Un-Corrupting Congress: A System-Changing Solution
Last week, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) abruptly announced his intention to retire from the Senate in 2014, on the heels of Harry Reid’s failure to get the two parties to agree to reform the Senate’s notorious filibuster after the 2012 election.
According to Harkin, the failure of filibuster reform will make it “virtually impossible” for Obama to carry out his vision for his second term.
Even after a $6.5 billion election cycle, the new Congress is so little changed that it will most likely continue the partisan gridlock that has long prevented it from addressing the urgent crises facing the nation.
Failure to reform the filibuster, and scant Congressional turnover, however, are just tips of the iceberg when it comes to the fundamental problem I think we are facing: the systemic failure of the nation’s governing institutions to govern in the public interest.
The reasons they cannot do so is because key institutions like Congress have been corrupted, as retiring U.S. Senator John Kerry noted in his farewell address after his appointment as Secretary of State.
The problem is not that the lawmakers we elect are corrupt, as Kerry and Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig have astutely pointed out.
The problem is that the institutions on which they depend to get elected and pass laws corrupt them.
These corrupted institutions include, in my opinion, not only Congress but political parties, state legislatures, executive agencies and courts that promulgate laws favoring special interests over the public interest.
I do not think the 2014 Congressional elections and the 2016 presidential election will diminish the corruption of these institutions, no matter who gets elected. These elections and the laws underpinning them may actually increase it.
Nor am I convinced that system-changing reforms of the federal and state laws that have corrupted our governing institutions will be forthcoming — especially since most require legislative action by the same lawmakers who use them to get elected.
In my opinion, what is required is a system-changing solution that enables voters across the political spectrum to join forces to un-corrupt Congress directly — as well as all the other institutions in the web of corruption in which Congress is the most visibly entangled.
It is a solution that I have been working on for several years, which I have blogged about on MyFDL previously. The distressed state of our democracy prompts me to take the liberty of providing an updated overview of this solution excerpted from a website devoted to it.
While many of you may find my solution complex, it is far less complicated than the myriad electoral and legislative laws and institutions that have been engineered to obstruct voter choice.
It also has the advantage of empowering the U.S. electorate to take control of these institutions directly within a few election cycles — without having to overturn federal and state laws that have been passed by special interests to undermine popular sovereignty.
I invite those of you who read my solution below to share your thoughts as to whether you think it might work, what ideas you have for improving it, or whether there are alternatives you think will work better. I will do my best to incorporate your suggestions in future iterations.
In 2011, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued a patent for my Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS). In 2012, in a paper presented to the 12th European Conference on eGovernment, scholars refer to the web-based IVCS technology as a complex adaptive system (CAS) because it enables entire electorates to create complex systems of self-organizing voting blocs and electoral coalitions that can leap frog over the legal and institutional obstacles to the exercise of popular sovereignty that have been erected in democratic forms of government.
It empowers voters across the political spectrum to circumvent obstacles such as the institutional corruption of legislative bodies that plague modern democracies. They can mobilize the collective intelligence of their nations’ electorates to set their governments’ legislative priorities, consensually resolve disputes about what they should be, elect lawmakers who will enact their priorities, and hold them accountable at the ballot box if they fail to do so.
IVCS makes this empowerment possible by providing voters unique agenda setting, political organizing and consensus building tools that they will be able to access at reinventdemocracy.net to build nationwide decentralized networks of interconnected, voter-controlled voting blocs and electoral coalitions.
The networks’ online and offline communication capabilities, combined with IVCS tools and the large scale collective action power of the Internet, enable these blocs and coalitions to build electoral bases larger than those of any single political party so they can elect representatives of their choice.
Reed’s Law posits that the utility of large networks — particularly social networks — can scale exponentially with the size of the network. Similarly, IVCS is designed to enable electorates to create networks whose utility and political influence increases with the number of voters using the network.
IVCS’s interactive databases and data processing techniques will create unique networks comprised of large aggregates of like-minded voters with similar legislative priorities. Voters can transform these aggregates into self-organizing voting blocs and electoral coalitions with political parties of their choice, or no parties.
The blocs and coalitions can function online and offline, using technologies such as MeetUp.com to schedule online and face-to-face meetings, a combination that recent research indicates reinforces civic and political participation.
