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Submitted by info on Fri, 09/24/2010 - 23:08
Electoral Reform that Creates a Vibrant, Active, Participatory Democracy
Our democracy is in a descending crisis. Voter turnout is among the lowest in the western world, and America ranks in the bottom three of countries that hold free elections. The reasons for this democracy crisis are many:
- Redistricting often leads to gerrymandering, which ensures that very few incumbents are at risk in one-party districts.
- Barriers to full participation of candidates proliferate, such as restricting participation in debates, or setting prohibitive ballot access laws, making it very obstructive for third party and Independent candidates to run.
- Potential voters are confronted by obstacles, and deliberate manipulations to undermine their right to vote, for which penalties are rarely imposed.
- New paperless voting machines are raising questions about whether we can even trust that our votes are being counted as they are cast. When voter confidence decreases, citizens vote less and less, leading to a culture of non-voting.
- The expense of political campaigns creates a clear advantage for the highest spender. Money dominates the dissemination of campaign messages, mainly waged on television in the form of sound bites. This economic stranglehold of campaigns makes politics a game for only the rich or the richly funded. This silences alternative viewpoints and turns off many voters who do not feel represented by privileged candidates.
Major changes are needed to ensure that every vote counts, that all voters are represented through electoral reforms like instant run-off voting, none-of-the-above options, and proportional representation, and that non-major party candidates have a chance to run for office and participate in debates, and that elections are publicly financed.
Instant Run-off Voting
Instant Run-off Voting (IRV) allows voters to rank their candidates in order of choice: 1 for their first choice, 2, 3, and so on. If a candidate receives a majority of the votes, then that candidate wins. But when no candidate has a majority of votes, then the last place candidate is defeated, and in an instant second round of counting, the eliminated candidate’s votes go to each voter’s next choice. Your vote for second choice thus counts if your first choice is unable to win. Rounds of counting continue until there is a majority winner.
The system of IRV encourages electoral competition. Because each voter does not have to worry about "spoiling" the election or "wasting" their vote on a less popular 3rd party candidate, more citizens will be encouraged to participate in elections - both as voters and as candidates. Encouraging more candidates to run will foster a broader political debate and create a more engaged citizenry.
Currently, the US electoral system is in crisis; less than half the potential voters vote - the lowest in the Western, industrialized world. The winner-take-all election system often pushes voters to vote their fears and not their beliefs - or to simply not vote at all. We have not had a President win an election with the majority vote since the first President Bush. Having a president with less than majority support undermines the perceived voter mandate of the government, and reduces voter confidence in the overall electoral system. IRV will help fix these problems and will allow more citizens to vote for the candidates they truly support.
Advances for IRV are being made both around the world and within the United States. IRV is currently used in over 11 cities and states including Burlington, Vermont; Cary, North Carolina; San Fransisco, California; and Takoma Park, Maryland. It will soon be implemented in 8 additional cities; and for the 2007-2008 legislative session, IRV is being considered for gubenatorial, congressional, and local elections in 7 additional states including Minnesota, Arizona, Arkansas, and Colorado. IRV is also used in major elections in Australia, Ireland, and Great Britain.
Implementation of IRV will also save taxpayers money. By erasing the need for two-round runoff elections, IRV saves cities the cost of holding a second election. Before adopting IRV, San Fransisco spent as much as two million dollars on each runoff election. IRV would also alleviate the need for politicians to rely on special interest donors for large sums, since they would only need to raise money for one election instead of two.
Compared to the traditional electoral system, IRV is quicker, less expensive, and is more likely to reflect the desires of more voters. IRV is endorsed by the USA Today, The Nation, the League of Women Voters, as well as the Green Party and the Libertarian Party. IRV also enjoys bipartisan support in the 110th Congress.
As former Independent candidate John Anderson said in an article about the Ralph Nader 2004 Independent presidential campaign: "Having an election between two candidates is obviously better than a one-party dictatorship, but having an election among more than two candidates is better than a two-party duopoly." He then highlighted how Ross Perot’s candidacy increased voter interest in the presidential election and how that was healthy for our democracy. Anderson concluded: "With Instant Run-off Voting, we would determine a true majority winner in one election and banish the spoiler concept. Voters would not have to calculate possible perverse consequences of voting for their favorite candidate. They could vote their hopes, not their fears."
