If Congress Was Run by Programmers

There was a large confusion when I first decided that I wanted to read an actual law. If you try to read the text of an actual law (here’s an example of some text), it’s a bunch of really dense text which is all about what is changing in the US Code. It’s all about “adding paragraph” or “adding an additional subsection”, or “striking out this section”.

I was thinking that things would be different but still the same if programmers ran congress. The entirety of US code could be put into a single git repository. In order to propose changes, you would fork the repository and then make the changes that you need. A law in it’s current form looks a lot like a patch to the “source” of the US code.

Debate and voting could be done very similar to the github system where you would make a pull request - then amendments to the bill would be more commits which are added onto the pull request. Debate on the floor of congress would be similar to comments on that request.

Once debate and amendments are over, you could put in your voting electronically just like they do now for CSPAN and for the full count. Right now there’s someone who’s job is to make sure that the code is amended correctly - there are a lot of actual cases where the laws aren’t written correctly, and they are amending the wrong part of the code or something. It’s the Office of the Law Revision Counsel to fix them. It would be a lot easier with git, because of the automated merging.

Whether this would make the proposal, debate, and enacting of laws is another question. I like to think that it would make things a lot faster of course, because I’m a programmer and I’ve seen the fact that adding these types of “social code review” features make things a lot more clear and speed up the development cycle.

It’s also an idea for an open government project: Keep track of all of the laws which are in congress now in the form of patches to the US code, keeping track via branches in git that are continued based on the amendments to them. You could also see which laws conflict with each other by trying to merge them all together into a single “after all these laws are passed” branch.