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Preventing the Collapse of Democracy with the Interactive Voter Choice System

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Nancy Bordier and Joseph M. Firestone

Overview

The two of us met recently at an AmericaSpeaks event in Fairfax, VA, on June 26th. We decided independently to attend the event, but for the same reason. We wanted to protest the undue attention being given the federal budget deficit compared to the far more critical need to restore job-creating economic growth. Increasing tax revenues by getting the unemployed into new jobs is a more effective way to reduce the deficit than self-defeating cuts in entitlement expenditures. We also wanted to protest the bias built into the event, which Joe later analyzed in a seven part series, The Procrustean Democracy of AmericaSpeaks.

After the AmericaSpeaks event, we discussed the problem of powerful special interests that mislead the public, distort U.S. priorities and deform public policies. A prime example is the billionaire deficit hawk who is advocating entitlement cuts and funded the event. We agreed that the increasing enfeeblement of the electorate is part of the problem. Voters' influence over the agendas of the Democratic and Republican parties and their elected representatives grows weaker as the influence of the business and financial interests that finance the parties and the campaigns of their candidates grows stronger.

Corporate-funded mainstream media have joined forces with the compromised parties and their elected representatives to put special interest priorities in the limelight, and create a political climate conducive to the enactment of public policies they favor, to the detriment of the public interest. Governing officials who should be protecting the American people from predatory special interests have joined forces with them to further their depredations.

They have facilitated the bloating of the financial services sector at the expense of the real economy, the job base and working Americans' share of national income. The result is a sharp increase in the upward redistribution of public and private wealth to those who are already wealthy, especially those in the financial services sector, and the increasing impoverishment of middle class and working Americans who cannot find jobs that pay living wages.

The recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC has now set the stage for a complete collapse of democracy by giving corporations free rein to spend unlimited amounts of corporate funds to elect pro-business candidates. They can put hundreds of millions of dollars into a single campaign to dominate every messaging channel and use slick, emotionally-tinged political advertisements to dupe undiscerning, low information voters into voting against their own interests for politicians who will ignore them once they are in office, to do the bidding of their special interest campaign financiers.

At this point, Nancy mentioned her patent pending invention, the Interactive Voter Choice System. Its mission is to empower voters across the political spectrum to get control of political parties, elections and legislative decision-making by leveraging the collective action power of the Internet.

The invention, a web-based application, provides voters free tools and services for setting their policy agendas across the board, in writing, for the first time in history, in order to re-set the nation's priorities from the grassroots, and build trans-partisan voting blocs and electoral coalitions around their agendas that can elect representatives who will enact them into law.

The invention's consensus-building tools and services empower voters to use their voting blocs to form broad-based electoral coalitions that have the voting strength needed to run and elect candidates to office, on existing party lines or new party lines. They enable the members of voting blocs and electoral coalitions to negotiate common agendas among virtually unlimited numbers of voters of diverse political persuasions. They can use their blocs and coalitions to get control of existing parties so they can run their candidates on party lines, or create new parties.

Nancy also expressed the view, and Joe agreed, that none of the current strategies for ousting special interests and the elected representatives they control will make much of a difference in the near term, either singly or in combination, especially since it is unlikely that campaign finance laws and the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. FEC decision can be reversed in the foreseeable future. The power of corporate cash fused with the electoral clout of the two major political parties and the legislative clout of party-backed elected representatives has created a political juggernaut which has repeatedly demonstrated its capacity to outmaneuver efforts to replace incumbents and reform the system.

Karl Popper thought that the primary virtue of democracy is that it provides people with a peaceful way to change their leaders when they no longer approve of their leadership. The U.S. political system, however, is falling way short of this core virtue. The large majority of elected representatives are re-elected time after time even though polls show that a majority of Americans are dissatisfied with their performance and want to see most representatives defeated. They are especially adamant about replacing Congressional representatives whom they believe are more interested in serving special interests than the people they represent.

Yet these rogue legislators cling to office despite widespread popular opposition. They can do so because the party-engineered gerrymandering of the boundaries of electoral districts have created "safe seats" for most representatives, who use their corporate-funded campaign war chests to mislead and even dupe their constituents about their intentions and track records when they are on the campaign trail. They also benefit from campaign finance laws and federal and state election laws that make it virtually impossible for most insurgent candidates and third parties to win elections.

Evidence that the parties have deliberately skewed electoral processes to prevent the election of candidates who genuinely represent the people can be found in the anomalous fact that there are only two Independent elected representatives in Congress even though approximately 40% of the electorate has been comprised of Independent and non-affiliated voters for many years.

If Independents held 40% of the seats in Congress, they could break the stalemate between the Democrats and Republicans. They could also revoke rules like the Senate's filibuster, which enables a single member representing a tiny minority of the electorate to bloc legislation and prevent the democratic rule of the majority of American voters.