Paperless Electronic Voting
A bedrock of democracy is ensuring that every vote counts. There needs to be a transparent system of vote counting so that people can trust that their vote is counted as they cast it. Paperless electronic voting on touch screen machines does not provide confidence to ensure votes are counted the way voters intend.
The software on which votes are counted is protected as a corporate trade secret, and the software is so complex that if malicious code was embedded, no analysis could discover it. Further, because there is no voter verified paper record, it is not possible to audit the electronic vote for accuracy, nor is it possible to conduct an independent recount. This is a grotesquely designed, over-complicated, expensive system fraught with the potential for mistakes and undetected fraud. We should not trust the future of our nation to such malleable technology.
On July 23, 2003, the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute reviewed the electronic voting system in Maryland and found that it had security far below even the most minimal security standards.
In the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy 2004, four top computer scientists from the University of California, Johns Hopkins University, and Rice University similarly critiqued Diebold’s voting system:
"We found significant security flaws: voters can trivially cast multiple ballots with no built-in traceability, administrative functions can be performed by regular voters, and the threats posed by insiders such as poll workers, software developers, and janitors is even greater. Based on our analysis of the development environment, including change logs and comments, we believe that an appropriate level of programming discipline for a project such as this was not maintained. In fact, there appears to have been little quality control in the process.
"…The model where individual vendors write proprietary code to run our elections appears to be unreliable, and if we do not change the process of designing our voting systems, we will have no confidence that our election results will reflect the will of the electorate."
Computers are inherently subject to programming error, equipment malfunction, and malicious tampering. If we are to ensure fair and honest elections, and retain voter confidence in our democratic process, we need to ensure that there are no such questions. Therefore, it is crucial that any computerized voting system provide a voter-verifiable paper audit trail and that random audits of electronic votes be conducted on Election Day. Paperless electronic voting machines make it impossible to safeguard the integrity of our vote - thereby threatening the very foundation of our democracy.
Moreover, the seller of the machines, the Diebold Corporation, is a supplier of money to one of the major party candidates, George W. Bush. The CEO and top officers of Diebold are major contributors to the Bush campaign. A corporation with vested political interests should not have control over the votes of the populace.
Voters using Diebold machines should immediately report any suspected malfunctions or deficiencies at voting precincts to their Board of Elections. Voters should also urge their legislators to require a voter verified paper ballot trail for random audits and independent recounts. Count every vote!
Blanket Primary Initiatives
Initiatives in California (Proposition 62) and Washington State (Initiative 872) play into many voters’ dislike of the two party system, but these initiatives would actually manipulate voters into blocking non-major party choices and entrenching major party candidates.
The two initiatives would create a blanket non-partisan primary, whereby all candidates would be included. The top two contenders would then be the only two included on the November election ballot. While a primary for all candidates is tempting to voters because it seems to subordinate political parties, the result will be to prevent non-major party candidates from being on the ballot in November.
The initiatives were bankrolled by the insurance, finance, development, and banking industries, as well as John Walton of Wal-Mart. These initiatives will increase the costs of campaigns since candidates would have to run in what amounts to two general elections. The likely beneficiaries will be wealthy candidates - denying candidates of modest means the opportunity to offset the money advantages of a wealthy candidate.
In jurisdictions where one party dominates, it is likely that the two final candidates will be from the same party, creating virtual one-party jurisdictions and entrenching interests. At the same time, third party and independent candidates will be at a disadvantage because name recognition, major funding, and party machinery would be essential in the "primary." Insulating the top two political parties from competition eliminates an important check and balance on their political power.
Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota, has come out against the approach, stating, "It is no surprise to me that big money is behind Proposition 62, and its efforts eliminate real choice for the voters in upcoming California Elections. In Minnesota, September 1998, I only received 3% of the primary vote in the race for Governor. Despite these numbers I went on to win the general election in November. Under Proposition 62 I would have been excluded from the general election in November and never would have been able to serve as Governor of Minnesota."
