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Un-Corrupting Congress: A System-Changing Solution

By: Nancy Bordier Monday February 4, 2013 3:51 pm

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.

Overview

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.

Disillusioned Voters

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:

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.

Institutional Corruption

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.

This failure has in turn exacerbated the widespread public perception that not only are key American institutions like Congress corrupt but that elections themselves are “rigged.”

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.

The Solution

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.

References

12th European Conference on eGovernment.

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.

Complex adaptive system (CAS).

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.

Rasmussen Reports, 53% Say Elections Are Rigged To Help Incumbents in Congress, May 12, 2011.

Reed’s Law, Wikipedia.

MeetUp.com.

Theodore Roosevelt, The Progressive Covenant With The People, Performed by Theodore Roosevelt, Recorded August 1912.

Theodore Roosevelt, The New Nationalism, Speech delivered in Osawatomie, Kansas on August 31, 1910.

Jonathan D. Salant, Few Want Members of Congress Re-Elected, Poll Finds, Bloomberg.com, February 12, 2010, (Update 1).

Zephyr Teachout, Original Intent: How the Founding Fathers would clean up K Street. Democracy, Issue #11, Winter 2009.

Zephyr Teachout, The Anti-Corruption Principle, Cornell Law Review, Vol. 94, No. 341, 2009.

United States Election Project, Eligible voters, George Mason University.

Voter turnout, Wikipedia.

Voting statistics, Wikipedia.

Homero Gil de Zuniga, Aaron Veenstra, Emily Vraga and Dhavan Shah, Digital Democracy: Reimagining Pathways to Political Participation, Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Volume 7, Issue 1, 2010.

 

Congressional Responsibility for the Giffords Assassination Attempt

By: Nancy Bordier Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:04 pm

photo: Mister V via Flickr

Many interacting factors caused the Giffords assassination attempt. No single factor suffices to explain it. However, the acts and omissions of the U.S. Congress and the nation’s two major political parties are among the most significant of these interacting causes. They include the following:

1. Congressional refusal to pass campaign finance reform legislation to prevent elections from being dominated by special interests, like the National Rifle Association, and U.S. politics from being dominated by vitriolic diatribes between politicians and pundits aimed at raising special interest campaign funds and inflaming and dividing the electorate in order to win elections;

2. Congress’s legislative agenda which puts the interests of special interest campaign funders, like the National Rifle Association, ahead of the safety and welfare of their constituents, such as by allowing ordinary citizens to carry assault weapons;

3. The rigging of elections by the Democratic and Republican parties via the gerrymandering of Congressional election districts to create artificial party majorities that deny voters a real choice of candidates and lead to the re-election of major party incumbents backed by special interest campaign financiers;

4. Democratic and Republican-inspired state election laws that prevent third parties and their candidates from contesting the monopoly of elections they have attained through gerrymandering election districts and campaign finance laws;

5. Congressional refusal to raise adequate tax revenues to fund essential services, Congressional expenditures on costly and counter-productive foreign wars, and Congressional deregulation and bailout of insolvent banks and financial institutions. These irresponsible actions have caused huge federal, state and local budget deficits, and resulted in cutbacks in essential services for mental health services and substance abuse assistance to troubled individuals like the gunman who shot Giffords and 20 other people using an assault weapon. . . .

No Labels, A Stalking Horse for Bloomberg?

By: Nancy Bordier Wednesday December 15, 2010 8:54 am

Despite all of Michael Bloomberg’s protestations, the purpose of the new political organization, No Labels, appears to be that of laying the groundwork for a Bloomberg presidential electoral campaign — and the creation of a campaign vehicle that can pull the rug out from under the deeply unpopular Democratic and Republican parties.

Everything the organization has written about itself and its goals mirrors Bloomberg’s views about the nation’s dysfunctional two party political system, the policy gridlock in Washington, and the facility with which a coherent public policy agenda not dictated by the two parties could be enacted if the Democratic/Republican duopoly is broken at the presidential and Congressional levels.

Why else, other than building a formal political party to support a Bloomberg run, would No Labels be establishing offices in all 435 congressional districts with a No Labels “citizen leader” in each district, and a PAC? Just to send letters to congressional representatives it considers overly “partisan”, as the organization states it intends to do?

I find it hard to believe the argument found in yesterday’s Washington Post article, No Labels movement launches in N.Y., pledges to fight partisanship, that the organization is going to be more successful in influencing hyper-partisan Congressional representatives beholden to special interests than the plethora of organizations that have been trying unsuccessfully to do that for more than a decade:

Per the WaPo piece, “the group hopes to build a network of citizen activists and establish offices in all 435 congressional districts. Beginning in January, members plan to police the new Congress, calling out lawmakers they think are too partisan and speaking up for those who cross party lines to find solutions. The group says it will not advocate specific policy positions, but will aim to foster a more civil discourse in Washington.”

“It will form a political action committee to help defend moderate candidates of both parties against attack from the far right and the far left, said John Avlon, a founding member and one-time speechwriter for former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R).”

How exactly, and by what criteria, is No Labels going to decide who is being too partisan, given its own highly partisan, fiscally conservative agenda. This platform says it all, especially in light of the fact that David Walker of the Peterson Foundation is a No Labels founder, all of which renders suspect any claims that No Labels can sit in judgment of partisanship, or that doing so is its real objective.

Back to the issue at hand, namely that No Labels is a stalking horse for Bloomberg, why else would the organization be building a base of 1 million voters, just about the number that its apparent sister organization, Americans Elect, would need to create a respectable turnout for the online presidential nominating convention it is planning once it attains ballot access in all 50 states — a nominating convention that might well nominate Bloomberg? (See my recent post NO LABELS+AMERICANS ELECT=BLOOMBERG?)

If Bloomberg is “nominated” by Americans Elect’s convention, AND Americans Elect has the ballot access in 50 states that it is the process of acquiring, Bloomberg is good to go without having to create his own party and get ballot access on his own.

This outcome, however, is not without benefits and advantages in the event that Obama, the Democratic party, and representatives elected under the party’s aegis continue to act like Republicans, cavalierly sacrificing the public interest to corporate special interests. A major third party, with Bloomberg running on its ticket, does offer the possibility of up-ending the Democratic/Republican monopoly of U.S. electoral and legislative processes, and giving voters a choice of three major candidates. If Obama runs for a second term against a Palin or Romney ticket, and all of their campaigns are financed by special interests who dictate their real agendas, who is to say that Bloomberg would be a worse president?

No Labels + Americans Elect = Bloomberg?

