People Before Parties

People Before Parties: Recommendations For Electoral Reform

 A Proposal of the Politics and Electoral Reform Group at Occupy Wall Street

                                                 THIS IS A LIVING DOCUMENT – Consensus from 12/10/11 General Assembly

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):

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. Initiatives and referenda. The people retain the right to originate ballot initiatives and referenda and to recall any elected official.
  1. 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.
  1. Holiday voting. Voting should be encouraged not discouraged. Election day should be ruled a holiday to encourage voter turnout.
  1. Fusion voting. Parties should be able to nominate the candidates of their choice across party lines.
  1. 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. This document is not to be construed as an endorsement of any politician, party or organization.


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 4, before being presented to the NYCGA on Saturday, December 10, 2011. It was approved by consensus of the NYCGA on Saturday, December 10, 2011.


To contact the Politics and Electoral Reform group, email:

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

4 Responses to “People Before Parties”

  1. John McG

    I like it.
    On a related note, I have long advocated voting “No,” as an alternative to voting for the lessor of two evils, and am wondering if Occupy should promote the idea.
    Voting No means registering to vote, going to the polls, getting a ballot, and not choosing any candidates (or at least not any that you do not truly support). (It used to be particularly satisfying on the old NYC voting machines with the big levers but I am pretty sure it works in all elections.
    If we could get half of the people that do not vote to do this it would show in election results how little support there really is for the two parties, and show that people do care; they just don’t feel like they have a real choice.
    John McGloin

  2. Clay Shentrup

    In general, I would start of the list #1, #4, #3, #2. Why?

    #2 is of little value because independent redistricting commissions don’t work, at least not in the USA.

    This is why you need an algorithmic solution that is completely objective and un-game-able. The Shortest Splitline Algorithm is the answer:

    But an even more practical fix is to just use Proportional Representation, which has plenty of its own benefits, but also makes Gerrymandering vastly less effective.

    But… getting PR in the USA (beyond a handful of rare exceptions) will be extremely difficult until you FIRST implement Score Voting and/or Approval Voting, as a prerequisite, in order to loosen the two-party stranglehold.

    Instant Runoff Voting (the ranked voting method I assume you’re referring to when you use the generic term “ranked choice voting”) is something that I think you should really consider minimizing. While it is better than Plurality Voting, it is virtually on par with the Plurality+Runoff system that it has replaced in cities like San Francisco (my home of many years). IRV unfortunately does not solve the spoiler problem — it can still punish you for supporting your favorite candidate, unlike Score Voting and Approval Voting.

    IRV also has pretty severe complexity/confusion issues which have caused it to be repealed in four locations in the US in the past few years.

    Score Voting and Approval Voting are massively simpler and more resistant to tactical voting.

    Clay Shentrup
    The Center for Election Science
    San Francisco, CA

  3. Mike Petrucci

    In order to effect real change, you need to have the power to influence action. Occupy Wall Street has the power to counter the influence of money in the political process. Deeply research candidates running for office and select the ones that best represent your interests. Encourage supporter to vote for those candidates regardless of party, what ads say or the idea that you will waste your vote and send a message. A strong showing for a candidate that doesn’t have alot of money but has your support will show that you have power, even if they don’t win. It will serve notice that money doesn’t have total control over the process and that people matter.