Blocs and coalitions can use the system’s agenda setting, political organizing and consensus building tools to:
- Collectively set common legislative agendas;
- Build winning transpartisan electoral bases across party lines that outnumber and outflank the electoral base of any single party or party candidate;
- Join forces with political parties of their choice to nominate and elect common slates of candidates for public office.
They can accomplish the above by using IVCS agenda setting and consensus building tools to reach out to ever larger numbers of voters across the political spectrum and engage them in negotiating common legislative agendas and slates of candidates and continue to do so until the agendas and slates appeal to enough voters to elect their candidates to office.
In the process, voters at local, state and federal levels can use voter-controlled blocs and coalitions to collectively resolve the political conflicts over legislative priorities and proposals that political parties and special interests often contrive to divide the electorate into hostile camps — in the hope of driving angered voters to the polls to elect their candidates.
These blocs and coalitions can neutralize conflict-producing political parties and replace the members of corrupted legislative bodies by using their electoral bases to get control of the undemocratic electoral and legislative processes on which they depend. They can democratize these processes and institutions without having to pass laws reforming them.
The blocs and coalitions can use their agendas as legislative mandates to oversee the work of the candidates they elect, evaluate their performance and hold them accountable at the ballot box if they fail to exert their best efforts to enact bloc and coalition agendas.
As democratic forms of government become increasingly weakened by institutional corruption and deliberate attempts to obstruct voter choice and popular sovereignty, IVCS provides unprecedented democracy-building tools accessible via a web-based platform that enable electorates to circumvent these institutions and obstructions so they can determine who runs for office, who gets elected, and what laws are passed.
Voter turnout in many countries has been reported to be on the decline for decades, even in democracies once considered robust.
U.S. voter turnout for many types of elections ranks near the bottom of industrial nations.
Voting statistics show that U.S. presidents are typically elected with less than one third of the votes of the nation’s eligible voters. In the 2012 presidential election, Barack Obama was elected with 28.6 percent of the votes of the nation’s eligible voters. (Note: the calculation is based on estimates of eligible voters rather than the voting age population, which includes individuals who are not currently eligible to vote.)
Similarly, either major party can gain control of the U.S. House of Representatives with less than one third of the votes of eligible voters. The House plays a pivotal role in the legislative process because of its exclusive power to initiate revenue bills.
In the 2012 elections, Republicans maintained their control of the House with only 26.6 percent of the votes of the nation’s eligible voters.
These low turnout rates and undemocratic legislative processes within the House and the Senate, such as their committee structures and the Senate’s filibuster, allow legislation to be framed and passed by Congressional legislators belonging to parties that gain control of these bodies with fewer than one third of the nation’s eligible voters.
Low voter turnout, minority rule and undemocratic processes are resulting in a shift toward other forms of political engagement in the U.S. and abroad. (Kulish, 2011.)
Increasing numbers of citizens are taking their dissatisfaction with unresponsive democracies into the street in the form of mass protests, occupations, strikes, boycotts, and acts of civil disobedience — with a growing minority vowing to resort to extra-legal means, if necessary, to attain their objectives.
The Interactive Voter Choice System has the potential to render such alternatives and confrontations unnecessary by providing electorates with effective levers for getting control of their governments’ electoral and legislative processes and their outcomes.
The Crux of the Problem
Low turnout percentages in the U.S. and the frequent passage of legislation by Congress that lacks widespread popular support, or is opposed by a majority of the electorate, go hand-in-hand with surveys showing that a majority of Americans:
- Believe their elected representatives do not care what they think;
- Would like to see most members of Congress replaced because they are “more interested in serving special interests than the people they represent“;
- Lack trust in government to “do the right thing”;
- Are convinced the country is “headed in the wrong direction.”
Nonetheless, the large majority of Congressional representatives remain in office, often for decades, due to numerous obstacles that prevent voters from nominating and electing candidates of their choice. (See Congressional Stagnation in the United States, Wikipedia.)
These obstacles include:
- Unfair election laws, electoral practices, and e-voting technologies, many of which favor incumbents and suppress and skew the vote;
- The gerrymandering of the large majority of Congressional districts by both major parties in state legislatures they control, in order to:
- Exclude from key districts voters unlikely to vote for their candidates;
- Prevent the emergence of competitive third parties;
- Ensure the nomination and election of major party candidates and incumbents in primary and general elections.
- Election laws that allow unlimited private financing of public campaigns by special interests in support of the candidates they back, even though these interests are ineligible to vote for the candidates and often contribute more money than eligible voters.