By: Nancy Bordier Friday December 3, 2010 8:02 pm

In October, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that industry leaders in Silicon Valley and elsewhere were disgusted with Washington D.C. and the two party system. He reported that “at least two serious groups” on the East and West coasts were “‘developing third parties’ to challenge our stagnating two-party duopoly that has been presiding over our nation’s steady incremental decline.”

Friedman also predicted that “there is going to be a serious third party [presidential] candidate in 2012, with a serious political movement behind him or her — one definitely big enough to impact the election’s outcome”.

Two months later, Friedman’s predictions appear to be coming true, if two new political organizations, No Labels and Americans Elect, are the “serious groups” to which he referred, and the financial and political heavy hitters who founded them are working in tandem to create a major new third party.

According to Wall Street Journal reporter Monica Langley in an article of 11/24/10, No Labels was created by a “Democratic powerhouse fundraiser Nancy Jacobson and Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, who were introduced to each other by Kevin Sheekey”, a political adviser of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. The mayor’s disdain for the two major parties are well known, as are his presidential aspirations.

According to John Heilemann in a recent New York magazine article, a key factor for Bloomberg and his advisers with respect to a presidential bid is his ability to get onto the ballot nationwide. “Thus are Sheekey and others eagerly monitoring a new outfit called Americans Elect, which plans to launch early next year” to obtain ballot access in all 50 states.

Interestingly, both organizations claim they are not political parties while acting like political parties. No Labels has published its platform online and is in the process of mobilizing an electoral base of disaffected voters through its website and Facebook page. Americans Elect, with initial financing by Wall Street veteran Peter Ackerman, is in the process of acquiring ballot access in all 50 states. Its goal is to place “presidential and vice presidential nominees . . . on the ballot . . . [who] will be a competitive alternative to candidates put forward by the Democratic and Republican parties”.

As a web entrepreneur, I welcome Americans Elect’s avant-garde mission of updating America’s technologically obsolete electoral system by organizing “an Internet-based convention that nominates a presidential ticket for 2012 that will bridge the vital center of American public opinion”. Won’t we all love to see the end of the two major parties’ unutterably boring presidential nominating conventions? And who could be against Americans Elect’s aim to “empower Americans to choose a viable presidential ticket that is responsible to the vast majority of citizens while remaining independent of the partisan interests of either major party.”

Despite these obvious upsides, I have deeply mixed feelings about these organizations. From what I can glean, they could either make a giant leap forward and give the 80% of Americans who hold the Democratic and Republican parties and Congress in contempt a major new alternative party and alternative candidates to vote for. Or they could lock the electorate into a major new third party that is as autocratic as the current major parties.

With substantial financial and political support and a mobilized electoral base of voters hostile to the Democratic and Republicans parties, the new party could eviscerate and render these two parties uncompetitive for the foreseeable future, and still flout the popular will to no lesser degree than the two parties have done.

As I try to figure out what is in the offing, I must admit it is gratifying to imagine that the political and financial elites that founded No Labels are about to give the Democratic and Republican parties some serious push back from above. I also welcome the prospect of the Democrats and Republicans getting serious push back from below. This will happen if they have to compete for the hearts and minds of American voters who are No Labels party supporters and feel free to reject the two major parties’ candidates in favor of No Labels candidates who have the backing they need to beat major party candidates.

But I cannot escape the fear that a No Label/Americans Elect party may bring about a giant leap backward if it weakens any further voters’ tenuous control of electoral and legislative processes. It is easy to contemplate such a disaster when you look at No Labels’ platform and realize that voters appear to have had no direct input into it, there is no real mechanism for giving them direct input into it, and the platform is built around the traditional partisan interests of the fiscally conservative core of the Republican Party!

Not only do key planks of No Labels’ platform violate voters’ well-articulated preferences, but its core agenda plank is right out of investment banker Pete Peterson’s playbook. This is a man who has distinguished himself as has no other political figure, except possibly the Koch brothers, by his financial infiltration of every conceivable nook and cranny of American politics to promote what I take to be his implicit and explicit agenda of defunding Social Security and increasing the wealth gap by transferring even more of the nation’s wealth to the already wealthy.

In fact, a No Labels position paper published on its website, Deep Dive: The Federal Deficit, links directly to Peterson’s foundation and the numerous projects he has funded to promote his fiscally conservative views. Adhering to Peterson’s party line, the No Labels platform asserts that most American voters want “a government that makes the necessary choices to rein in runaway deficits, secure Social Security and Medicare, and put our country on a viable, sound path going forward.”

This blatantly false assertion about what voters want contradicts polls that show voters are far more concerned about their jobs and the nation’s economy than the nation’s budget deficit, and want the nation’s lawmakers to give top priority to spurring job-creating economic growth. They are adamant that lawmakers “‘keep their hands off Social Security and Medicare’ as they attempt to address the national deficit”.

I take this chasm between voters’ expressed agendas and No Labels’ core platform plank as a personal, professional and political affront, not only because it is high time that voters across the political spectrum take charge of the nation’s political agenda setting, but also because I have developed a web-based mechanism that empowers voters to do just that. This mechanism, the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS), enables them to set the agendas of any political party, voting bloc or electoral coalition, in writing. They can use the agendas as legislative mandates, and support only candidates who pledge to enact them into law. They can use their written mandates to hold incumbents accountable for their performance and vote out of office those whose track records fail to show they exerted their best efforts to enact voters’ agendas into law. In essence, IVCS empowers voters to take charge of electoral and legislative processes.

Last summer, I spoke with Americans Elect’s chairman, Peter Ackerman, and he expressed interest in IVCS. But the organization and No Labels appear to be moving full speed ahead to obtain ballot access and create a major new political party that duplicates the autocratic agenda-setting and nominating practices of the Democratic and Republican parties. Assuming that No Labels becomes a formally organized party, there is no mechanism I can detect that enables party supporters to set its agenda by selecting policy priorities across the board, as IVCS is designed to do, and not merely those that fall within the fiscally conservative spectrum, and pick candidates who pledge to enact the voters’ agendas into law rather than their own. If this is the case, No Labels will be another “take it or leave it” party over which voters have no control. Its candidates will ignore voters’ needs and flout their will as soon as they are in office, following in the footsteps of the large majority of Democratic and Republican representatives.

If the No Labels and Americans Elect team up to create a major new third party that does not allow voters to set its agenda across the board transparently and democratically by choosing their preferences from all the well-established policy options open to them, and pick electoral candidates whose track records and commitments adhere to this agenda, than I predict that the nation is likely to end up with a far more fiscally conservative president and Congress in 2012 no more likely to adhere to the wishes of the electorate than the current president and Congress.