If passed, these initiatives will prevent minor parties from ever appearing on the November ballot. Only the top two vote getters in the Primary Election will emerge to the General Election in November.
The solution to the problems in the anemic U.S. democracy is more choices and voices - not less. Restricting the ballot to only two candidates will limit voter choice to the point of repressing other voices outright. The Progressive Party opposes these initiatives.
Statehood for D.C.!
More than 500,000 people live in the District of Columbia. As the capital of this nation, the District is the symbol of freedoms for which that nation stands. While the light of democracy shines from the District, it does not illuminate this city. The core is of democracy is hollow. The values of equality and political participation that Washington, D.C. symbolizes are denied right here, in our nation’s capital.
Most Americans do not know, and many would find it hard to believe, that under our current system D.C. residents are second-class citizens. The District is denied local control of government. Congress must approve the District’s budget, and can override any action of the city government. At the same time, District residents do not even have one voting representative in the Congress that controls them. D.C. is effectively a colony, with all local decisions directly subject to change by a Congress largely out of touch with local realities.
Most people who live outside of the District do not know that D.C. citizens pay about $2 billion a year in federal income taxes - more than several states - yet cannot elect people to decide how their money is spent. D.C. residents have served and died in our armed forces over the last half century in disproportionately high numbers, but have no representation in the Congress that decides whether or not to go to war. The U.S. is the only democracy in the world that deprives the residents of its capital city the basic rights granted to all its other citizens.
Even more damaging than the lack of congressional representation is the colonial-style control that Congress exerts over the District. Adding one, or three, D.C. representatives to the 535 members of Congress would, by itself, do little to solve this problem. D.C. must be allowed to self-rule like any other city in the nation.
Unaccountable power is by its nature abusive and uninformed. The places where unaccountable power is exercised are, and must be, dysfunctional. Members of Congress approve the budget and all the legislation, but they do not themselves have to live with their decisions. They foist pet projects on citizens who are perfectly capable of deciding these issues locally. They prevent the District from taxing income where it is earned. They regularly overturn the judgment of local elected officials on public health, tax, budget, and school issues - all with impunity.
The results of Congressional interference and the inefficiency of colonial-style management are as distressing as they are predictable. Poverty has increased during a time of economic expansion, with the percentage of residents in poverty going from 16.6 % in 1988 to 22.1 % in 1998. Even more astonishing was the growth in income inequality. The richest 20 % of D.C. residents earned 16.4 times as much as the poorest 20 % in the late 1980s and 27.1 times as much in the late 1990s.
The voters of the District of Columbia should be allowed to hold a referendum to choose their future status. With legislative and appropriations delays, regular governing confusion, and congressional interference eliminated, the District would be more able to exercise local control and deal with its pressing problems. Eliminate taxation without representation!
Youth Voting: Lower the Voting Age to 16
Ralph Nader favors lowering the voting age to 16 years old. He recognizes that 16 year olds work, pay taxes, and are increasingly subjected to the passage of criminal laws which sentence them as adults. If 16 year olds perform the civic duties of adults, they should receive the civic privileges of adults. Working teens currently experience taxation without representation.
Additionally, democracy in the United States needs to be re-invigorated. Allowing youth the right to vote will increase voter participation, not only of 16 to 18 year olds, but also in the longer term as youth would learn at an early age the importance of voting. Alongside this change in law, the Progressive Party also favors increased education about civics, government, and the importance of voting.
Consider these words by supporters of youth voting, which eloquently explain the importance of this historic movement:
"At the founding of our nation, only rich, white, land-owning men over the age of twenty-one could vote. Later, it was any white man over twenty-one. Following the Civil War, the Fifteenth Amendment gave the vote to African American men. Next, in 1920, women’s suffrage finally paid off with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Finally, in 1970 the voting age was lowered to 18 due to the counter-cultural movements of the 1960’s. Over hundreds of years, the vote has spread from the clutches of an elite few to an ever-greater percentage of the population. Youth are simply the next item on the timeline of Democracy’s growth."
