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Likely USA Reforms

Tools for developing democracy

Which reforms are most likely to win support?
Which reforms are most likely to win the support of America's voters or lawmakers or both? These reforms will move knowledge into action.

Movements to win voting rights for women and minorities required huge groups of people saying, “We won't accept this role any more.” For democracy to move forward, a huge group must say, “We won't accept phony voting anymore. Real democracy must be accurate democracy.”

What can emotionally and rationally persuade a large group to demand real democracy? One key is to show the connection between everyday life and democracy. Give Americans videos, pictures, stories and statistics showing that health, safety and education (policies) are best in the countries with the best scores on democracy.

Reform groups such as the Christian Coalition or the Sierra Club struggle year in and year out to advance the group's policies by lobbying reps. A much better way to get popular policies is to change the reps -- not by fighting in each election campaign, not even by fighting to draw the election districts, but by changing the election rules. Fixing our democracy is fundamental to fixing all government policies.

“This issue is not just about the right to vote. This is about making the right to vote meaningful - a right to representation. Both majority and minorities must be fairly represented in government if we are to achieve progress on the other important issues under discussion today.” -- Kathleen L. Barber

Instant Runoff Voting Instant Runoff Voting:
majority respected mandate power.
Participatory Budgeting Participatory Budgeting with MMV:
fair respected mandate;  moderate majority civility among citizens.
Proportional Representation, 3 seat Full Proportional Representation, 3 seat:
fair respected mandate;  moderate majority civility among citizens.
Rules of Order for Condorcet Rules of Order for Condorcet:
top majority fair civil respect;  speed.

Instant Runoff Voting

“Replacing traditional runoff with IRV [is the easier reform to win.] [It] lays the groundwork for [a harder reform,] replacing FPTP with IRV:
  • You get voting equipment capable of handling IRV elections.
  • You get election officials used to conducting IRV elections.
  • You get voters used to ranking candidates, and liking it.
  • You get elected officials (and their campaign consultants) experienced in campaigning in (and winning) IRV elections.”
    Steve Chessin

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) can replace FPTP most readily where strong third parties threaten to spoil the dominant party's hold on power by splitting its base of support. In New Mexico, for example, a Green candidate has taken enough liberal votes from a Democrat to give the election to the Republican candidate. The same may be true in Vermont. And in Alaska and Utah the Republicans fear the loss of conservative voters to the Libertarian Party.

IRV proves the winner has a sort of majority support. This gives her a mandate from a majority of voters -- and the respect, legitimacy and power that go with that. Politicians want respect and power so many want the proven majorities that IRV can give them.

IRV will cause little political turmoil. yet it will ensure that every elected leader wins a majority -- unlike the plurality winners who lack that respectable mandate. Thus IRV can strengthen democracy. It is a good step in political evolution. It introduces voters, politicians and election administrators to ranked ballots. That will make it easier to introduce multi-winner STV for reps balanced right and left of center, Condorcet-Hare hybrid. These tally the Pairwise table to check for a Condorcet winner, CW, which they will find in over 9 out of 10 elections. Once in awhile there is no CW due to a tie. In that case these rules use Hare's IRV elimination rule to break the tie. IRV and Condorcet rules usually elect the same candidate. When they differ the CW is closer to the center. But, as another page explains, sometimes the Condorcet winner might prove too unknown, moderate or bland for an executive role such as mayor.

Participatory Budgeting

Participatory Budgeting (PB) is growing all over the world, including the USA and China.

PB does not threaten the ruling elites. They keep control of military, police, courts, finance, trade, foreign policy, and much more. They permit the common people to spend months learning about local problems and opportunities by hearing experts talk about the many issues and tough tradeoffs involved.

PB reduces local corruption somewhat because it increases citizen surveillance of project funding and construction. PB allocates relatively small budgets. Though small, those funds can sometimes corrupt local politicians, who thus embarrass their superiors and weaken government authority. Reducing corruption raises the efficiency of government spending and its value to the citizens.

A Google spreadsheet shows the wide range of values for ballots cast in 2011 by residents of Chicago's 49th Ward. It shows the unfairness of old budget methods and the need for movable money votes.

PR within Small Districts

With 3 seat districts, each major party wins seats all over the country. There will be Republican reps from Massachusetts and Democratic reps from Georgia. When a party has a rep in every district, it may hear the needs of all districts.

Why does each major party win seats all over the country ? The quota needed to win 1 of 3 seats is 25% + 1 vote. Clinton got at least 25% of the votes even in the most conservative districts. So the Democratic party is likely to win at least 1 seat in each district. The GOP is likely to do the same.

A quota of 25% is too high for minor parties such as the Greens or Libertarians to win the balance of power in Congress. They could win at most a handful of seats in the Western states. Moderate Democrats and Republicans will hold the balance of power.

In most districts, Republican voters will control a seat; Democratic voters will control a seat, and independent voters will control a seat. The latter will continue to elect nominees of the major parties, but the winner will not be selected for them by a party's officials or voters in its primary. Each major party will nominate 3 candidates so the moderate voters will have several nominees to choose from.

