People Before Parties Document, Edited Version for Presentation at GA, December 2011

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People Before Parties: Recommendations for Electoral Reform

A proposal of the Politics and Electoral Reform group at Occupy Wall Street

Government of the people, by the people and for the people has been transformed into government of the people, by the parties, for entrenched interests. The centralization of political power in the hands of two narrow political factions at all levels of government is neither democratic nor republican. No party system whatsoever is mandated by the U.S. Constitution. The two-party system is incapable of providing adequate representation for the many diverse interests constitutive of the American electorate. Lawmakers representing these entrenched factions have rigged our electoral system to ensure their continued monopoly on public office in the United States. Our government does not represent the interests or will of the people. It is time to institute free and fair elections in the United States.

In the federal system, the states are the laboratories of democracy. We urge the people of states, localities, and General Assemblies nationwide to begin a series of bold new experiments in democratic self-government. We urge assemblies across the country to deliberate on radical reforms that can help break the ruling political monopoly in government through free and fair elections, and put people before parties. We urge the people of states, localities and general assemblies nationwide to demand the implementation of electoral reform and begin a series of bold new experiments in democratic self-government, from the bottom up.

We recommend experimentation with (in no particular order):

Alternative voting methods. Our voting systems should promote honest participatory democracy.  There are alternatives to plurality voting, such as ranked choice voting, approval voting and range voting, liquid democracy and so on.

Independent, nonpartisan redistricting. Voters should choose their representatives, lawmakers should not choose their own voters.  A bipartisan commission is not a non-partisan commission.  Independent council and computer drawn districts can remove partisan bias from the redistricting process.

Smaller and more localized districts.  It is time to expand the number of representatives in local and state government and in the House of Representatives. This will ensure a closer relationship between the people and their elected officials, putting the latter on a shorter leash.

Proportional representation. Winner-take-all, single member district plurality voting has allowed narrow political factions to wield disproportionate influence within our system of government.  Proportional representation has been used in the United States in the past to break up party monopolies.  It can be implemented again.

Expansion of franchise.  Laws that restrict the right to vote should be repealed.  Those who are denied the right to vote because they have, for example, served time in prison, should be re-enfranchised. Participation can be encouraged through simple reforms such as election day voter registration.

Term limits. Election to public office is not a lifetime appointment.  Fortunately, the people need not wait for officials to implement laws limiting their own terms.  The people can impose term limits at any election by voting for alternatives to the representatives of the entrenched factions.

Ballot access reform.  Ballot access laws that favor the major parties and discriminate against independent and third party candidates, which are common in all fifty states, should be repealed and replaced with fair and reasonable alternatives. The default state of the ballot should be open.

Primary election reform. A public election should be open to the public.  If parties desire to hold closed primary elections, they can provide for their own caucuses or conventions.

• Initiatives and referenda. The people retain the right to originate ballot initiatives and referenda and to recall any elected official.

Vote counting.  Electronic voting machines are produced, operated and serviced by a small number of corporations with significant ties to powerful political factions.  Unless there are significant controls to protect against the rigging of such machines, hand-counted paper ballots should be re-introduced into our voting systems.

Holiday voting. Voting should be encouraged not discouraged.  Election day should be ruled a holiday to encourage voter turnout.

Fusion voting. Parties should be able to nominate the candidates of their choice across party lines.

Combination and synthesis. A liquid democratic primary with an instant runoff between the top four candidates from the primary in the general election. Countless other possibilities.

This list is not exhaustive.

We urge assemblies across the country to deliberate on reforms that can help break the ruling political monopoly in government through free and fair elections, and put people before parties. We urge the people of states, localities and general assemblies nationwide to demand the implementation of electoral reforms and begin a series of bold new experiments in democratic self-government, from the bottom up.

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This proposal was developed by the Politics and Electoral Reform group at Occupy Wall Street between September and November 2011. It contains input from nearly 200 individuals who attended group meetings at Occupy Wall Street as well as others from across the country and around the world who influenced the proposal through online discussions.  The document was produced through a collaborative writing process.  It was approved by the Politics and Electoral Reform group with full consensus support on November 6, 2011. It was further edited, by consensus decision of the group on December 4th, before being presented to the NYCGA. 

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To contact the Politics and Electoral Reform group, email: politicsandelectoralreform@gmail.com

To attend a group meeting, join us in the public atrium at 60 Wall Street, Sundays at 3pm and Thursdays at 8pm.