- Brad Vogel, "Youth Suffrage," Between the Lines, www.btlmag.org
"What kind of twisted message do we send when we tell youth they are judged mature, responsible adults when they commit murder, but silly, brainless kids when they want to vote? This is a double standard, no different than during the Vietnam War. War isn’t a dead issue now either, leaders who youth can’t vote for today may send them to war tomorrow. Lowering the voting age is the just, fair way to set things straight."
-NYRA, National Youth Rights Association, youthrights.org
"For several reasons lowering the voting age will increase voter turnout. It is common knowledge that the earlier in life a habit is formed the more likely that habit or interest will continue throughout life. If attempts are made to prevent young people from picking up bad habits, why are no attempts made to get youth started with good habits, like voting? If citizens begin voting earlier, and get into the habit of doing so earlier, they are more likely to stick with it through life.
-NYRA, National Youth Rights Association, youthrights.org
A 1996 survey by Bruce Merrill, an Arizona State University journalism professor, found a strong correlation between youth voting and increased adult voter turnout. Merrill compared turnout of registered voters in five cities with Kids Voting, a mock-election program, to turnout in five cities without the program. Merrill found that between five and ten percent of respondents reported Kids Voting was a factor in their decision to vote. This indicated that 600,000 adults nationwide were encouraged to vote by the program.
-John Stuart Hall, "Elections and Civic Education, the Case of Kids Voting USA," National Civic Review, Spring 1998, 79.
"When the USA was founded, suffrage was restricted to white male landowners. Over time, it was extended to non-landowners, women, lower-class people (through the elimination of the poll tax), and minority races. There are no longer any groups whose voting rights are automatically denied except for people under 18. It’s a matter of social progress. When other groups demanded the right to vote, many treated their cause with hesitation or ridicule, but eventually social progress prevailed. But the evolution of suffrage is not complete until it is extended to everyone who deserves it, and we’re working to move closer to that goal."
-Teen Vote http://teenvote.us/why
Proposal to Lower Voting Age
Federal Ballot Access Standards
Progressive Party favor one federal standard for federal ballot access in all of the states.
Right now, each state sets its own standards and third party and independent candidates must spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours for a chance to get on the ballots of the various states.
In some states, it is fairly simple to get on the ballot.
For example, in Louisiana, Progressive Party writes a check for $500, line up electors—and we’re on the ballot.
But that’s the exception.
Check out the requirements in these nightmare states: (And remember, we need to collect double the number required in each state because many are arbitrarily invalidated.)
- Texas, requires 74,108 valid signatures between March 5 and May 8. Deplorably, anyone who has voted in the primary cannot sign the petition.
- Oklahoma, requires 43,913 by July 15.
- North Carolina requires 69,743 by June 12. In 2000, it cost Pat Buchanan $250,000 to collect enough signatures for ballot access in that state.
- Indiana requires 32,742 by June 20.
- Georgia requires 42,489 by July 8th
Ballot access was much easier in the nineteenth century. Voters had more candidates and small parties to choose from. Ballot access is much, much easier in other Western democracies.
As a result small parties were able to pioneer the great social justice movements such as abolition of slavery, women’s right to vote, and protections for workers and farmers.
Currently, ballot obstruction can consume upwards of a quarter million dollars in a federal campaign’s budget to get on the ballot in one or more states.
Without candidates’ rights to be on the ballot—in a country where ninety percent of House districts are one-party dominated heavily due to gerrymandering—voters are becoming further disenfranchised.
For the Deliberate Non-Voter
An Invitation to Join The American Society of Apathetics—Now
In the interest of being as inclusive as possible, the Progressive Party is inviting membership in the new American Society of Apathetics. Membership is free and simple, appropriately enough, with no rights because of the Society’s dedication to no exertions whatsoever, except to recite the solemn oath of the Apathetic to yourself, to wit:
As a member of the American Society of Apathetics, I solemnly swear and declare that I will endure any injustice, accept any abuse, absorb any disrespect, suffer any deprivation, concede any exclusion, inhale any toxics and avoid any public responsibilities in order to defend my inalienable right to apathy, so help me, my descendents and my country.
If you wish to bond with any other potential Apathetics in your community and not have to exert yourself slide to us and the relevant web address. The message is therefore communicated automatically without the necessity of lifting your voice to say anything.
