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