As I wrote last week, if anyone has any doubts about the damage that will be done to the standard of living in the U.S. by a White House and Congress dead-set on reducing the deficit by cutting expenditures instead of creating jobs, they should read Paul Krugman’s recent New York Times article, Eating the Irish.

While I do not think the American people will be eaten alive by a major new fiscally conservative political force in American politics, their livelihoods may be. This week it was reported that the conservative interests that have been taking over the federal government slowly but surely since the late 1960s have exploited the current financial and economic crisis in the U.S. to open the public purse to the tune of $9 trillion in loans to bail out insolvent bankers and financiers, as part of an overall authorized expenditure of $23.7 trillion. It is a very bad omen that they are now proposing, as Obama’s deficit commission did this week, to make retirees and working Americans pay the price for this profligacy, by hacking away at Social Security and Medicare to limit government expenditures when the economy is floundering. That their fiscally conservative ideology is at the heart of No Labels’ platform bodes even worse for the American people.

Possibly, I am paranoid and there is no danger that No Labels and Americans Elect are a smoke screen for a new conservative political force. But the only way I can think of to stave off this fear is for me to invite them to use my Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS) to empower their supporters to decide what kind of fiscal policies they prefer — while they are setting their agendas across the board. No Label supporters will also be able to use their agendas to decide who they want to run for office on No Labels ballot lines in the 50 states to enact their policy priorities into law, assuming No Labels formally organizes itself as a political party. The system is not entirely developed, but its various components and the website that is being built around it can be completed by next summer. It enables voters to formulate their own options as well as select them from a pre-set list of policy options across the board that is being developed.

As I explained in a recent article, I conceived of the system while attending one of Howard Dean’s Meetups during his 2004 presidential primary bid. It grew out of frustration that I had no way to influence his agenda and mobilize other supporters who shared my policy priorities so that we could collectively pressure him to endorse our priorities in exchange for our support. Thanks to its genesis during a presidential campaign, IVCS is ideally suited to empower No Labels supporters to determine its agenda and decide which presidential and Congressional candidates they want to run to implement their agendas in 2012.

I should add the general comment that unlike the No Labels proto-party, which is built and managed from the top down, IVCS enables voters across the political spectrum to build and manage political parties, voting blocs and electoral coalitions from the bottom up around transpartisan agendas, and transpartisan slates of candidates, if they see fit.

Most importantly, if several major third parties emerge before the 2012 elections, voters can use IVCS to prevent the fragmentation of the electorate into losing splinter groups and parties too small to elect their candidates to office. They can do so by using IVCS consensus-building tools, such as the Voting Utility, to continue negotiating and even voting on which policy preferences they wish to include in common agendas, until they can identify the combinations of preferences that attract the number of votes their blocs, coalitions and parties need to beat major party candidates they oppose. This process enables them to set flexible, evolving agendas, and build malleable and expandable electoral bases that can outflank and outmaneuver those of major parties.

A quick overview of IVCS is available on Facebook.

I have written about IVCS in the following:

2012: The Game Changing Implications of the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS), Re-Inventing Democracy, November 19, 2010.

How Voters Can Unrig the 2012 Elections with Transpartisan Voting Blocs and Electoral Coalitions, Re-Inventing Democracy, November 11, 2010.

The “Missing Mandate” in the 2010 Election Results: Let This Be the Last Time, Re-Inventing Democracy, November 4, 2010.

Third Party Rising?, Re-Inventing Democracy, October 15, 2010.

2012: How U.S. Voters Can Wrest Control of Congress from Special Interests, Re-Inventing Democracy, September 12, 2010.

President Bloomberg? New Third Party, “No Labels”, and the Interactive Voter Choice System

By: Nancy Bordier Sunday November 28, 2010 7:30 pm

A major new third party is set to launch in New York in early December, according to a Wall Street Journal article of 11/24/10, “New grassroots group targets centrist voters“.

The irony of the label “grassroots” attached to this new party, named “No Labels”, is worth noting. According to WSJ reporter Monica Langley, the party was created by a “Democratic powerhouse fundraiser Nancy Jacobson and Republican strategist Mark McKinnon”, who were introduced to each other by Kevin Sheekey, a political adviser of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. Medial moguls and industrialists put up the money to start the party.

Bloomberg’s disdain for the U.S. two party system is well known, as are his reported presidential aspirations. So those who believe that the first task of governmental reform is to overturn the duopoly may welcome the appearance of No Labels. By aiming at the 40% of the electorate who are registered as Independents or unaffiliated, and pulling away disaffected Democratic and Republicans, this new third party could actually put its presidential candidate in the White House in 2012 — especially if that candidate has the kind of money to self-fund his campaign that Bloomberg does.

Yet closer examination of what is unfolding suggests that what U.S. voters need most are not new parties started from the top down by political and financial elites. They need to get total control of elections from the bottom up. And not just presidential elections, but Congressional elections as well. If the U.S. electorate does not get control of both, it is likely to end up with a billionaire president in 2012 and a Congress even more sold out to corporate special interests than it is now. If anyone has any doubts about what a fiscally conservative White House and Congress will do to the standard of living in the U.S., they should read Paul Krugman’s recent New York Times article, Eating the Irish.

No Labels presents itself as “Not Left. Not Right. Forward”. It says it is comprised of “Democrats, Republicans, and Independents who are united in the belief that we do not have to give up our labels, merely put them aside to do what’s best for America”. So far so good.

But then party documents go on to espouse a center-right platform with a conservative deficit reduction agenda right out of Pete Peterson’s playbook. In fact, a party position paper, Deep Dive: The Federal Deficit, links directly to Peterson’s foundation and the numerous projects he has funded to promote his fiscally conservative views. Adhering to Peterson’s party line, the new “No Label” party advocates “a government that makes the necessary choices to rein in runaway deficits, secure Social Security and Medicare, and put our country on a viable, sound path going forward.”

It then goes on to put words in the mouths of the electorate that directly contradict the results of numerous polls, when the party claims that “Americans support a government that works to spur employment and economic opportunity by encouraging free and open markets, tempered by sensible regulation.”

This fiscally conservative free market agenda is far from reflecting what the large majority of Americans say they want, according to numerous polls. These Americans put deficit reduction at the bottom of their list of priorities, with top place going to government intervention to spur job-creating economic growth and reduced unemployment. They are not willing to bet their future on the private sector and “free and open markets” that have clearly demonstrated their inability to produce the living wage jobs that American workers need.