P.S. There are approximately 100 million non-voters during the Presidential election, more during the off-year Congressional elections, not all of them deliberate. Many of them, however, are conscious non-participants who should be recognized as having membership in The American Society of Apathetics.
Watch a video of our Apathy Hotline Call Center!
Flattered, Fooled and Flummoxed—To Be or Not To Be A Supervoter
That’s what mass media politics is designed to do. Let’s face it. Voters who do not do their homework, who do not study records of the politicians, who cannot separate their words from the deeds fall in the trap of the three F’s.
In the year 2002, Governor John Rowland was running for re-election against his Democratic opponent, challenger William Curry. Again and again, the outspent Curry would inform the media and the voters about the corruption inside and around the Governor’s office. At the time, the Governor’s close associates and ex-associates were under investigation by the U.S. Attorney. Rowland kept smiling, flooding the television stations with self-serving images and slogans and winning handily in November. Within weeks, Curry’s warnings were reflected by the U.S. Attorney’s investigations. Rowland’s poll approval dropped to record lows and impeachment initiatives were underway with many demands for his resignation, which finally happened on July 1, 2004. Curry’s polls have risen sharply. But it was too late for his candidacy. Enough voters had been flattered, fooled or flummoxed.
Tom Franks, a Nebraskan author, recently wrote: "The poorest county in America isn’t in Appalachia or the Deep South. It is on the Great Plains, a region of struggling ranchers and dying farm towns, and in the election of 2000, George W. Bush carried it by a majority of greater than 75 percent.” Inattentive voters – are vulnerable to consistently voting against their own perceived interests, or voting for politicians who consistently vote for big business and against their interest as farmers, workers, consumers, patients, small taxpayers and communities their policies help depress and hollow out. Big Business is abandoning American workers with the assistance of most members of Congress together with the White House. Most politicians spend their careers shifting power to large corporations and away from the people. This is unforgivable in a democratic society; indeed it ends a democratic society.
Here is how your friends can avoid the three F’s:
A liberation ritual—rid themselves of all pre-conceived and hereditary, ideological and political straitjackets. Use two general yardsticks for candidates for elective office—are they playing fair and are they doing right?
Avoid making final judgments about candidates just because they support or oppose your one or two favorite issues, regardless of where they may be on twenty other realities that affect you and your family very deeply and seriously. If you judge them broadly rather than narrowly, you increase your influence by increasing your demands and expectation levels for their performance. There are numerous evaluations of their votes (see e.g., citizen.org or commoncause.org for progressive perspectives) and positions to get you behind the masquerading slogans such as "Clear Skies Initiative,” or "Leave No Child Behind.”
A handy way to contrast your views with those of the incumbents and challengers is to make your own checklist of twenty issues, put down where you stand and then send them to the candidates and determine where they stand on each subject.
Then there are the questions that politicians like to escape. They include whether they are willing to debate their opponents and how often, why they avoid talking about and doing something about corporate power and its expanding controls over people’s lives, or how they plan to shift power from these global corporate supremacists to the people. Ask them to speak of solutions to the major problems confronting our country. Politicians often do not like to mention solutions (e.g. energy efficiency, health and safety, lower drug prices, reducing sprawl, safer food and clean elections) that upset their commercial financiers. Try asking members of Congress why they keep giving themselves annual salary increases and generous health and pension benefits while turning cold at doing the same for the minimum wage, health insurance or pension protections of the people.
Probably the most important question to ask of incumbents and their challengers is how they intend to shift power to the people so that they, the citizens, as workers, consumers, taxpayers, patients, investors and voters can assert this power to hold giant corporations that now have amassed the power, accountable and responsible to their interests as human beings. In American history, social justice comes to our nation only when the people get their rightful power to make it happen. It happened when there was freedom from fear, the power shifted and solutions were adopted that spelled justice and fair play. All in all, it takes a little work, a little time to become a supervoter who is impervious to manipulation by the three F’s. Dare one say that all this can also be fun, that the pursuit of happiness can benefit mightily from the pursuit of justice, and that such engagement helps Americans today to become better ancestors for their descendents?