People Before Parties: Recommendations for Electoral Reform

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A proposal prepared by the Political and Electoral Reform Working Group, for submission to the NYC General Assembly for consensus support

The centralization of political power in the hands of two narrow factions at all levels of government is neither democratic nor republican. No party system whatsoever is mandated by the U.S. Constitution.  Today, government of the people, by the people and for the people has been transformed into government of the people, by the parties, for the corporations.

Faced with a forced choice between a Republican and a Democrat, when there is any choice, the majority of Americans no longer vote in the majority of elections. The current party system has brought about a crisis of democracy. Bipolar party government cannot account for the diverse, multi-polar body of the US electorate. The party system has led to a crisis of representation.

The states are the laboratories of democracy. We urge 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 99% who go unrepresented by 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 or lack thereof may be –, and to curtail the influence of corporations and entrenched 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 instant runoff voting, 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.

Smaller and more localized districts.  Expansion of 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. There are alternatives.

Expansion of franchise. Those who are denied of the right to vote because they have, for example, served time in prison, should be re-enfranchised.

Term limits. Election to public office is not a lifetime appointment. Term limits should be imposed by law or by the people at the ballot box.

Ballot access reform. All should be equal before the law regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof.  Ballot access laws that favor the major parties and discriminate against independent and third party candidates should be repealed and replaced with fair and reasonable alternatives. The default state of the ballot should be open.

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

Initiatives and referenda. The people retain the right to originate ballot initiatives and referenda.

Vote counting. The reintroduction of hand counted, paper ballots, or the introduction of significant controls to protect against the rigging of electronic voting machines, which are produced, operated and serviced by corporations with significant ties to powerful political factions.

Weekend or holiday voting. Voting should be encouraged not discouraged.

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

Campaign finance. Publicly funded election campaigns, or matching fund systems that allow candidates who refuse to accept corporate donations to compete on a level playing field with candidates who are heavily financed by corporate interests.

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

This list is not exhaustive. We urge assemblies nationwide to deliberate on reforms that can open our system of government to the people and put people before parties. We urge states and localities to implement such reforms.

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This proposal was developed by the Political and Electoral Reform Working group over a period of four weeks of daily and semi-daily meetings. It contains input from dozens of individuals.  Submitted for consensus to the Political and Electoral Reform Working Group on October 23rd, 2011.

10 Responses to “People Before Parties: Recommendations for Electoral Reform”

  1. Matt stopmotion Hopard

    I have never actually met with the group, and only joined the group on the website. However, I saw this in the activity feed and was curious. I would like to say, as a member of the GA, a proud member of the Occupy movement, and someone who certainly agrees that there are serious problems with the voting system in this country, this is an excellent list of potential reforms. Very good work. If I could suggest, though I know that this seems to be only on the lower level (which is fine) an addition to this list would be an end to the electoral college which determines a future President. Good work regardless.

    • uppercaseCat

      @Matt — Smart idea. I assumed it wasn’t included here because these recommendations don’t require a change to the Constitution. It makes them better “experiments”. (I’m not a constitutional scholar, though, so if I’m wrong about the others I’d be interested to know.)

      Abolishing the electoral college would need to be proposed as an Amendment — there’s a sub group about an Article V convention to discuss just that….

  2. Ben C

    I don’t really see the point of “calling for experimentation”. Many of the things listed are tried by a number of states (e.g. term limits, fusion voting, initiatives and referenda, different vote counting methods). If something is propose to the GA, it should either be a list of grievances, or solutions. Passing a resolution of “things you might want to consider” is weak, IMO.

  3. uppercaseCat

    Why only grievances or solutions, @Ben? I agree that more is needed than suggestions — I had the same reaction when I read the first draft of this. But I think recommendations like this have their place. A few points in their favor:

    1) The media is hungry for “demands”. I think it’s powerful to send a message that there are knotty problems that won’t be simply stated and immediately fixed.

    2) At the moment, the general public (myself included) knows little to nothing about alternative voting techniques, and is ill-equipped to come to consensus about the best solution. We can actually use the experimentation to become more informed. (More broadly, I’m glad that the movement is prepared to admit that we have more questions than answers — about this topic among others.)

    3) It’s easier to build consensus about the need for change / experimentation than about the proper solution. And there’s a tremendous amount of consensus-building that needs to happen to close the gap between where we are now, and the 99% we aspire to represent.

    There’s another document on this forum, “working towards a demand…” that I think is interesting in addition to this one. I’m off to learn more about it…

    In solidarity,
    Cat

  4. Robert David STEELE Vivas

    The documents I have posted represent 30 years of effort by many people, distilled down to one page, nine points, that could be demanded. There are some clear overlaps with the above excellent list. I understand that the documents i have offered will be on the agenda on 30 October, and I will be present to interact in any way suitable.

    Separately I have started an IndieGoGo campaign to fund both an Electoral Reform Road Trip and a BigBatUSA, and will be glad to interact on those as well–ideally, like the Pony Express riders in The Postman breaking into a star, many others might be called into being riders for Electoral Reform.

    • tim

      I’m looking forward to learning more about and discussing your proposal and the Electoral Reform Act project.

  5. Jesse Ladner

    Tim et al,

    I really like the current form of this doc and would readily approve it with upraised fingers.

    But, I’m a little unclear about one thing – do we plan to include the footnotes in the document we would potentially present to the GA? If so, I think they need to be a bigger part of the discussion in the PAER group. Is there another way to handle the cites? As hyperlinks? On a “resources” page? Is there any way to make this “open source” without it falling apart?

    One thought is that it might not be a bad thing that people (like me) don’t know what each of these potential reforms is…because anyone who cares is likely to start researching some of it on their own.

    • tim

      I’ve asked for an agenda item for the Thursday meeting in which 1) I’d give a report back summarizing questions and concerns that came up about this doc on Sunday and 2) asking for a discussion about how to move forward on/with the document. Please bring up your point here in that discussion if it ends up on the agenda.

  6. Tom White

    I think we need to take a serious look at the idea of the Primary election. Why do we need to throw everyone out except the top Democrat and top Republican? Once you declare yourself as a candidate and file all the necessary paperwork, you should be on the ballot for the election you’ve declared candidacy for. Some people take longer to get their message out than others…