So the new No Label party, which claims it is going to build a strong citizen movement, launches itself on platform that contradicts what a majority of Americans have said they want. We’ve been here before, and it would be folly, if not actually insane, to expect that a new third party that follows in the footsteps of its major party predecessors, tells its supporters what to think, and manipulates them into embracing agendas set by political and financial elites, is going to do anything but elect more candidates who flout the popular will once they are in office.

The only way out of the political catch-22 that has allowed corporate special interests to take over the government is the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS), IMNSHO. When it is fully developed and deployed on the Re-Inventing Democracy website, it will enable U.S. voters to get control of political parties and all electoral processes related to agenda setting and candidate nomination, so they can decide who will run for office, who gets elected, and what policies will be enacted into law.

A quick overview of IVCS is available on Facebook.

I have written about IVCS in the following:

2012: The Game Changing Implications of the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS), Re-Inventing Democracy, November 19, 2010.

How Voters Can Unrig the 2012 Elections with Transpartisan Voting Blocs and Electoral Coalitions, Re-Inventing Democracy, November 11, 2010.

The “Missing Mandate” in the 2010 Election Results: Let This Be the Last Time, Re-Inventing Democracy, November 4, 2010.

Third Party Rising?, Re-Inventing Democracy, October 15, 2010.

2012: How U.S. Voters Can Wrest Control of Congress from Special Interests, Re-Inventing Democracy, September 12, 2010.

2012: The Game Changing Implications of the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS)

By: Nancy Bordier Friday November 19, 2010 3:32 pm

Tom Atlee recently described the game changing potential of the Interactive Voter Choice System in the following terms:

“The participatory social-networking capacity of the Interactive Voter Choice System shifts voters’ allegiance and attention from parties, ideologies, and political categories to the actual policies they want to see implemented. The system then helps them ally with others who want to see those policies implemented, regardless of their diverse political beliefs or reasons for favoring those policies. In the process, IVCS gives rise to an empowering, collectively intelligent, evolving, self-organizing political ecosystem which can enable citizens to do the following:

1. clarify and push for policies they want, creating their own personal “platforms”
2. network with others to form coalitions or ad hoc lobbying groups to push preferred policies
3. field candidates outside of the party system to promote the policies they want
4. create new political parties
5. work within existing parties to shape their platforms and performance
6. hold elected representatives accountable for their performance on favored policies
7. create parallel “shadow government” structures and policies
8. take over political parties and dissolve them and, through all of the above, to
9. ultimately move our politics beyond party politics and ideologies altogether.

“Imagine a politics where one hardly ever hears ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ or even ‘transpartisan’, but only discussion of the issues. Imagine a politics where grassroots organizing is finally on a level playing field — or even favorable playing field — with the big money players. Imagine the already-surveyed popular preferences — like single payer health care and ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — readily becoming the official policy of our government.

“I honestly think IVCS is one of the most important emerging forms of political leverage we have available. Of course it can only do its job if it is well-funded for software development, viral promotion, and political strategizing so it can launch with strong popular appeal, participation, and well-thought-out security safeguards to prevent its marginalization, subversion or co-optation. If that happens soon enough, the chances are extremely high that it will have a decisive positive impact on the critical watershed 2012 election and every election after that. It could be a total game-changer.”

When I read Tom’s article, my immediate reaction was that he had explained IVCS and its game changing potential in the most compelling terms that have been written on the subject. So I shared the article with a number of people who have expressed interest in IVCS. Their enthusiastic response was that they got the big picture, but were still unclear about how IVCS actually works. They asked for a clear explanation of how it enables voters, not political parties or special interests, to determine the outcomes of elections. How can voters use the system to run and elect their own candidates? I have written this post to answer these questions.

Humble Beginnings

Sheer frustration caused the idea for IVCS to pop into my head in 2004 during a campaign event for Howard Dean during his presidential primary bid. While milling around with his supporters waiting for Dean to start a nationwide conference call, I realized that his campaign slogan “You have the power” didn’t jibe with the powerless role supporters like myself were relegated to playing at the event.

The way it was structured made it impossible for me to do what I came to do, which was to pressure Dean to remain true to his initial opposition to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, an issue I felt he had begun to waffle on. I also wanted to see if I could get other supporters to join me in pressing Dean not to renege on his opposition to the war.

The absence of any way for me to press my concern, and rally other anti-war supporters, hit home to me a political fact that I had not fully appreciated before. It is that in U.S. politics, electoral candidates conduct their campaigns on a “take it or leave it” basis. I had been coming to this conclusion gradually over time, but attending Dean’s event and seeing how much he and his modus operandi had changed since the first rally I had attended in the summer of 2003 brought it home in a very forceful and depressing way.

The main goal of most campaigning candidates, to my way of thinking, is not to find out what their prospective constituents want them to do if they are elected, but to get them to embrace the agendas the candidates think will get them the most votes. Although they often conduct opinion polls, their objective is to use the results to figure out how to frame their targeted mixed messages to re-interpret reality for voters, and cajole disparate voting blocs into voting for them for different reasons. Campaigns are about defining and interpreting reality for voters, and “imaging” the candidates so that they appear to represent the best solution to the problematic versions of “reality” the campaigns create.

This systemic duplicity is basically a reversal of the democratic theory that elected officials should represent the people. Candidates do not seek or run on mandates from their constituents. Instead, they get voters to vote for them by manipulating their perceptions of reality and their images of the candidates themselves. Once these disingenuous candidates get into office, they can turn democratic theory upside down and claim that the voters who voted for them gave them a mandate to enact the candidates’ agendas!

While I didn’t think that Dean was disingenuous in any way, and I was impressed by the wonderfully innovative ways his campaign staff had created to use the Internet to keep his supporters close to the campaign, I could see from what was going on at the event that his campaign was beginning to resemble traditional campaigns. Even though I had initially thought that Dean and I were on the same page about the Iraq war, he was moving in the direction of turning that page, and there seemed to be nothing I could do about it at the event.

What waiting for Dean to start the pre-scheduled conference call that would connect dozens of campaign events around the country, I tried without success to initiate issue-oriented conversations. I thought that if I could find other supporters who shared my concern about his weakening position on the war, we might be able to make common cause and pressure Dean to reinforce his opposition to the war.

But I quickly realized that the meeting was not designed to enable us to influence Dean’s agenda, or even engage in a substantive cross-fertilization of policy ideas among ourselves. Just like similar campaign events that were being organizing by other candidates around the country through Meetup.com, it had different goals. The first, I thought, was to give us the impression that we were part of a nationwide campaign (albeit as passive spectators, in my book) that was gaining momentum. The second was to get us to make financial contributions to Dean’s campaign, which most of us had already started doing, online and offline.