The biggest result of IRV and 3-seat districts is moderation, less political roiling. That means policies closer to the political center and more stable. There will still be reps responsive to conservative Christians, libertarians, environmentalists or union members. But the many reps clearly elected by independent voters will not let off-center interest groups dominate. Unfortunately this might mean fewer policies challenging commercial dominance of politics and culture -- challenges which now come mainly from those far right and far left groups.

The second major result of 3-seat districts is increased representation of minorities. But representation by women goes up from 10% to 30% or higher only in districts with more than 3 reps.

Voter turnout is likely to increase from 40% to 60% or higher due to increasing the number of candidates and issues and increasing the percentage of ballots that elect winners.

Some knowledgeable moderates and centrists say electoral reform with PR would just increase the representation and power of fringe groups. They fear that even 3-seat districts would be a step toward full PR giving power to extreme factions. That cannot be said of electoral reform with ensemble rules, so ensemble rules should be more appealing to moderates and centrists.

When people are familiar with fair-share rules for elections, they may consider fair-share rules for funding projects and agencies.

PR with IRV

In the United States, constitutions strive for a balance of powers by electing chief executives who are independent from legislatures, and by giving the major or president the power to arbitrarily veto the council's legislation.

Several countries in Latin America also separate those branches of government but elect their legislatures by PR. Too often this combination results in deadlocks when a president vetoes a legislature's actions. Often those legislatures lack a ruling coalition that could negotiate with the president.

To reduce those deadlocks, the executive needs strong ties to a large bloc of reps and IRV makes this very likely: She is almost certain to come from 1 of the 2 largest parties and to have "coattails", popularity that helps elect reps from her party.

Rules of Order for Condorcet

This reform will have to grow from the bottom up, proving and improving itself in small organizations. When a fast and fair way to enact policies is well known, legislators may be shamed into modernizing their procedures. And most reps will see that they hurt themselves by slowing this change.

Accurate democracy is most likely to arise from the bottom up, from local jurisdictions whose voters are motivated by cooperation not factional rivalries and from organizations whose voters honestly want democratic control, not authoritarian leaders.

The biggest gap between election researchers and election administrators or reformers is in their appreciation of Condorcet’s rule. Despite praise from most researchers, Condorcet’s rule is not used by any major jurisdiction.

Why? Reps don’t want to change the rules they have mastered. They like the safe seats that the old rules create. Even in list PR, there are many safe seats. “In a progress trap, those in positions of authority are unwilling to make changes necessary for future survival [of the organizaion]. To do so they would need to sacrifice their current status and political power at the top of a hierarchy. They may also be unable to raise public support and the necessary economic resources, even if they try.”

Few activists push for anything new. Most want minor rule changes that will help their interest group such as PR for women, minorities, and third parties -- all of which add up to a more liberal democracy, more accurate in its representation of voters, but not very accurate at enacting central policies.

Reps and activists enjoy battling for winner take all victories. Most are from one side or the other, not from the center. And most say they would rather win 100% victories 50% of the time than win 50% victories 100% of the time. The difference between the winner and runner-up by plurality or runoff is the difference between the 2 parties.

But, unlike activists, the great majority of voters are moderates and centrists. Condorcet elections and legislation help this broad middle. They do not offer thrilling victories or defeats. The difference between a Condorcet winner and it runner-up often is small; both are broadly popular and central.

Will centrists and moderates revolt and demand a central voting rule? Not likely. But Condorcet’s rule could be used frequently for decisions by any council, including private organizations and schools. That is where this change should begin.

Instant Runoff Voting is winning bipartisan support. It may lead to STV / Choice voting / personal-list PR because both let voters rank candidates on the ballot and both eliminate the weakest candidates one at a time. Rules of order for rank ballots will be adopted if small groups prove they speed voting and produce more popular policies.

But these three changes would not end the political power that the USA's "aristocracy of wealth" and trade groups get through secret funding for campaign ads. Perhaps a person who is not allowed to vote for a candidate should not be allowed to give money to that candidate. This eliminates foreigners, corporations and their lobbyists from buying reelection of favorite politicians and buying favors from those politicians.

Social innovators probably make a mistake when we focus on "big wins." There are more opportunities and better chances for growing a reform that can be used by small groups.

Assertiveness training is one model for growing a social innovation. A good number of people have made moderate incomes by writing books or leading workshops.

An electoral system must be understood by the citizens to ensure they accept the election results. This favors simple systems over more complicated ones. Most voters accept the plurality rule because they think they understand it. It is mathematically simple. But the strategies it forces on voters and parties are not simple. And few voters understand the rule's effects: how it is erratic and unfair.

Often a big problem in achieving electoral reforms is that we want everyone to share our ideas about voting rules. But, of course, that isn't the point -- any more than teaching biochemistry is the point of an aspirin commercial. Sellers need to offer results not mechanisms. We can show that our old rules are erratic and unfair, and that other jurisdictions have discovered rules that are moderate and fair.

Organizations working to reform voting rules are listed on the resources page.  Future Rules

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