How To Fix American Democracy

What's The Problem?

Politicians say that the single most important thing for winning an election is a big advertising budget. Sadly, the evidence is they're right. Their platforms are full of generalities, and campaign promises are made to be broken. On actual issues, corporate lobbyists seem to have more input than the voters. How can there be a conflict of interest, in the mind of someone with no interest beyond re-election? Why bother to vote, when I can't tell the candidates apart?

Is There A Solution?

Sure. Give me a candidate with a chance, a candidate who says the right things about my pet issues, and I'll embrace him. Millions would. But in a restricted geographic area, no politician can be like that. In any one area, there are almost never enough votes for a single-issue candidate. Voters who deeply care about NASA, or NAFTA, or NOW, or the NRA, are spread across the countryside. They are diluted and usually get drowned out.

So, let's have candidates of no fixed geographic region. Every candidate who gets enough votes is in, regardless of where the votes came from. If someone wants to speak for (say) commercial fishermen, well, he can campaign up and down the coasts, and around the Gulf. If someone wants to speak for Microsoft customers, or Baptists, or nurses, or accident victims, or ex-convicts, there are ways to reach these people. Go look at the best magazine display in your town. Horse owners can be reached. Heck, there's a magazine for security guards. And now candidates have the Internet.

Can We Make That Work?

It works in Australia. Instead of each state holding a winner-takes-all Senate election, they hold elections where five winners become Senators.

The only major stumbling block is how to get the system changed. The only way to do that is to get the idea popular in a few States, and hope it spreads from there. Each State does have the power to operate in this way, within its own borders. California elects 53 Representatives, but the federal Constitution doesn't tell California to have districts.

I am convinced that everything else is relatively easy. Voter and candidate registration, and the actual voting, are fairly ordinary organizational problems. There are some side issues - like, does getting twice the minimum number of votes, result in twice the power. I have answers, but let's skip the details.

What Would The New World Be Like?

Hopeful. Activist. Involved. The old playing field probably wouldn't go away, but politicians on the new playing field would be more entrepreneurial, and more rooted in their constituency. They might have a narrow vision, but at least they'd have a vision! They would have incentive to truly fight for "their" issues. Being inoffensive and photogenic wouldn't be so much on their minds. And remember, it's easier to deal with someone when you know his agenda.

"Machine politics" and big parties wouldn't vanish. Instead, there would be more machines. Would the Teamsters or the RIAA push their own candidates? Why not? They already influence candidates. They'd simply stop spreading their power thin. And we'd all know who their candidate was.

It could be a very different world from today's, where so many issues are just lost in the political mush, or mostly get to Washington as marches and anger.

Last modified: 9 January 2005

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