My realization that the organizers and issue-oriented supporters like myself were at odds on the purpose of the meeting heightened my frustration. It increased my determination to figure out how to transform the event into one that would deliver on Dean’s “You have the power” exhortation by enabling me and possibly other supporters to influence his agenda.

The idea I came up with was that each attendee could jot down on a piece of paper a list of the policies he or she wanted to see Dean implement, if he were elected. Then we could combine all the policies in one list. These policies would constitute OUR AGENDA, which we could email to Dean’s headquarters. If he wanted our votes, Dean would have to show us that he had incorporated the priorities contained in our agenda into HIS AGENDA.

As I thought about the details of how such a process could work, I realized that most of the people attending the event did not know each other, and that they probably held fairly diverse preferences and priorities. It was also likely that the depth and breadth of their understanding of the policy options open to them would vary considerably.

Since I could also imagine them differing over what they each meant by the policies they were supporting or opposing, and how they defined these options, I decided that instead of writing down their priorities in their own words, the best way to get the process of agenda setting started, and possibly segue into a dialogue, would be to provide each attendee a pre-set list of recognizable policy options from which they could choose those they were most concerned about. This modus operandi would have the added benefit of exposing participants to a whole spectrum of options they might not have ever thought about before.

In a leap of imagination, I decided that one fairly easy and inviting way to present these options would be to give each person a deck of playing cards with the name of a policy option written on the front of each card, like withdrawal from Iraq, with details regarding the option written on the back of the card, e.g., timing, etc. If people didn’t find options they were looking for, they could use the wild cards in the deck to create and write down their own options.

Initially, attendees could individually could go through their card decks and select the cards with the issues they cared most about. Then they could prioritize their preferences by putting the card with the option that was their top priority at the top of their selection of cards, and then continue on down to the card they least preferred of all those they had selected.

After this step was completed, I thought that participants in this political card game that I would later call Citizens’ Winning Hands would be interested in comparing their choices with those of other people, and the group as a whole. This could be done by having one person take a new deck and hold up each card to see how many people had selected that policy. Then everyone could see what were the priorities of the group as a whole, in rank order.

I thought that this tallying exercise could spark a discussion of the various policy preferences people had chosen. It would let those who felt strongly about certain policies argue on behalf of their priorities, and try to convince other people to embrace them as well. I, of course, would argue that withdrawal from Iraq should be the most important, but I knew that I would have to defend that choice to attendees who had chosen a policy option opposing withdrawal.

To me, this agenda-setting exercise would have transformed what I thought was a rather meaningless campaign event into something worthwhile because it would get to the heart of what democratic decision-making is all about. It would bring voters together to express their needs and wants of a political nature, and help them develop a consensus on what they want government and their elected representatives to do to meet their collective needs and wants.

In the context of Dean’s campaign event, we would be actively participating in setting our own individual agendas as well as a collective agenda for the group as a whole, and then using both to try to influence Dean’s agenda. Once we had set our individual and collective agendas, we could exercise the power that Dean’s campaign slogan said we had, by transmitting them to Dean’s campaign headquarters via the Internet. There, they could be tallied with those of other groups like ours, and integrated into Dean’s agenda — assuming of course that he wanted the votes of us agenda-setters who had sent them in. I liked the idea of transmitting our agenda electronically because it meant that the millions of voters who were climbing onto Dean’s bandwagon could really take a stand and collectively make their individual stands count.

Having run for elective office myself, I also thought that Dean’s campaign staff would be interested in knowing which supporters in various parts of the country were advocating which policy priorities. I even imagined that his staff might be interested in getting together groups of supporters who shared the same priorities and tasking them with fleshing out these priorities so the campaign would know exactly what they wanted. This would provide direct grassroots input into Dean’s platform and transform his supporters into active players in determining the direction of his campaign.

IVCS Matures and Migrates to the web

After the event and Dean’s defeat in the primary, I kept the original idea of IVCS percolating in the back of my mind for several years until after the 2006 elections. Although the new Congress brought in a new Democratic majority in the Senate, Congress did not move to end the war in Iraq, contrary to public opinion polls showing that a majority of Americans favored ending it.

This tragic disconnect between the people and the nation’s lawmakers forced me to finally admit to myself that the U.S. system of government is so far from being democratic that even a majority of voters are unable to get their elected representatives to end a five year war that most people think the U.S. should never have started in the first place. With the untapped potential of my agenda setting mechanism uppermost in my mind, I decided the time had come for me to figure out how to use it to empower voters to replace this failed system with a democratically elected government controlled by the people. My intuition told me that the capabilities of the mechanism could be expanded to empower them to do this.

As I mulled over the possibilities, it became obvious to me that not only could IVCS enable voters to influence the agendas of electoral candidates and elected officials, but, even more importantly, it could connect like-minded voters with common policy preferences to each other so they could join forces to actually run and elect their own candidates who would enact their common agendas into law.

IVCS could use the Internet and a single social networking website to connect voters to each other horizontally, voter-to-voter, without intermediaries, instead of vertically through the intermediary of a campaign or a political party that is controlled from the top down. With social networking website Facebook showing that hundreds of millions of users can be connected to each other worldwide, a website built around IVCS could provide agenda-setting and consensus-building tools to the entire U.S. electorate of two hundred million eligible voters.

As I thought about the possibilities that would flow from migrating my idea for voter agenda-setting to the Internet, I realized that it was statistically and technically feasible to connect any number of voters with similar policy priorities to each other so they can join forces to create voting blocs that can elect representatives who will enact their priorities into law. These blocs could work inside or outside existing political parties, or create new parties.

All voters would have to do to tap into this possibility is to submit the policy options they choose from the IVCS Policy Options Database I was creating to the IVCS Policy Priorities Database. They can then query the priorities database to identify voters with statistically similar priorities, by ZIP code. They can use the website’s internal email to contact these voters, as described on the homepage of the IVCS website. (Prototypes of the Policy Options Database and the website can be viewed by clicking here and here.)

Voters who identify and directly contact other voters with similar policy priorities can form initially form their own groups, just like on Facebook, and then transform their groups into voting blocs, using online organizing tools provided on the IVCS website, which can perform the same functions as political parties in terms of selecting and running candidates for office. But they don’t actually have to form political parties to do this. Instead, their voting blocs can run their candidates in party primaries on the lines of existing parties instead of creating their own parties — just as the Tea Party did in the 2010 elections when it ran its candidates on Republican lines.

