[Author’s note: This series has been re-posted by Joe Firestone (a.k.a. letsgetitdone) on behalf of author Nancy Bordier with her express permission.]
By Nancy Bordier
See the series introduction here.
All U.S. House of Representatives seats and one third of Senate seats in Congress will be up for re-election in 2012. The U.S. House of Representatives holds the "power of the purse" because it initiates all revenue bills. Electing a majority of representatives to this body who are untainted by special interest money is the fastest and most direct way for U.S. voters to get their policy priorities enacted into law and stop the passage of legislation that serves special interests.
With 80% of Americans wanting most Congressional representatives to be defeated, and the two major parties attracting little more than half of all of registered voters combined, there are likely to be enough discontented voters in most Congressional districts to oust their incumbents — provided they have a mechanism for putting House candidates on the ballot that elicit the votes of a plurality of voters. (U.S. election laws permit candidates to be elected without a majority of all votes cast; they just need to get more votes than any other candidate, referred to as a "plurality").
This mechanism is provided by the web application described in Part II, the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS), which enables voters to take advantage of the large scale collective action power of the Internet to win Congressional elections in the electoral districts where they live. The efforts of voters to use the Internet and the application to oust incumbents will be furthered by the fact that incumbent Democrats and Republicans in Congress are often elected to the U.S. House of Representatives with less than 100,000 votes in non-presidential election years. (Each district comprises a total population of approximately 600,000.)
Moreover, while many state election laws are designed to thwart candidacies not backed by the major parties, the rules governing primary elections for the U.S. House of Representatives require the signatures of only a small percentage of registered voters to put a candidate on the ballot on an existing political party’s line. While the rules vary widely among the 50 states, it is only 5% in states like New York State.
In a hypothetical New York State Congressional election district with 300,000 registered voters, of whom 150,000 are Democrats and 150,000 are Republicans, all that the 80% of dissatisfied voters have to do, in order to put a candidate on the primary ballot of either party, is to collect valid signatures from 7500 registered voters in that primary.
Not only are the signatures of only a fraction of registered voters required to put a candidate on an existing party’s ballot line, but there is no minimum number of party voters required to actually vote for the candidate to get him/her elected in the party’s primary election. Moreover, only a small minority of a party’s registered voters actually turn out to vote in primary elections and this minority actually determines the party’s general election slate of candidates.
Recent Tea Party victories in electing unknown party candidates in primary elections against establishment Republican incumbents show how easy it is to take advantage of the low number of signatures and primary voters required — especially when the candidates are backed by irate, aggrieved voters who can be mobilized to vote in larger numbers than dispirited, apathetic or over-confident mainstream voters.
These statistics and requirements show that grassroots voters do not face insurmountable obstacles to ousting incumbents in their Congressional districts in 2012 — provided they can agree on who they want to run, and can get candidates on the primary and general election ballot that can attract a plurality of votes cast. This is no small matter given the two major parties’ pre-eminence in electoral politics and the surging special interest-backed Tea Party movement, but the IVCS web application makes attaining this goal entirely feasible in most election districts that have a majority of irate mainstream voters who want to replace their representatives.
What has prevented the majority of dissatisfied voters in the past from running and electing insurgent candidates against those run by the two major political parties with special interest funding is that they lacked a mechanism for building voting blocs whose members can agree on a set of priorities and slates of candidates, and attract enough voters away from special interest-backed candidates to cast a plurality of votes for bloc candidates.
Third parties like the Green party and the Libertarian party, for example, have not sought to create a hybrid voting bloc, even for the tactical goal of defeating major party candidates, because they have been striving to differentiate themselves from each other and from the two major parties. (Moreover, both have been handicapped in developing substantial electoral bases by federal and state "winner-take-all" election laws that favor the two major parties.)
In contrast, the IVCS web application empowers voters, existing political parties and new parties focused on winning Congressional elections to build transpartisan voting blocs without large sums of money. IVCS enables them to bring together virtually unlimited numbers of voters across the political spectrum to set shared transpartisan policy agendas and select common slates of candidates willing to run on their agendas. With 80% of the electorate wanting to oust most Congressional representatives, the application enables these blocs to easily acquire the voting strength they need to outflank and outmaneuver existing stand-alone political parties that are running special interest-backed candidates. In fact, they can pre-empt these parties from running such candidates by building voting blocs that run winning candidates on their ballot lines in party primaries.
The application makes the formation of these blocs, agendas and slates possible by providing free web-based tools and services to individual voters across the political spectrum on a single website. These tools allow them to set their policy agendas and contact voters who share their policy priorities so they can join forces to create voting blocs in their local Congressional election districts dedicated to electing representatives who will enact their priorities into law. (To view a prototype of the website, click here.)
The application provides an easy-to-use repertory of bottom-up collaboration and consensus-building tools designed to enable grassroots voters to organize and run autonomous voting blocs in their Congressional districts free of unwanted outside influence. They can operate their voting blocs inside or across party lines, or in new parties they or others create. Although the tools also help voters use their voting blocs to build electoral coalitions and even new parties on a local, state and even national level, individual voting blocs will always be the building blocks and driving forces of these relationships.
Voting bloc members can adopt whatever rules they think they need to manage themselves internally and negotiate external relationships, including electoral coalitions, agendas and slates of candidates with other voting blocs, political parties, unions, etc. If they function in ways their members find objectionable, with or without formal rules, dissatisfied members can leave the bloc and join or start other voting blocs with modes of operation more to their liking. The competition among voting blocs for members will enhance the prospects for democratic decision-making.