These obstacles interfere with the exercise of popular sovereignty in the following ways:
- Voters are usually unable to nominate and elect “insurgent” candidates to run against major party candidates in party primaries and general elections because they do not have access to the same level of campaign funding as do party candidates backed by special interests;
- The major political parties do not provide their supporters as a whole any systematic mechanism for setting party legislative agendas or the agendas of their candidates and elected representatives — relegating voters to the passive role of choosing among candidates running on agendas over which voters have virtually no influence;
- Major party candidates backed by special interests almost always defeat minority party candidates without special interest funding;
- In elections, voters feel compelled to vote for one of the major party candidates because they assume that if they vote for a third party candidate without special interest support, the candidate is bound to lose and they will have “wasted” their vote;
- Voters have few options for circumventing the foregoing obstacles to voter choice or stopping the flow of special interest money into campaigns, because incumbent lawmakers who exploit these obstacles to get elected refuse to change them, fearing they will be defeated if they do;
- Even though polls show that dissatisfied voters are a majority of the electorate, they lack mechanisms for joining together to consensually set common legislative agendas and nominate common slates of candidates in their election districts who can defeat unpopular candidates they oppose.
While critics claim that the fundamental problem at the federal level is corrupt Congressional lawmakers, legal scholars like Harvard University law professor Lawrence Lessig are of the opinion that it is the institution itself that is corrupt. (Lessig, 2010.) The institution corrupts lawmakers, not the reverse.
The reason is that most lawmakers find it impossible to get elected without private funds to finance their electoral campaigns from contributors that are not eligible voters residing in their state or election district.
These non-voting contributors tend to be large corporations that can spend large amounts of money on behalf of candidates they support. These contributors expect that if the candidates they support win, these lawmakers will enact legislation the contributors demand.
If lawmakers do not do the bidding of their contributors, they are unlikely to remain in office because the contributors will finance the campaigns of opponents who will defeat them.
It is important to note that the corruption of a legislative body like Congress contributes to the corruption of the judicial and executive branches as well. Contributors can use their campaign contributions not only to determine what legislation lawmakers pass or reject, but also to determine how lawmakers beholden to them vote on appointments of judges and regulatory officials. This leverage extends contributors’ corrupting influence to all three branches of government.
It is also important to note that the responsibility for obstructing voter choice and the exercise of popular sovereignty by corrupting governmental institutions is equally divided between state and federal levels. State legislatures and the political parties that control them contribute to institutional corruption at both the state and federal levels because they gerrymander election districts, including Congressional districts, and pass election laws that make it extremely difficult for any third party candidate to defeat candidates run by the nation’s two major parties, whether they run at state or federal levels.
The significance of this complicity between candidates, elected representatives and non-voting contributors is that it creates, according to Lessig, a “dependency relationship” unintended by the framers of the U.S. Constitution. (Lessig, 2010.)
He argues that the founders of the Republic clearly intended Congress to be “dependent upon the People alone”. However, the “private funding of public campaigns” creates within Congress a second dependency that conflicts and undermines the primary dependency between the people and their representatives that the framers strongly believed was necessary to protect the public interest from private interests.
Similarly, Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout points out that the founders were determined to create “structural limitations to the power of outside money in governmental decision-making”. (Teachout, Winter, 2009.) They adopted a variety of measures to ensure that “the great corporations of the country” would not be able to “procure the passage of a general law with a view to the promotion of their private interests”. (Teachout, March, 2009.)
And yet, campaign finance laws passed by Congress itself and court decisions issued by the Supreme Court in Citizens United versus FEC appear to have greatly magnified the dependency relationship between Congressional lawmakers and corporate campaign contributors by enabling contributors to expend unlimited sums of corporate money to influence elections and legislation.
These laws and decisions are all the more remarkable when viewed in light of the stern warnings issued not only by the founders but more than 100 years later by renowned U.S. statesmen such as Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th U.S. president. In a famous 1910 speech delivered in Osawatamie, Kansas, Roosevelt declared:
Our government, national and State, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. . . the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit. We must drive the special interests out of politics. . . .
Every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office.
The Constitution guarantees protections to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation.
The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being.
In a 1912 speech, Roosevelt called attention to the “invisible government” created by “corrupt politics” and “corrupt business”:
Political parties exist to secure responsible government and to execute the will of the people.