However, IVCS-enabled voting blocs will differ quite significantly from traditional political parties because their voter members will be empowered to set the blocs’ agendas and use their agendas to screen, select and nominate candidates who endorse their agendas and pledge to exert their best efforts to enact them into law if they are elected. Once these blocs elect their candidates to office, they can use their agendas as legislative mandates and hold their representatives accountable for their track records in implementing them.

Regardless of the stance that voting blocs take towards political parties, they will be more powerful politically and electorally than political parties because they will fundamentally change the institutional framework of electoral politics. That’s because they will be able to create broad-based electoral coalitions around transpartisan policy agendas that can easily outflank and outmaneuver those of stand-alone political parties and their candidates.

IVCS-enabled voting blocs can use IVCS agenda-setting and consensus-building tools to engage voters across the political spectrum in negotiating which priorities to include and exclude from their agendas, and which candidates to include in common slates. They can continue negotiating and even voting on these issues, using the IVCS Voting Utility, until they attract the number of votes they need to elect their candidates.

In essence, IVCS provides voters across the political spectrum the leverage and the tools they need to decide who runs for office, who gets elected, and what policies are enacted into law, as I describe in 2012: How U.S. Voters Can Wrest Control of Congress from Special Interests.

The 2012 Elections: Changing the Game

Polls show that the 2010 elections were a triumph of the manipulative techniques used by disingenuous electoral candidates, political parties and special interests to influence and distort voters’ perceptions of reality and the intentions of the candidates themselves. A large segment of the voting population elected representatives who advocate policies that conflict with the policies voters prefer, policies that will exacerbate the economic and financial distress that voters want lawmakers to alleviate.

One such poll shows unequivocally that voters are far more concerned about their jobs and the nation’s economy than the nation’s budget deficit, and want the nation’s lawmakers to give top priority to spurring job-creating economic growth. They are adamant that lawmakers “‘keep their hands off Social Security and Medicare’ as they attempt to address the national deficit”, according to one post-election .

But the newly elected representatives in Congress have joined with incumbents of both parties in announcing their intention to do just the opposite. They plan to reduce Social Security and Medicare spending as a deficit reduction measure, which will increase unemployment, and enact $100 billion in budget cuts that will stymie job creation and economic recovery.

There is only one way that the U.S. electorate can put an immediate end to this disconnect between voters and the lawmakers they vote into office — without changing the gerrymandering, campaign finance and election laws that have been passed to create the disconnect. It is the Interactive Voter Choice System.

That’s because IVCS enables grassroots voters across the political spectrum to take control of the nation’s agenda-setting process, and form winning voting blocs around transpartisan agendas that can elect representatives who will enact their agendas into law. They can form winning coalitions and electoral bases around transpartisan agendas by aligning with old and new parties, labor unions and political advocacy groups, while offering them unprecedented opportunities to mobilize voters at the grassroots.

Most importantly, if these groups engage with voters throughout the country in on-going, collective efforts to create genuine agenda-setting and coalition-building processes, they can neutralize the manipulative techniques employed by special interests and their political accomplices to distort voters perceptions of reality and induce them to elect candidates who will enact policies inimical to their best interests.

Moreover, if new third parties and populist movements emerge, these blocs and coalitions can incorporate them into their alliances by using IVCS consensus-building tools to enable all their members to collectively set common agendas and run common slates of candidates. By so doing, they can prevent the fragmentation of the electorate into splinter groups and parties too small to win elections.

Most importantly, on the policy front, by using IVCS to elect a new Congress that is accountable to the American people, voters can put a stop to the continuing upward transfer of wealth that is financially ruining the middle class and working Americans, due to special interests’ control of the real economy, the nation’s banking and financial system, and the nation’s elected representatives, via their campaign contributions.

How Voters Can Unrig the 2012 Elections with Transpartisan Voting Blocs and Electoral Coalitions

By: Nancy Bordier Thursday November 11, 2010 8:11 pm

Voters did not get what they said they wanted from the 2010 elections. In fact, they got the opposite because the two major parties rigged the elections.

The parties have been rigging elections for decades by gerrymandering election districts and passing campaign financing and election laws that prevent third party candidates from beating major party candidates.

These rigged elections give voters no choice but to vote for one of the two major parties. So voters do the only thing they can do, which is to routinely kick out the major party incumbents in the futile hope that the new major party candidates they elect will not flout their will to the same degree. But regardless of which party candidates they vote for, they get roughly the same policies. These typically sacrifice voters’ interests to the special interests that fund lawmakers’ electoral campaigns.

Unless voters are empowered to put an end to rigged elections before the 2012 elections, using mechanisms like the one proposed below, the middle class and working Americans will be ruined financially by the lawmakers and special interests that are enabling the business and financial sector to take more than their fair share of national income.

The top 1% of the population is now pocketing 24% of national income, up from 9% in 1976. The richest 1% got most of the total increase in American incomes that occurred between 1980 and 2005, while the wages and salaries of most workers stagnated. The heads of the largest American companies now earn 500 times what an average worker earns, giving the U.S. one of the most unequal distributions of wealth in the world.

With all that money going to the top, 60 million Americans are barely able to pay for the basic necessities of life, such as housing, food, medical care and transportation, according to research completed before the current recession. 58% of Americans rate their personal economic situation as “fair or poor” and 44% of Americans report that they do not have enough money to make ends meet.

Yet the nation’s lawmakers refuse to give priority to job-creating economic growth over policies that increase the wealth of the richest Americans. These policies do not generate enough jobs for those seeking employment. They also encourage outsourcing, which permanently destroys jobs and increases chronic unemployment and underemployment.

The 2010 election results and their aftermath reflect these clashing priorities. They show that it doesn’t really matter what voters say they want, or how they vote, even on crucial issues like jobs and the economy, because lawmakers will reframe whatever mandate the voters try to express so they can claim voters support whatever polices they choose to enact.

Polls show unequivocally that voters are far more concerned about their jobs and the nation’s economy than the nation’s budget deficit, and want the nation’s lawmakers to give top priority to spurring job-creating economic growth. They are adamant that lawmakers “‘keep their hands off Social Security and Medicare’ as they attempt to address the national deficit”, according to one post-election poll.

But the newly elected representatives in Congress have joined with incumbents of both parties in announcing their intention to do just the opposite. They plan to reduce Social Security and Medicare spending as a deficit reduction measure, and enact $100 billion in budget cuts that will stymie job creation and economic recovery.