10 Responses to “People Before Parties Document, Edited Version for Presentation at GA, December 2011”

  1. Anne

    So, this is going to be presented to the GA for discussion Saturday, as I remember, and then for consensus on Tuesday Dec. 13?

  2. Stefan Agapie

    The document sounds great! It’s well written; it’s concise and it clearly communicates some of the important things that PAER working group is striving for–a more democratic system of self-governance. Good job to
    Tim and to the many contributors of this document.

  3. Susan

    It has Hand_Counted Paper Ballots, YES! I think that is the foundation and entry point for the change we would like to see. Thank You!
    I would like to see the “Unless there are significant controls to protect against the rigging of such machines” removed as this leaves it wide open to interpretation and I can assure you that audits and open source will do nothing to protect the vote count. “VerifiedVoting” promoted “significant controls” and they are not enough. The ballots must be counted at the polling location the night of the election because we have seen that there is no real ballot security once the ballots have left the polling place.
    Again, Thank You!

  4. thinking7

    I scanned this and most looks excellent.

    Though, I think “Fusion Voting” doesn’t make sense with the other lists. Most of the other ones clearly enfranchise people. Fusion Voting is a strategy, that has its good and bad points. And, it mostly benefits specific, third parties, more than actual human beings.

    In New York, Fusion Voting has created many problems. Because “The Green Party” “The Working Families Party” and “The Independence Party” can cross endorse candidates, the major party candidates and campaigns sometimes put pressure on the minor parties, or even send spies. Allowing Fusion creates a power mass that harms small organizations.

    The old “Liberal Party” in New York was a typical example of another problem with fusion: The small parties can become endorsement mills, that trade their voters for patronage jobs for party leaders.

    I truly think that “Fusion” should be taken off this list. I don’t like it. But, if it is a good strategy to support sometimes, it does not seem on the same level — of obvious usefulness, and of clear help to voters — as the other changes suggested on this list.

    Thanks,
    Thinking7/Kimberly Wilder
    former Green Party enrollee, currently “blank”, and a third party activist

  5. j anthony

    Really nice work on this! I like the way it works from the ground up. And as an independent I want to be able to vote for individuals. Does ‘free and fair’ elections mean public financing, or some alternative? Also how do you deal with lobbying? I think election reform without the abolition of lobbying in its current form is a dead end. Also what about the role of media–access and corporate media dominance of electoral processes? Necessary alternatives don’t always replace obsolete monsters. Often the obsolete monsters just stick around and eventually eat them.

  6. Formerly Nobody Important

    @Tim – I don’t see any mention of removing corporate or big money from the electoral or legislative processes. I see other issues like smaller voting blocks by smaller “Smaller and more localized districts”. To me, I would rather be a part of the big picture instead of fighting for a little piece of the pie.

    Other things don’t seem to be fair either. “ranked choice voting”… Can I vote against somebody and have my negative vote counted against that candidate????

    It is a winner take all system, democracy is a majority voting system. You have to educate people and remove their ignorance and prejudice instead of trying to regulate that ignorance and prejudice.

    Just a thought.

    • tim

      For issues related to the problems associated with campaign financing, see the two subgroups of PER specifically devoted to that issue. Campaign finance was originally included in this document but removed so that it could be treated separately because it is such an important issue.

      In ranked choice voting, you rank your top three choices for a given office in your order of preference.

      Under proportional representation, which is also above, there would no longer be a winner take all system.

      • Susan

        Tim, I have experienced rank choice voting first hand and there are some major issues and concerns that should be addresses with that form of voting. After the “test” rank choice elections that were certified I have nothing good to say about that form of voting. This is after I spent years thinking rank choice voting sounded like a good idea.
        I am looking at this form of Direct Representation.
        http://www.directrep.info/
        There is a lot to think about an consider, thanks for all you and others here are doing.

  7. John Jaye

    Excellent document – I’m circulating the updated doc to our PStrat group in Albany.

    To reiterate my concern last night – I understand the reasoning behind why campaign finance reform was removed from this document, however I don’t agree with it. I heartily support that the issue is being worked on separately from this doc, but that shouldn’t imho mean that it be removed as an item from this doc… it seems to confuse the issue, and will make many people concerned as to why it doesn’t seem to be address… ie that issue being focused on and that issue being in this doc should not be mutually exclusive.

    Sorry if my comment is too late, but just wanted to put that on the table.