No IserveU in 2018 race

by Sidney Cohen - August 28, 2018

The controversial participatory democracy platform IserveU will not play a role in the Oct. 15 municipal election.

Coun. Rommel Silverio ran in 2015 on the promise of voting according to the will of IserveU voters.

The website, started by Yellowknife residents with the goal of collecting votes from constituents on matters before city council, featured prominently in the 2015 race.

But post-2015, engagement with the platform fizzled out.

In the last municipal election, three candidates for Yellowknife city council ran on the promise to vote according to the will of IserveU users, should the issue of the day achieve a critical mass of online votes from Yellowknife residents.

Of the three IserveU candidates, Coun. Rommel Silverio was the only one to win a seat.

The platform however, was slow to launch and a year and a half after the election only about 1,000 people had signed up, Silverio told Yellowknifer in April 2017.

“The promise was to use (IserveU) as a tool, and that if participation was high enough and the software was where it needed to be, then votes could be made based on that participation when the model called for it. Our team didn’t reach a point where we felt confident in that,” IserveU spokesperson Mike Westwick stated in an email on Wednesday.

“Rommel lived up to his side of the bargain,” added Westwick. “I think it’s safe to say that as volunteers, we were a little overly ambitious about what we could achieve.”

Silverio, who is seeking re-election, didn’t respond to Yellowknifer‘s repeated requests for comment.

Dane Mason, IserveU’s former communications director, also ran for city council in 2015 on the promise of voting in line with the majority on the platform.

Mason, who is again vying for a seat on city council, stepped down from IserveU’s board earlier this year.

Though he didn’t respond to Yellowknifer‘s request for a phone interview, Mason said in a Facebook message that this time around, he will not be running on IserveU.

Mason said IserveU-like platforms are being used in some European municipalities.

“The municipal governments there are partners, even drivers of opening up government, whereas here it was more adversarial,” he wrote on Thursday.

Mason has other ideas now for how to engage the broader public in council decisions.

One is to set a “citizen budget” for Yellowknife by 2020, wherein the spending of one per cent of the annual city budget would be decided by Yellowknifers.

“Participatory budgeting is a way to manage public money, and to engage people in government,” wrote Mason. “It’s a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. It enables taxpayers to work with government to make the budget decisions that affect their lives.”

As for the future of IserveU, Westwick said the organization remains active, but has changed its tactics.

“We aren’t knocking on doors making our pitch in Yellowknife anymore,” he stated. “But we are continuing our advocacy as part of the broader movement for participatory government by engaging with other folks around the globe.”