Robert Steele: Open Power Electoral Reform Revisited

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Robert David STEELE Vivas
Robert David STEELE Vivas

There is a gradual awakening occurring among groups that have been focused on individual electoral reform issues. They are not yet ready to converge and make “total electoral reform”  the litmus test for every candidate for public office, but some small signs of progress are present.Lawrence Lessig seems to be evolving away from his single issue focus on getting money out of politics, and now has a three-item Citizen Equality Act of 2017 that bring together three of the eleven items below: universal registration, tightly-drawn districts, and public funding of all qualified candidates.

The list of electoral reform has grown from eight to ten items, adding universal registration (with opt out) and open primaries to the original eight items.Below is a short summary of each of the ten, along with cautionary comments from Richard Winger. This post is intended as a starting point for further reflections and discussions and is subject to refinement as others might wish.

01 Universal Registration (with Opt-Out).

Richard Winger
Richard Winger

RICHARD WINGER: We could do as Great Britain and Canada do, and now Colorado, which is to have the government register every adult citizen that the government is aware of, and then let such newly-registered individuals opt out.Second best idea is election-day registration, although that is inferior to the first idea.  People who register on election day won’t have received voters handbooks and political advertising.

Christina Tobin
Christina Tobin

02 Free & Equal Ballot Access. This means that any candidate for any office should be able to qualify by the same standard (number of days in advance of election, number of signatures, etcetera). I had to run for President to learn that we have eight accredited national parties in the USA: Constitution, Green, Libertarian, Natural Law, Reform, and Socialist in addition to Democratic and Republican). I also learned that Congress has the power to mandate that all parties and independents have equal access to the ballot for federal office; that this law has been presented nine times, the last four by Ron Paul; and that nine times the two-party tyranny (Theresa Amato’s term from her spectacular book, GRAND ILLUSION: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny) refused to pass this law. Half of our eligible voters – 100 million of them – did not vote in 2012. Today most Latinos and Asian-Americans are registering as No Party Preference (NPP). Jimmy Carter and Princeton have made it official: the USA is not a democracy. In my view, fighting for ballot access one state at a time is foolish. Christina Tobin must be recognized as a long-standing leader on this aspect of electoral reform.

RICHARD WINGER: Saying ballot access equal doesn’t work in a country that has primaries for large parties to choose nominees.  The filing deadline for candidates running in a primary must be earlier than candidates running just in the general election.  I agree Canada and Great Britain have equal ballot access for all candidates, but there are no primaries in those countries.

03 Tightly-Drawn Districts (End Gerrymandering). The use of gerrymandering to create insanely complex districts that marginalize half the voters and assure re-election of incumbents is understood by most and being fought by some – Arizona, California, and Kentucky have seen citizen-led successes. Further conversation among citizens of this proposed provision could augment this element with a declaration of need for at large Representatives, for example for our gay and lesbian community as well as for youth and the elderly.

Lawrence Lessig
Lawrence Lessig

04 Equal Public Funding (End Corporate Funding). Lawrence Lessig has been heroic in his proponency for getting corporate money out of politics, all the more necessary after CITIZENS UNITED deepened our corruption. Others pursue this objective as well. I have to say clearly, getting money out of politics will make no difference at all if we fail to address the other elements of the Electoral Reform Act of 2015.

05 Free & Equal Media Access. Along with free & equal ballot access and getting money out of politics we must demand of our print and broadcast media – all of them without exception operating under public charters with public responsibilities – free & equal access for all qualified candidates to their audiences. Every candidate must have their hour of prime time exposure and their page of explicatory information. All candidates must be examined, interviewed, and publicized in a co-equal manner.

RICHARD WINGER: The First Amendment seems to prevent any government ability to force private news media to give equal coverage to all candidates. I know France requires that but we can’t, without a constitutIonal change.  Furthermore “media” can’t really be defined any longer anyway.  With blogs, everyone is media.

ROBERT STEELE: I respectfully disagree with Richard but want to see what others think. At a minimum we could provide a fixed budget for each candidate as well as other side by side online accommodations, and I continue to believe that “prime time” broadcast and print media must be assigned specific responsibilities they must fulfil in relation to citizen education for any election.

