[Authors’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.
This part discusses how individual voters can use the web-based tools and services provided by the Interactive Voter Choice System to set their policy agendas and form voting blocs that run winning candidates in a Congressional District. Part 5 shows how voting blocs can use the application to build electoral coalitions that give them the electoral strength they need to win Congressional elections.
Legislative Agenda Setting
At the founding of the Republic, voters and their Congressional representatives were few in number. They had similar backgrounds and views about what policies should be enacted. In contrast to the demographics of that era, a Congressional electoral district now contains not hundreds of voters but hundreds of thousands of voters.
Yet prior to the invention of the Interactive Voter Choice System, this large number of voters had no mechanism for conveying to electoral candidates in a comparable format their policy priorities across the board, much less in writing. Nor did they have any mechanism for requiring candidates to specify their agendas across the board, in writing, so voters could compare their respective agendas when deciding how to cast their vote.
This lack of specificity with regard to voters’ and candidates’ policy priorities has left voters with no choice but to choose among candidates whose agendas are often vague and deliberately ambiguous. Candidates usually go to great lengths to avoid specificity on the campaign trail, usually by talking out of both sides of their mouths and making statements that can be interpreted in contradictory ways by different groups of supporters. Once in office, elected representatives advocate and vote for whatever legislation they wish by claiming that their votes represent the views of constituents — even though their constituents have no way to systematically articulate their priorities across the board themselves.
The IVCS application empowers voters to definitively close this gap between their policy priorities and their elected representatives’ priorities, and the laws voters want to see enacted and those that are actually enacted. It does so by empowering voters for the first time in history to provide written legislative mandates to candidates and incumbents setting forth their policy priorities across the board.
The core agenda setting tool is a comprehensive Policy Options Database of 104 options from which voters can select the policies they wish to see enacted into law. Voters can annotate the options they choose, add additional options to the database, and update their agendas at any time. The options cross party lines and advocate divergent and even diametrically opposed policy choices. (To view a prototype of the database, click here.)
The database itself and its transpartisan policy options are unique. To encourage voters across the political spectrum to find common ground across political party lines, most options in the IVCS database do not refer to a specific political party. Moreover, voters are not asked to identify their political party or ideological stance (e.g. conservative, liberal, etc.) because research shows that when voters can freely choose their preferred policy options without being restricted to a limited set of options, those they choose cut across party lines and ideologies.
The IVCS agenda setting tool helps voters compare and contrast policy alternatives by providing links on all options to online sources of information describing the pros and cons of each option from a diverse array of vantage points. Voters can propose additional links, which are updated continuously.
Voters can select any number of options from the database. If they wish, they can rank order them from most to least preferred. They can define different agendas for different purposes, update their agendas whenever their priorities change, and save all their agendas in their own personal archive on the website for future reference. They can display all their priorities or selected priorities on their personal home pages on the website, and decide who they will to allow to view them.
Once voters have set their agendas, they can also compare them to the agendas set by other voters and identify and contact voters with similar agendas. Here’s how.
After selecting their priorities from the Policy Options Database, voters can enter their priorities into the Policy Priorities Database. Then they can query the database to see how their priorities compare with all the voters who have submitted priorities. They can find out how many voters have set agendas similar to their own, including how many voters have selected similar clusters of certain priorities, or even a single priority.
They can also ask for the ZIP codes of voters with similar priorities, including those who live inside as well as outside their Congressional electoral district. They can request the usernames and internal email addresses of these voters, provided these individuals have indicated their interest in connecting with other voters who have selected similar priorities and authorized the sharing of their usernames and internal email addresses. In response to their query, inquirers will receive a list of the usernames of voters who share their policy priorities, their ZIP codes and their internal email addresses so they can contact them directly via internal email.
Significantly, by contributing their priorities to the Policy Priorities Database, voters will be joining with other voters throughout the country to re-set the nation’s policy priorities. Statistical reports summarizing all voters’ priorities submitted to the database will be published periodically on the website, recording and profiling changes in the nation’s priorities in a format that makes them understandable to voters, incumbents, candidates, the mass media, bloggers, and anyone with an interest in the evolving policy priorities of Americans.
In addition to identifying and contacting like-minded voters, voters and the voting blocs they establish can also request strategically significant database information of interest to them showing persistent patterns of policy priorities chosen by voters nationally and by ZIP code. They can also track emerging trends and shifts in priorities that may result from changing economic conditions, such as employment rates; political factors, such as lawmakers’ statements related to pending legislation, and their actions and votes on pending legislation that voters favor or oppose; and also media coverage involving politicians, pundits, bloggers, and other people creating narratives about politics.