From these great tasks both of the old parties have turned aside. Instead of instruments to promote the general welfare, they have become the tools of corrupt interests which use them impartially to serve their selfish purposes.
Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.
To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.
Yet 100 years later, Roosevelt’s and the founders’ admonitions are repeated in 2013 by U.S. Senator John Kerry in his farewell address to the Senate after being named U.S. Secretary of State:
There is another challenge we must address — and it is the corrupting force of the vast sums of money necessary to run for office. The unending chase for money, I believe, threatens to steal our democracy itself. I’ve used the word corrupting — and I mean by it not the corruption of individuals, but a corruption of a system itself that all of us are forced to participate in against our will. The alliance of money and the interests it represents, the access it affords those who have it at the expense of those who don’t, the agenda it changes or sets by virtue of its power, is steadily silencing the voice of the vast majority of Americans who have a much harder time competing, or who can’t compete at all.
The insidious intention of that money is to set the agenda, change the agenda, block the agenda, define the agenda of Washington. How else could we possibly have a US tax code of some 76,000 pages? Ask yourself, how many Americans have their own page, their own tax break, their own special deal?
We should not resign ourselves Mr. President to a distorted system that corrodes our democracy. This is what contributes to the justified anger of the American people. They know it. They know we know it. And yet nothing happens. The truth requires that we call the corrosion of money in politics what it is: it is a form of corruption and it muzzles more Americans than it empowers, and it is an imbalance that the world has taught us can only sow the seeds of unrest.
Like the question of comity in the Senate, the influence of money in our politics also influences our credibility around the world. And so too does the difficulty, the unacceptable and extraordinary difficulty, we have in 2013 in operating the machinery of our own democracy here at home. How extraordinary and how diminishing that more than 40 years after the Voting Rights Act, so many of our fellow citizens still have great difficulty when they show up on election day to cast their vote and have their voice heard.
In spite of the same warnings issued by the framers of the U.S. constitution and eminent U.S. statesmen, the American electorate has been unable to curb the increasing dependency relationship between lawmakers, officials and special interest campaign contributors with any levers at its disposal.
When these perceptions are combined with low voter turnout, obstacles preventing voters from replacing Congressional incumbents despite majority disapproval of their performance, and undemocratic decision-making in Congress resulting in minority rule, it becomes impossible for the major parties and the nation’s elected officials to claim that they have legislative mandates expressing “the will of the people”, or that the legislation they enact represents “the will of the people.”
The Interactive Voter Choice System will free U.S. lawmakers from having to make these false claims and the American public from having to listen to them. For the system will enable lawmakers to get elected and pass the laws their constituents demand without financing their electoral campaigns with special interest campaign contributions, gerrymandering their election districts to stay in power, or passing unfair election laws to prevent competition.
U.S. electoral and legislative processes and institutions are extremely complex. They are governed by complicated state and federal laws, many of which have been passed in recent decades to obstruct voter choice and popular sovereignty.
The numerous proposals and plans to reform these laws and institutions will take years and possibly decades to pass, if they pass at all, for many require the consent of Congress itself, state legislatures and even constitutional amendments to overturn Supreme Court decisions. Enacting time-consuming piecemeal reforms is unlikely to produce the systemic change that is urgently needed.
The difficulty of effecting these reform measures makes the large scale systems-changing capabilities of IVCS the most promising solution. These capabilities place the power to institute democratizing systems change in the hands of the U.S. electorate immediately.
Voters across the political spectrum can join forces to use IVCS agenda setting, political organizing, and consensus building tools, in combination with the large scale collective action power of the Internet, to get control of electoral and legislative processes in just a few election cycles. They do not need to change unfair election laws, reverse the widespread gerrymandering of election districts, or overturn campaign finance laws favoring the private financing of public campaigns by special interests.
These tools enable voters to tap into the collective intelligence of the entire U.S. electorate to:
- Set the nation’s legislative agendas across the board, in writing, for the first time in history;
- Connect voters with similar agendas to form voting blocs and electoral coalitions with political parties of their choice, or no parties, consensually set common legislative agendas, and adopt common slates of candidates;
- Place bloc and coalition candidates on the ballot lines of any party by having bloc and coalition members who are registered in the party collect the number of signatures from registered party voters required by state election laws;
- Forge transpartisan electoral bases that cross party lines by reaching out to ever larger numbers of voters across the political spectrum and engaging them in negotiating common legislative agendas and slates of candidates until the agendas and slates appeal to enough voters to elect their candidates to office without special interest campaign funds;
- Use their blocs, coalitions and electoral bases to hold their elected representatives accountable at the polls by defeating them if they fail to exert their best efforts to enact bloc and coalition legislative agendas;
- Use their blocs, coalitions and winning electoral bases to encourage political parties to join forces with them to set common agendas and run common slates of candidates, rather than have party candidates lose to bloc and coalitions candidates at the ballot box.
