When Iceland decided it needed a new constitution, it took the novel approach of giving all of Iceland’s people a say. Alas, that constitution is now dead—or at the very least in a long, deep coma. The rise and fall of the world’s first crowd-sourced constitution begins in the wake Iceland’s 2008 bankruptcy, when its government decided that a new constitution was in order. (The old one is based on Denmark’s and the two countries share a somewhat tortured relationship.) And who would write it? The good people of Iceland, the government decided, as it faced widespread protests about the way the financial crisis was handled. This effort saw 950 Icelanders chosen by lottery to offer their thoughts on how the process should work. An elected constitutional council then solicited feedback from citizens through social media. The council published a draft based on this feedback.
That draft was sent to Iceland’s parliament, called the Althing (which translates to exactly what it sounds like), where it was supposed to be passed, receive voter approval in a referendum, and, ultimately, be passed again by a newly formed parliament.
But one problem with being between constitutions is that you can change the process when you want to. With elections looming on Apr. 27, the Althing was dissolved yesterday without having approved the constitution—but not before lawmakers made a few tweaks to the agreed-upon system. Now, once the new parliament approves the constitution with a super-majority, it will be put out in a referendum and Iceland’s people will have to pass it with at least 40% of eligible voters approving it, implying an 80% voter turnout. The same parliament can then put the constitution into effect, without having to be dissolved.