Simultaneously, they are reframing voters’ demand that government intervene to spur job-creating economic growth by claiming that what voters really want is not government intervention to create jobs, but smaller government that leaves job creation exclusively in the hands of the private sector.

Polls show that wary voters are incensed by the hypocritical contradiction between lawmakers’ hands-off stance with respect to government intervention to spur job creation, and their hands-on stance in giving billions of dollars in public funds to bail out banks and financial institutions that engaged in fraudulent securities transactions. But rigged elections prevent voters from doing anything about it.

What portends an even greater disconnect in 2012 between voters’ priorities and the priorities of major party representatives are the unlimited funds that the Citizens United v. FEC decision now allows special interests to spend to put words into voters’ mouths and cloud their thinking.

The onslaught of corporate cash enables them to bombard voters 24 hours a day with slick but deceptive political advertisements. A prime example of what is to come was the reframing during the 2010 election cycle of Tea Party supporters’ original opposition to the bank bailouts. Special interest front groups morphed it into generalized opposition to government and government spending, following the Reagan playbook.

Tea Party candidates who received special interest campaign funds immediately began spouting special interest talking points. They extended Tea Party supporters’ revved up opposition to government and government spending to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare &#151 even though most Tea Party supporters oppose cuts in these programs.

Tea Party supporters who voted to oust Democratic incumbents in 2010 by electing Tea Party candidates running on the Republican line found themselves represented by lawmakers eager to join the ranks of mainstream Republican and Democratic lawmakers poised to make major cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

So even when a spontaneous surge of grassroots populism makes a dent in U.S. electoral politics, the major parties’ rigged elections prevent populist voters from electing representatives whom they can mandate to enact the policy priorities that sparked their political activism.

Clearly, the middle class and working Americans are on the path to financial ruin unless voters can unrig U.S. elections before 2012 and free them from the iron grip of the two major parties and their special interest backers.

They can do so only by circumventing the gerrymandering, campaign finance and elections laws that the two major parties have passed to ensure the election of their candidates. For it would be foolish to imagine that elected representatives who owe their election to these laws would be willing to overturn them, or that constitutional amendments can be passed to nullify the Citizens United decision in the near term.

The only mechanism that allows this circumvention is the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS). It empowers the overwhelming majority of Americans whom polls show want to oust most major party candidates from Congress to form voting blocs and electoral coalitions with electoral bases large enough to run candidates who can defeat major party candidates backed by special interests.

Voters across the political spectrum can use IVCS to align with labor unions and advocacy groups to build these voting blocs and electoral coalitions around common policy agendas, agendas that put an end to the reframing and flouting of the popular will by the two major parties and their representatives. These agendas can serve as legislative mandates that blocs and coalitions can use to screen, select, nominate and hold accountable candidates they elect to office to implement the mandates.

IVCS-enabled voting blocs and electoral coalitions can do everything that formally organized political parties can do, including running bloc and coalition candidates on existing party lines on the ballot. Their members can even take over organizational control of existing parties, if they wish, as well as create unique new political parties controlled by their voter members, who set their agendas and select their candidates.

Regardless of the stance that voting blocs and coalitions take towards political parties, the blocs and coalitions will be more powerful electorally than any political party because they will be able to build winning transpartisan electoral bases at any time to outflank and outmaneuver those of stand-alone political parties and their candidates.

These electoral bases will be comprised of broad-cross sections of voters across the political spectrum who actively participate in setting bloc and coalition agendas, negotiating which priorities to include and exclude from their agendas, and which candidates to include on common slates of candidates. Thanks to these agenda-setting and coalition-building capabilities, IVCS-enabled voting blocs and coalitions will render traditional political parties obsolete.

These blocs and coalitions will also be able to prevent the fragmentation of the electorate into losing splinter groups and third parties too small to win elections against major party candidates. They can do so by using IVCS consensus-building tools, such as the Voting Utility, to continue negotiating and even voting on which priorities they wish to include in common agendas until they can identify the combinations of priorities that attract the number of votes required to beat major party candidates they oppose. This process enables them to set flexible, evolving agendas, and build malleable and expandable electoral bases that can outflank and outmaneuver those of the two major parties. By so doing, they can unrig U.S. elections without changing laws or passing constitutional amendments.

For more information about how IVCS works, a prototype of a website being built around the system can be accessed at www.reinventingdemocracy.us.

“Missing Mandate” in the 2010 Election Results: Let This Be the Last Time

By: Nancy Bordier Thursday November 4, 2010 1:45 pm

Although the winners of the 2010 elections and the two major parties backing them claim voters gave them a mandate, the overall results are widely interpreted to be devoid of mandates.

That’s because the two parties and their financial backers have rigged U.S. electoral processes to prevent voters from issuing mandates. They have denied voters the option of choosing among an array of candidates with clear cut mandates by passing unfair state and federal election laws that enable most major party candidates to handily defeat third party candidates. With no viable third party candidates to choose from, voters have no choice but to vote for one of the two major party candidates, who are free to run on deliberately ambiguous and deceptive platforms.

They win elections because the special interests who finance their elections pay for the airing of political advertisements that camouflage their real track records and intentions. Once they are in office, they can claim to have any mandate they wish, and enact whatever legislation they and their financial backers wish to enact.

Unsurprisingly, entrapped and infuriated voters despise the Democratic and Republican parties and most of their incumbents, as New York Times columnist Frank Rich points out, and polls have repeatedly shown. Voters use elections to do the only thing they can do, which is to get rid of the representatives who most flagrantly flouted their wishes. They routinely do this, election cycle after election cycle, even when they have to vote for opposition candidates who are no less likely to flout their wishes and ignore their needs. The mandate-less results of the 2010 elections exemplify the two parties’ deliberate corruption of the democratic process.

They have transformed U.S. elections into a farce. Their caricature of democracy would be comical, especially the phony pontifications of elected officials, except that the parties’ deformation of democratic processes has led to such abuses of the public trust that the fabric of society is being torn apart.

Major party lawmakers have opened the door to the destruction of the country’s industrial base, and let the fraudulent securities practices of the banking and financial industry they refuse to regulate cause a deep economic recession, destroying trillions of dollars of wealth in the process. By refusing to genuinely regulate the industry even after the onset of the recession, these same lawmakers are allowing them to thwart an economic recovery that could provide economic and financial security to the American people.

I estimate that the acts and omissions of U.S. lawmakers have caused upwards of 100,000,000 Americans to be financially ruined, or to be on the verge of ruin, because they have been relegated to jobs that do not pay living wages, or have lost or are about to lose their jobs, homes, savings, health, healthcare and pensions.

