth: Democracy is hard work.

My entire voting life has been spent in California. Our legislative process has given me reams of paper to sort through. I haven’t always done it well. Or at all.

My wife, a local high school teacher, brings home her students complaints about voting: the ballot is written with words I don’t use, how do I trust any of this information And the most damning: This is boring and doesn’t fit into my life, with my need to make money, translate for my parents, graduate. They want a simpler and more straightforward way to exercise their franchise, something clear-cut and easy to navigate.

A month ago, I agreed.

Not now.


I attended a trio of conferences in different countries: about library innovation, open data, and civic technologies

Common across the events was the need to create spaces and methods for genuine engagement, the idea of “civic” as a process that brings us together to discuss, to compromise, to change our minds, to hold our ground, to learn, to be influenced, and to influence.

What our challenge is to support and build the infrastructure of civic-ness.

That infrastructure would bring diverse groups of people together in places like libraries to have issue-based conversations. Students and others could be taught to moderate and facilitate conversations about issues they care about and link those conversations to specific civic and democratic steps they can take to address them.

And perhaps most importantly we could use those conversations as an opportunity not just to talk but to listen, to embrace complexity and to engage in the messy process of governing in a large and diverse world.

Ballots are confusing, decision-making is complex, public opinion is messy. It’s hard because democracy is hard. We cannot — we must not — reduce it

With a Perspective, I’m Marnie Webb.

Marnie Webb works for a San Francisco nonprofit and lives in Berkeley.