They can urge political parties to use IVCS tools to empower their supporters to assume a determining role in:
- Freely setting legislative agendas across the board unfettered by the constraints of traditional ideological and party lines;
- Nominating and electing candidates of their choice who pledge to enact agendas set by party supporters as a whole;
- Forming transpartisan voter-controlled electoral coalitions with IVCS-enabled voting blocs and coalitions around collectively set legislative agendas and slates of candidates;
- Using voter-determined agendas as legislative mandates to guide and oversee the work of their candidates once they are elected to office;
- Holding the lawmakers they elect accountable at the ballot box by defeating them if they fail to exert their best efforts to enact party members’ agendas.
How the Interactive Voter Choice System Works
A primary objective of the technology and its unique interactive databases is to enable the U.S. electorate to build a new genre of political organization: voter-controlled, self-organizing voting blocs and electoral coalitions. These organizations can work with political parties as well as independent of parties.
IVCS communication capabilities and the reinventdemocracy.net website, when combined with the large scale collective action power of the Internet, enable these blocs and coalitions to spontaneously form a nationwide decentralized network of autonomous, inter-connected, voter-controlled voting blocs and coalitions.
The networks will take advantage of the complex adaptive systems capabilities of the system to adapt to the complex political landscapes of U.S. election districts and transform them from the bottom of the political system upwards.
These capabilities enable individual voters at the grassroots to join together with like-minded voters with similar legislative priorities — within and across election districts — to build and manage their own blocs and coalitions around collectively set agendas.
The capabilities enable these blocs and coalitions to build electoral bases that become large enough to nominate and elect candidates who will enact bloc and coalition agendas — and defeat candidates likely to reinforce institutional corruption by enacting their own personal legislative agendas and those of their special interest campaign contributors.
These blocs and coalitions will be able to run winning candidates even in severely gerrymandered election districts because the captive voters that political parties corral into such districts are likely to switch their allegiance to IVCS-enabled voting blocs and electoral coalitions — as soon as they learn that they can join them in setting common legislative agendas and adopting common slates of candidates to enact their agendas.
These previously captive party members will help blocs and coalitions put their candidates on the ballot lines of the members’ parties, if the blocs and coalitions choose to do so, by signing the party nominating petitions required by state election boards.
The Pivotal Democracy-Building Function of the Interactive Databases
IVCS core databases comprise the Legislative Options Database, the Legislative Priorities Database and the Election District Database.
In contrast to typical platforms of political party candidates that comprise a short list of oversimplified options, IVCS databases enable individual voters, voting blocs, and coalitions to set comprehensive legislative agendas consisting of any number of legislative priorities they select from the Legislative Options Database, or add to the database. They can also add their own options to their agendas alone.
When the Legislative Options Database is fully developed and tested, it will provide voters clear-cut generic choices expressed in commonly understood language. The options will enable virtually unlimited numbers of voters of all political persuasions to join together to negotiate consensus across partisan and party lines regarding a broad spectrum of mainstream options that they select from the database and/or add to it.
They can annotate the options they choose and email their agendas to internal recipients registered on the reinventdemocracy.net website, and also to external recipients such as their elected representatives.
Voters can request their representatives to set their own legislative agendas using the website’s Legislative Options Database, and email their agendas to voters for comparison with their own. Voters can evaluate their representatives’ stances, pressure them to enact voters’ priorities, and decide whether their representatives’ legislative agendas and track records merit their votes for re-election.
After users submit their agendas to the Legislative Priorities Database, they are entitled to query the database to identify and contact voters in specified ZIP Codes and election districts whose agendas contain similar priorities or clusters of priorities.
Any voter, voting bloc or electoral coalition registered on the website that sets legislative agendas using this database, and transmits their agendas to the priorities database, can use the priorities database to identify and connect with like-minded voters, blocs and coalitions registered on the website.