But there is an even greater travesty than governmental ruination of a third of the population. The two conniving major parties have so rigged the electoral process that even when a third of the population is in dire straits, the American people cannot use elections to mandate their elected representatives to see to it that U.S. economic and financial systems provide them the economic and financial security to which all Americans are entitled.

Under the despotic electoral tutelage of the two major parties, the sole purpose of elections is to compel disempowered voters to transfer their sovereignty to elected party representatives so they can pass legislation in the name of all the American people even when a majority of Americans are totally opposed to it.

Proof positive of this fact was the blatant refusal of Congress and the White House to put on the negotiating table of health care reform legislation the preference held by a majority of Americans for a single payer health care system.

While my views of U.S. elections, and the results of the 2010 elections, may seem extreme to some, even the conservative commentator David Broder offers a partial endorsement of them.

Before the 2010 elections, he predicted that the results would fail to provide a mandate to the Democratic or Republican party, or Congress. (See his “Missing Mandate” in the Washington Post print edition, 10/28/10.) He blamed the two parties for the predicted failure, and identified as the major cause their incompetence in addressing the economic needs of the American people:

“Neither party can claim success on the most urgent task, providing an economic blueprint that allows people to lead their lives with confidence. . . Who in either party has put forward explanations of economic forces that make sense to most voters? No one . . . What is true of the economic debate is equally the case when it comes to other issues. Neither party regularly presents compelling spokesmen making articulate arguments.”

Broder goes on to link this incompetence to the more generalized failure of the two major parties to evoke widespread popular support (he neglects to mention that a majority of voters would prefer to have a competitive third party to choose from):

“The ratings [voters] give the parties has rarely been weaker. Large majorities of Republicans express doubts about the GOP. As do large majorities of Democrats about their own party.”

Let’s be clear about one important fact regarding the “missing mandate” in the 2010 election results. The mandate may be missing from the election results, but it is not missing from voters’ minds. Polls have consistently shown that a majority of Americans want the federal government to take action to spur job-creating economic growth &#151 even if it increases the deficit. But they cannot elect a majority of Congressional representatives from either party who will acknowledge and implement this critical legislative priority. To the contrary, these representatives and the White House appear to be pursuing an opposing set of objectives.

What is the remedy for an electoral system that has compelled the electorate to elect a Congress without a mandate, a Congress likely to make their economic and financial distress far worse than the previous Congress?

It has long been predicted by many observers that despite the objections of a majority of the American people, the new Congress will move quickly to ally with the Obama administration’s long-standing intention to slash entitlements, and possibly to privatize Social Security and Medicare. They are also likely to allow the continuation of the extraordinary transfer of wealth to the wealthy that special interest-backed lawmakers set in motion several decades ago, even though it is pauperizing working Americans and the middle class, and sucking the economic and financial lifeblood from communities throughout the nation.

How are we to prevent this governmentally-driven implosion of the American way of life?

It is certainly not by imagining that we can get lawmakers corrupted by special interest money to pass laws preventing special interest money from getting them elected. Nor is it by imagining that we can get lawmakers to redraw the boundaries of the election districts they have drawn around themselves to exclude voters who would be likely to vote against them.

No, the way the electoral system works has to be changed without changing any of the laws that make the system work the way it works.

While this may seem to be an impossibility, given the way the two major parties have comprehensively and systematically rigged U.S. elections, there is a mechanism that empowers voters to wrest control of elections from the parties without changing any laws. They can use it to formulate policy mandates and elect candidates who will implement their mandates.

The mechanism is the Interactive Voter Choice System. I first conceived of it in 2004 when I was attending a campaign event to support the presidential primary bid of Howard Dean. I went to the event because I was alarmed that Dean appeared to be moving away from his initial opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Since I knew that he would be including the supporters attending our event in a pre-scheduled teleconference, I wanted to see if I could find a way to request that he remain true to his initial opposition. I also wanted to get other supporters to join me in pressing Dean not to renege on his opposition.

What I realized while waiting for the teleconference to begin was that there was no formal mechanism built into the campaign for giving Dean a specific policy recommendation. Neither I, as an individual supporter, nor the other attendees, as a whole, had any way to articulate our priorities at the event and transmit them to Dean.

Even though Dean’s campaign slogan was “You have the power”, I began to feel pretty powerless, and actually rather foolish, once it dawned on me that I and my fellow attendees were just passive spectators waiting for Dean to call us up and give us the same prepared speech that he was simultaneously giving to hundreds of supporters around the country listening to the same conference call.

Just as I was pondering this irony, and the significance of the absence of a mechanism by which voters can formulate and transmit policy mandates to candidates who are asking to represent them, the idea for a mandate-generating mechanism popped into my mind, right there on the spot.

It was sparked by my opposition to the invasion of Iraq, my experience as a former electoral candidate, knowledge of electoral politics gleaned from the study of political science, familiarity with social science research and statistics, and a decade of web entrepreneurship.

I have been mulling this mechanism over in my mind since the Dean campaign. In the intervening years, I have figured out how to expand its functions so that it enables voters not only to define and transmit written policy agendas and legislative mandates to electoral candidates, but to get control of electoral processes as a whole.

Voters can use it to team up with other voters who share their policy priorities, using the free tools and services that will be provided on the social networking website I am building to make the mechanism available to voters at large. They can form voting blocs around common agendas which they can use as legislative mandates to screen, select, nominate and hold accountable candidates whom their voting blocs elect to office.

What will make this possible is the large scale collective action power of the Internet, combined with the functionality of a politically-oriented social networking platform. As one blogger has observed, what I am proposing is somewhat like a ‘political Facebook’, a site that connects people based on their policy priorities. Of course it is more than that because like-minded voters can use it to join forces online to build voting blocs, and use their voting blocs to build winning electoral coalitions.

These voting blocs can work inside or outside existing parties, or in new parties they or others create. They can build electoral coalitions with other voting blocs, political parties, labor unions and advocacy groups. By so doing, they can attract a large enough cross section of voters across the political spectrum to build winning electoral bases that can outmaneuver and outflank special interest-backed candidates running on the tickets of the two major parties.

This is the solution I propose to the “missing mandate” crisis, and the absence from U.S. politics of a popular mandate-generating mechanism, which I realized at the Dean event. I’m presently working hard to get the Interactive Voter Choice System up and running so that voters can use it to get control of the 2012 elections, and send unequivocal mandates to their elected representatives. If this dream comes true, the 2010 elections will be the last major elections in the United States with a “missing mandate”.

A prototype of the website I am building around the system can be accessed at www.reinventingdemocracy.us.