06 Inclusive Debates. As one who long admired the League of Women Voters for their balanced management of the presidential debates, to include third party candidates and control of the questions, not revealing them in advance, I was shocked when this body allowed the two-party tyranny to literally steal the debates from them. It is not enough, in my view, to demand expanded debates – they must be restored to the management of the League of Women Voters. It is also not enough to focus only the debates – without the other elements of the Electoral Reform Act of 2015, expanded debates are merely improved theatrics.

07 Open Primaries (or Eliminate Primaries?)

RICHARD WINGER: Every southern state except Florida and North Carolina has open primaries.  I think the south has the worst politicians in the country.  I think one look at the south, and the kinds of people who get elected, should persuade anyone that open primaries are not the best system.  What’s wrong with just eliminating primaries?  No other country has government-administered primaries for parties to choose nominees.  The US didn’t have them until the early 20th century.

08 Paper Ballots Counted Publicly on Site. The proof of electronic fraud and the ease with which electronic voting machines can be hacked is constant and compelling. Such fraud is often arranged by the parties themselves, for example, in stealing primaries from Ron Paul in 2012, as I fully anticipate primaries will be stolen from Bernie Sanders in 2016. We must demand, as a central element of the Electoral Reform Act of 2015, that most voting be done physically, with the use of paper ballot counted publicly on site. While absentee ballots are a necessary accommodation, this one measure alone will assure our small party and independent candidates of a fair chance to be elected.

RICHARD WINGER: Paper ballots all counted on site is not practical when so many ballots are now mail ballots.  There are millions of them and election authorities use vote-counting machines to count them (but keep the results secret) before voting is over.  People want to get a count on election night.  I know Great Britain counts all the votes at the central office for each House of Commons district, and they count them by hand, in front of everyone.  They can do that because there is usually only one office on the ballot, and the number of votes cast in each district is not really huge…I think it is about 20,000.  By contrast a US House of Representatives district usually has over 200,000 votes cast.

ROBERT STEELE: When I looked at running for my Congressional District, there were roughly 16,500 households. For me the bottom line is simple: whatever time is taken in casting the votes can be matched by time spent counting them publicly…and the two could run in parallel, one hourly block at a time.

09 End Winner Take All Plurality Voting. The many people I consulted on this point had many alternatives to suggest, all of which should be discussed by the public. Instant run-offs, approval voting, range voting, Condorcet voting, these are all possibilities. Of all the elements, this is the one most in need of a deep conversation among citizens.

10 End Party Line Voting, Publish Legislation in Advance, No Secret Legislation. Too few of our citizens realize that Congress no longer represents constituents. When Newt Gingrich orchestrated the destruction of Jim Wright (a story told in The Ambition and the Power: The Fall of Jim Wright : A True Story of Washington), he also converted all members into foot-soliders for their respective parties, required to vote the party line that is sold to the highest bidder (USA Today has named the 40-odd billionaires that own both parties). The situation today is so bad that Members are neither writing nor reading legislation – nor are they paying attention to emails from constituents. We literally do not matter – even when we turn out in mass to demonstrate against the TPP or Keystone, Congress ignores our will and votes as it has been paid to vote. All legislation must be published online in advance of voting, with no secret provisions, and Members must be required to poll their constituents prior to voting.

RICHARD WINGER: All legislation is already posted in advance.  All state legislature and congress put bills up on their internet pages as soon as they are introduced.

ROBERT STEELE: Not certain this is correct. Am also certain we have many secret laws (including secret provisions of trade treaties) and that all legislation should have the individual authors and consulting members clearly identified. Ideally the Act would also provide for the elimination of all lobbyists (all information to be channeled via constituents and the Congressional Research Service) and the elimination of all agents of a foreign power as factors in national decision-making.

11 Article V Constitutional Convention. There is an additional element of the Electoral Reform Act of 2015 as discussed since 2011 among many stakeholders and particularly those on the right: that of an Article V Constitutional Convention. Such a convention would address multiple issues, for example, the possible elimination of the Electoral College, the over-turning of the 17th Amendment to restore state rights to appoint their two Senators by legislative process instead of popular vote, and other matters. The two-party tyranny has been refusing to acknowledge the 34 states that have over the course of our history asked for a Constitutional Convention. It may be – subject to a national conversation and the terms of the final Act – that this is best left to 2018 or 2022.

See Also:

BOOK: Open Power: Electoral Reform Act of 2015 – Open Source Activist Tool-Kit

PAGE: Open Power Electoral Reform Home Page

ESSAY: Democracy Lost (with 100+ Book Reviews)