People Before Parties: Recommendations for Electoral Reform – Final Consensus Document

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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 well over 100 individuals who attended group meetings in Liberty Plaza as well as many others from across the country 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.

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People Before Parties: Recommendations for Electoral Reform

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

Free and fair elections inspire good citizenship and public service.  They engage the intelligence, good will, and real interests of the people.  Free and fair elections ensure that citizens can control their own political destiny, and make genuine contributions to society through sound self-government.  Free and fair elections can remedy myriad ills and counteract the abuses of a government that has come to prey upon the resources and spirit of citizens.

The centralization of political power in the hands of two narrow political factions at all levels of government is neither democratic nor republican. Lawmakers representing these factions have rigged our electoral system to ensure their continued monopoly on public office in the United States.  No party system whatsoever is mandated by the U.S. Constitution.  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.

Whatever our political differences may be, surely on this we can agree: 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.

A vast majority of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the country is being governed.  Americans are not apathetic.  They have been demoralized by a forced choice between two corrupted political parties. The two-party system is incapable of providing adequate representation for the many diverse interests constitutive of the American electorate. This is a crisis of democracy and representation. It is a crisis of government.

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, to open our political system to the millions of people who go unrepresented by the entrenched factions.

We call for experimentation with reforms to create a level playing field for all voters and for all candidates for elected office – whatever their party affiliation may be, or whether they have none at all –, and to curtail the influence of corporations and narrow political factions over our system of government.

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 reform and begin a series of bold new experiments in democratic self-government, from the bottom up.

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Supplementary materials are being developed to provide further information about the recommendations suggested in this proposal.

4 Responses to “People Before Parties: Recommendations for Electoral Reform – Final Consensus Document”

  1. Matthew

    This is a good start, but I think we should also realize that representation does not need to look like it does now. Why should we continue with a monolithic (one person representing us in a given body), geographic (representation based on residence rather than values, beliefs, and policy positions) system of representation? If we’re going to reform the system let’s break with all prior assumptions and think deeply about what kind of system can really allow all voices to be heard.

    Elected leaders can make whatever campaign promises they want without fear of any repercussions if they do not act on them. They can change their mind in any way they wish after the election. Furthermore, we rarely agree with them on all issues. Why shouldn’t our voices be heard on *every* issue? If we must have representation it must be issue based, it must proportionally reflect the opinions of society (not be first past the post / winner take all), and it must involve binding campaign promises of some kind. Any other form of representation is a sham.

    My instinct is that we need to elect one representative per issue or policy area and the body for each must have proportional representation as an outcome of the election, and finally there must be some kind of binding mechanism for campaign promises.

    Rather than one congress, we could have multiple legislative bodies each with jurisdiction over particular policy areas. This solves many problem, not the least of which that if my representative is not in a leadership position on a relevant committee right now I am not really represented at all in that policy area.

    Currently I am currently required to prioritize issues when selecting a candidate as I am certain to never agree with any candidate on all issues. Under my proposed system I can also choose to be represented by somebody who I not only agree with, but is also well informed on each policy area. Nobody can be well informed about all policy areas. The current system guarantees my representative is relatively ignorant about many policy decisions.

    Think big! We’re only going to get one chance at this, if we get one at all.

  2. Randall Burns

    I’d place more emphasis on proportional representation. The Federal government and most states have a bicameral legislature. One of those houses could be elected using proportional representation.

    The place where this is immediately important though: the internal governance of whatever grows out of the Occupy movement. If the occupy movement elects its national assembly at least in part using proportional representation-that will be the first experiential exposure to PR many activists will ever have.

  3. FiveFingers OccupyRochester

    OccupyRochester is taking this document very seriously. We have an Electoral Reform Working Group with over 20 members and growing. We are performing our own independent research on Electoral Reform and we will be sharing our documents and actions with OWS, using this document as a baseline.