If they decide to join forces to run candidates in U.S. election districts, e.g. Congressional districts, they can access the Election District Database to gather and integrate into their own databases strategic intelligence that will help them get their candidates elected.
Blocs and coalitions can increase their voting strength by using IVCS databases, data processing capabilities and consensus building tools to merge with other blocs and coalitions with similar agendas to set common legislative agendas and adopt common slates of candidates and action plans. They can also invite external participants, such as political parties, voter mobilization groups and other organizations, to join their blocs and coalitions so they can make these vital decisions collectively.
Large Scale Voter-Driven Consensus Building
Although the 535 members of Congress claim to represent the nation’s electorate of 200,000,000+ eligible voters, there is no systematic mechanism by which these voters can tell these lawmakers and their political parties what their legislative priorities are, across the board.
Parties, candidates and incumbents conduct surveys, but the small number of voters surveyed are passive respondents who do not frame the limited number of questions they are asked. Responding to questions is not the equivalent of voters’ setting their own legislative agendas across the board and using them to drive a nation’s electoral and legislative processes, as IVCS permits them to do.
By preventing voters from determining party, candidate and elected lawmakers’ legislative agendas, Congressional representatives are thus free to set their legislative agendas on the basis of their personal preferences, the demands of their special interest campaign contributors, and what they claim to be the priorities of their constituents.
Given this loose connection between voters and lawmakers, it is difficult for 535 lawmakers to claim they represent 200,000,000+ eligible voters who have no means of expressing their legislative priorities, face nearly insurmountable hurdles in nominating their own candidates, and are compelled to choose among candidates who place themselves on the ballot and run on vague platforms over which voters have virtually no control.
Most voters reject such claims. Countless polls indicate that the large majority of the U.S. electorate does not feel that the nation’s lawmakers represent them or that the legislation lawmakers pass is related to mandates voters have given them.
Fortunately, this virtual disconnect between the U.S. electorate and their representatives can be surmounted by IVCS’s capacity to enable entire electorates to bring their collective intelligence to bear in prioritizing, framing and implementing legislative priorities.
Its interactive databases, modern electronic data processing technologies and agenda setting, political organizing, and consensus building tools enable the U.S. electorate to provide the nation’s 535 Congressional representatives written legislative mandates across the board when they run for office and after they are elected.
These mandates, however, will represent far more than an enumeration and summation of individual priorities. They will be the result of large scale voter-driven consensus building in which voters reconcile divergent and even conflicting priorities by negotiating common legislative agendas that reflect the views of millions of voters. Large scale electronic data processing technologies enable IVCS to facilitate the formulation of common agendas by entire electorates.
The system’s Legislative Options Database and Legislative Priorities Database will enable large scale collective agenda setting by electorates in the U.S. (and subsequently, on a country-by-country basis abroad) because they enable large numbers of interacting voters to overcome typical differences in the way people conceptualize their legislative priorities and the terms they use to articulate them.
These databases and tools enable voters to collectively negotiate common agendas despite initial differences in their political stances, as well as terminological and linguistic differences in the way they articulate their legislative priorities.
The databases and tools also enable individual voters to overcome the barriers to political consensus building that have traditionally hampered individual unorganized voters and resulted in the emergence of political parties that are run from the top down by party officials, rather than from the bottom up by party supporters.
This classic consensus building dilemma that ultimately disempowers individual voters is the cause of what classical scholars such as German sociologist Robert Michels referred to in 1911 as the Iron Law of Oligarchy — the transformation of political parties into institutions run from the top down by political elites rather than the bottom up by party members.
The same stumbling block prevents dissatisfied U.S. voters residing in the same election district from banding together in voting blocs and coalitions large enough to run and elect candidates of their choice, and defeat incumbents that the majority opposes.
IVCS enables voters to surmount this classic consensus-building dilemma with a simple solution. It consists of a comprehensive database of 104 mainstream legislative options that cross the political spectrum. Voters can select their priorities from the database, add to it, and connect with voters who select similar priorities.
To help voters find and recall where options are located in the database, the 104 basic options are visually displayed on cards in two decks of playing cards. The options are divided into eight themes and stored in the Legislative Options Database. (Needless to say, when the platform is internationalized, the content of the options will be customized on a country-by-country basis by knowledgeable experts.)
Each individual voter can choose their preferred options from the database, add options to a separate pool of voter-generated options, and write comments on the options they choose so their choices reflect their own needs, specific circumstances, and recommendations.
