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What Could We Do to Take Back Our Democracy?


This is the first of a seven part article on seven pages.
For the full article on one page, click here.

High Leverage Proposals for Electoral and Political Transformation


by Tom Atlee

June 2003


What would really sane elections be like? Imagine:...

It is election day.

None of the candidates has accepted any private money.
Since they voluntarily agreed to spending limits, your tax
dollars paid for their campaigns. Political advertising has
been minimal, but there have been many opportunities to
hear candidates talk about the issues and their visions.

You've watched presidential and gubernatorial debates each
of which included two third-party candidates as well as
the Democrats and Republicans.

You browse through your voter information booklet. Among
the candidate descriptions and pro and con arguments for
ballot initiatives, you find ratings of all the major candidates
done by random citizen panels who interviewed them. Other
random citizen panels studied the ballot initiatives for you
and clearly describe the trade-offs you need to consider, as
well as their own recommendations. You find most of their
recommedations make sense to you.

You read up on a half-dozen federal ballot initiatives dealing
with major tax cuts and environmental, technological and
foreign policy issues that have been in the news. Thank
heaven for the citizen panels. You realize you would never
have been able to fairly weigh both sides of these complex
issues yourself....

In the voting booth you touch the computer screen to register
your votes. Candidates who have been rated by random citizen
panels are listed in the order of their ratings. For the major
candidates like President and Governor, you get to pick two,
so you vote Democrat and Green for President, and Republican
and Libertarian for Governor. The computer prints out two
copies of your ballot with an anonymous code on them. You
drop one in the ballot box and take the other home.

The next day you use the code to check the Web, verifying
that your vote was actually included in the list of everyone's
anonymous votes publicly displayed there. You feel confident
that the voting machines were OK because a programmer friend
checked the open source code, and surprise recounts are being
done in hundreds of randomly selected precincts.

You think back on how frustrating elections used to be, and
wonder about why it took so long to change that....


I can almost imagine a "call" being issued to save our democracy. It might go something like this:


Today the corruptions and shortcomings of our beleaguered democracy make it hard -- and often impossible -- for We the People to secure the blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for ourselves and our posterity.

We see our social, economic, and environmental problems growing. We become angry or alienated as we experience avoidable crises and wars, the decay of communities and morals, threats to our liberty, and the degradation of our quality of life.

Our election machinery is no longer dependable. Our campaigns and governance are corrupted by money. Our two-party system silences important voices. Our policies are not wise -- in fact half the time they are seriously crazy. And we, the citizenry, are alienated from each other and our representatives.

We believe that we are unjustly denied our proper role in shaping the destiny of our country, our state, our community.

Some of us are convinced that it doesn't have to be this way -- that a better democracy is possible.

And so some of us are taking responsibility now to envision and create the democracy we want -- to create our world again, as Thomas Paine called us to do back in 1776.

The better democracy we will create will give ultimate power back to We the People while at the same time ensuring that wiser decisions emerge from our citizenship and the work of our representatives.

The better democracy we will create will be based on our beliefs about democratic power and wisdom:

DEMOCRATIC POWER: We believe that democratic decision-making power should rest with the majority as it seeks the common good, and should be protected from manipulation by powerful minorities, while respectfully considering minority views and the needs and rights of minority populations and individuals. We believe this is the essence of democratic power.

But today's challenges are unprecedented, and democratic power can only address those challenges successfully to the extent it is also wise. And so we also believe we need democratic forms of wisdom.

DEMOCRATIC WISDOM: We believe that democratic wisdom can arise only from informed dialogue, deliberation and reflection among diverse citizens. Our diversity and common ground are to be equally treasured as resources in our exercise of democratic imagination. This is possible in a deliberative democracy -- a reflective democracy -- in which we

We believe the following innovations and initiatives can provide both the democratic power and the democratic wisdom we need to improve the decisions that affect our lives.

  1. Voter-verified paper trails and open source software to prevent computerized election-day corruption.
  2. Clean money initiatives to handle special-interest distortion of election campaigns and governance.
  3. Multi-candidate debates and voting to handle two-party domination.
  4. Citizen reflective councils to bring wisdom to all public decision-making, including elections.
  5. National and state initiative processes through which We the People can pass needed laws when our representatives are not able or willing to do so.

Each of these, by itself, is necessary but not sufficient to give us the democracy we want. And many other things COULD be done to create a democracy that works for the common good (see But TOGETHER the innovations above will give us ENOUGH democratic power and ENOUGH democratic wisdom to create the democracy we want, step by step by step, learning as we go.


There are many approaches to electoral systems change