Voters can send the results of their database queries to the news media, elected representatives and candidates to publicize the degree to which their preferences converge with, or diverge from, those espoused by elected representatives, candidates, political parties, advocacy groups, special interests and pundits, as well as those attributed to voters by these individuals and groups. When media attention is focused on clashes between voters’ policy priorities and elected representatives’ statements, legislative actions and track records, it will exert pressure on them to change course if the divergences appear severe enough to raise doubts about their future electability.
Forming Voting Blocs
Voters who find and contact other voters with similar policy priorities after querying the Policy Priorities Database and subsequently develop relationships can add these voters to their personal networks on the website, and vice versa, just as Facebook members add "Friends" to their networks. Once they do so, they can use the website’s social networking tools for one-to-one and one-to-many messaging. They can begin building politically-oriented social networks of "friends" who share similar policy preferences and interests in getting them enacted into law.
In particular, they can create networks comprised of "friends" who reside in their Congressional election district. They can take advantage of the communication tools and information resources provided on the website to collectively examine their representatives’ legislative track records to see how much convergence there is between these records and their own legislative priorities, as reflected in the policy agendas they have set using the Policy Options Database.
If they decide their incumbents’ records and policy agendas are unsatisfactory, and fail to show that they are exerting their best efforts to enact the voters’ priorities into law, voters can join forces to transform their personal networks into voting blocs hosted on the website dedicated to running and electing Congressional representatives who can do a better job. Specifically, they can:
1. Give their voting bloc a name;
2. Create a home page for the bloc on the website;
3. Collectively set an agenda for the bloc as a whole and, if they choose to do so, post the agenda on the bloc’s home page. They can use the application’s Voting Utility to vote on the bloc’s initial agenda and subsequent updates;
4. Devise a registration process and criteria for adding new members;
5. Provide instructions to new members for registering and setting up individual home pages;
6. Create an organizational structure to manage the various tasks involved in running the bloc, building external relationships, and conducting its electoral campaigns;
7. Select privacy settings after deciding how much access to the bloc and its activities they want to give non-members;
8. Recruit new members to their bloc, by opting to have the name of their bloc and agenda listed on the website’s home page, and also by adding links to their bloc’s site from external sites;
9. Establish a mailing list so they can email messages to all their members and non-members simultaneously, send newsletters, and invite members and non-members to participate in online and face-to-face events sponsored by the group as a whole, or by individual members;
10. Use the website’s chat, forum and document editing features to discuss their agenda and formalize their electoral strategies and plans in writing;
11. Add links to their group’s home and web pages connecting their members to websites that provide information about their Congressional representatives, including their legislative initiatives and votes, sources of campaign funds, speeches, public statements, press releases and stories about them published in the media.
(The website will provide all registered members an exhaustive set of links to websites that they can use to research specific legislative issues, documents related to these issues, and the actions of legislative committees and voting bodies affecting these issues.)
It is in this context of direct interaction with elected representatives that the policy agendas which voters create using the application can revolutionize U.S. electoral and legislative politics. Voters will be able to use their agendas as written legislative mandates, thereby creating an unprecedented lever of individual and collective control over every aspect of U.S. electoral and legislative processes. Most importantly, they can use them to negotiate with first-time candidates seeking election and incumbents seeking re-election specific policy-based terms and conditions for putting them on the ballot for upcoming Congressional primaries, and getting out the vote to elect them.
To institute such close, quasi-contractual voter-representative relationships, voting blocs can request candidates to set their policy agendas using the Policy Options Database, and email their agendas to the voting blocs, accompanied by tangible evidence of prior commitments and efforts to attain the priorities they have specified. Then the members of the voting blocs can compare their own agendas with the agendas of representatives and candidates, and their track records, and decide whether they wish to get behind their candidacies.
The agendas can also be used to structure online and face-to-face candidate debates that are run by and for the voters, rather than by reporters and journalists who typically let candidates avoid giving clear, unequivocal answers to voters’ questions. Voting bloc members can request that candidates discuss particular policy priorities contained in their respective agendas, how they envisage getting support from their Congressional colleagues to move legislation to enact priorities through the various stages of legislative processes, and their analysis of the prospects for getting them enacted.
Once elected, voting blocs can use their written legislative mandates to oversee the work of their representatives; dialogue with them about the stances of other lawmakers, and what can be done to build consensus behind their legislative proposals; and join with them in deciding what are the best strategies and tactics for moving legislative proposals through Congressional decision-making channels. If incumbents seeking re-election cannot provide tangible proof that they have exerted their best efforts to implement specific policy priorities contained in the voting blocs’ agendas, the bloc can opt to oppose their re-election and run candidates against them.