The databases are unique not only because they enable voters to set individual and collective agendas in writing for the first time in history, but because they enable electorates to use them as written legislative mandates to drive an entire nation’s electoral and legislative processes and determine their outcomes.
The databases will put an end to the anomalous situation in which Congressional representatives claim to have legislative mandates from their constituents — without actually having any — and lawmakers representing a small minority of the electorate pass legislation in the name of the American people as a whole — even when most Americans oppose it.
Large Scale Voter-Driven Conflict Resolution
The databases are also unique in their capability to enable the U.S. electorate to play a decisive role in resolving substantive political conflicts. These conflicts include those that emerge spontaneously and those that are artificially contrived by political parties and their candidates. Parties and candidates contrive these conflicts in order to win elections by dividing voters along partisan and ideological lines.
This artificial conflict-producing practice persists despite statistics indicating that increasing numbers of voters — approaching 40% of all voters — refuse to register in either of the nation’s two major parties and espouse transpartisan agendas that cross party lines. (For an analysis of the trend towards transpartisanship, see Beyond Red and Blue, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, May 4, 2011.)
To surmount these conflicts, IVCS’s interactive databases enable voters to form voting blocs and coalitions whose members can continue negotiating which priorities they wish to include in common transpartisan agendas until their agendas appeal to larger cross-sections of voters than those of any party. By resolving conflicts and legislative stalemates contrived by political parties for political gain, voters can forge winning transpartisan electoral bases larger than the electoral base of any single political party and run candidates who can defeat party candidates.
The ability of blocs and coalitions to win elections without aligning with political parties will hopefully encourage political parties to join these coalitions and provide their members the opportunity to collaborate with bloc and coalition members to collectively set common legislative agendas and adopt common slates of candidates. Such a giant leap-forward in consensus building has the potential to end the legislative stalemates between the nation’s two major political parties that are preventing Congress from devising workable solutions to the serial crises facing the nation.
The unique capabilities of the databases to promote large scale consensus building and conflict-resolution cannot be overstated. Their capacity to enable entire electorates to develop a highly sophisticated and comprehensive collective intelligence about the whole spectrum of a nation’s legislative priorities fundamentally alters the way democratic forms of government set and implement their priorities.
Millions of engaged citizens and voters organized in voting blocs and electoral coalitions devoted to evaluating, framing, and overseeing the enactment and implementation of a nation’s legislation is far more desirable than leaving these precious tasks of a democracy to a few hundred legislators, with the large majority beholden to special interest campaign contributors.
To facilitate the development of this collective intelligence, the Legislative Options Database comprises options that are diametrically opposed to each other. Each option contains links to online information that voters can access to evaluate their pros and cons. The system’s voting utility, and its communications and data processing capabilities, enable virtually unlimited numbers of voting bloc and electoral coalition members to actively engage in reconciling major and minor policy differences. They can discuss, debate and vote on which options they wish to include in collectively set agendas until they forge a larger electoral base than any political party, and can run candidates who can defeat those of any single party.
It should be noted that voters can use the voting utility to vote on any decisions they wish. For example, they can vote on whether to build and merge blocs and coalitions, which candidates they wish to nominate and support, and how they wish to manage their blocs and coalitions and make collective decisions.
Undemocratically-run blocs and coalitions will prompt an exodus of their members to join or build competing blocs and coalitions.
The self-organizing, self-governing capabilities enjoyed by electorates that use IVCS will ensure that the democracies they build and re-build will be controlled by nationwide decentralized networks of autonomous voting blocs and electoral coalitions that are run from the bottom up by their members.
Nancy Bordier, Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS). U.S. Patent 7,953,628, issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, May 31, 2011.
Eliza Newlin Carney, Voters Blame Both Parties for Big Money in Politics, October 1, 2012.
Congressional Stagnation in the United States, Wikipedia.
John Kerry, Text of John Kerry’s farewell speech, Boston Globe, January 30, 2013.
Adam Lioz and Blair Bowie, Billion-Dollar Democracy: The Unprecedented Role of Money in the 2012 Elections, Demos, January 17, 2013.
Nicholas Kulish, As Scorn for Vote Grows, Protests Surge Around Globe, New York Times, 2011.
Lawrence Lessig, Democracy After Citizens United, Boston Review, September/October, 2010.
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