Even in the rare instances when incumbents are replaced, newcomers backed by the two major parties typically follow in their predecessors' footsteps and betray their campaign promises by enacting legislation that favors the special interests that financed their campaigns and those of their predecessors. The process essentially puts these interests beyond voters' reach, which is especially harmful to the public interest when they possess massive global financial and economic power.

Nancy argued that since corrupted lawmakers routinely block attempts to change the laws that provide them and their financial backers "safe seats" from which to control legislation, voters must change the system from below. With her invention, voters can leverage the collective action power of the Internet to remedy the failure of representative government in the U.S. without changing any laws.

When Joe expressed interest in Nancy's invention, she invited him to go to the prototype website built around it and share his thoughts about its capacity to engender a voter takeover of U.S. electoral and legislative processes. After a month of exchanging emails and phone chats, and a long lunch in Arlington, the two of us appear to be largely in agreement that the invention, in combination with Web 2.0 applications that facilitate social networking and online collaboration, and eventually Web 3.0 and 4.0 technologies, has a unique capacity to empower voters to create popular political coalitions that can achieve electoral accountability and grassroots control of government.

Self-organizing voting blocs originating and maintaining themselves through the Interactive Voter Choice System could replace special interest, corporatist, and minority rule in Congress with majority rule in just a few election cycles. They could break the stalemate between Democratic and Republican representatives who have demonstrated their inability to legislate solutions to the severe crises plaguing the country that serve the public interest.

The purpose of this post is to share the results of our exchanges. We'll summarize the premises and diverse capabilities of the IVCS web application, and show how it empowers U.S. voters to prevent the pending collapse of democracy in the U.S. by joining forces to elect representatives who will enact voters' policy mandates into law.

Premises

The core premise of the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS) is that voters who want to get control of government will embrace the system because it is the only way they can get control of government, once again. U.S. voters across the political spectrum are so dissatisfied with their elected representatives that they will take advantage of the first effective mechanism that is made available to them at the local and national levels to oust these representatives from office.

Assuming that polls like the recent CBS News-New York Times poll are correct that 80% of voters want to see most representatives defeated, what dissatisfied voters in a typical Congressional district need to do so, is an application like IVCS that enables them to get control of elections, namely, by setting a common policy agenda and creating a common slate of candidates that attracts enough votes to elect them to office. They can run their slate on the ballot lines of existing parties or create new parties. It is important to keep in mind 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 a typical Congressional district, especially in gerrymandered districts. (Each district comprises a total population of approximately 600,000.)

To get elected, a candidate needs only a plurality of votes cast, i.e. the most votes cast rather than a majority of all votes cast. With polls showing that 80% of Americans want to see their elected representatives replaced, most typical districts are likely to have at least a plurality of discontented voters who will oust their representatives if they have an effective mechanism for doing so. We believe the IVCS application is that mechanism.

The Internet and IVCS make it relatively easy for voters to take the reins of U.S. electoral processes, which we believe they will, based on surveys showing that the Internet has become the primary channel for popular participation in elections. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 125 million people used the Internet to participate in all phases of the 2008 presidential election, a number approaching the 131 million people who actually voted in the election. Web savvy voters who use the IVCS application are numerous enough to replace most elected representatives.

The gateway to this usage is already well-traveled and the access tools well-known, thanks to the fact that the IVCS application enables all 125 million Internet users to employ the same social networking technologies as Facebook, which now has 500 million members worldwide. Voters who use IVCS will be able to add friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to their politically-oriented social networks just as they do on Facebook, as well as like-minded voters with similar policy priorities whom they meet for the first time on the IVCS website.

A key related premise of the IVCS application is that people can and will self-organize around specific policy preferences and priorities. Despite the elitist argument that voters are only capable of expressing broad value preferences but lack the capacity to set legislative agendas or formulate policies, voters have consistently demonstrated they are entirely capable of articulating specific policy priorities even in complex and highly technical legislative battles.

A majority of U.S. voters did so recently during the complicated health care debate by persistently supporting the single payer option in the face of the concerted opposition of their Congressional representatives, who refused to put it on the table. Despite the complexity of the fraudulent Wall Street practices that brought down the nation's banking system and economy, a majority of the population has steadfastly opposed lawmakers' bailouts of the banks and financial institutions that were responsible.

Moreover, voters are capable of scrutinizing an intricate array of policy options, as demonstrated by thousands of people across the country who participated in the recent AmericaSpeaks event. They selected their preferred policy options from a list of 42 options for cutting the federal budget deficit that organizers were projecting (and the two of us were opposing). Voters are also capable of formulating their own options (as the two of us tried to do during the event, though without much success given the highly structured and, we think, biased nature of the proceedings).

Based on the outcome of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, another premise of the IVCS application is that the online organizing that will be fostered by the application will be a determining force in future elections. The Obama campaign used online social networking technologies similar to those used by the application to mobilize millions of Millennial generation voters, who were reported to have given him 90% of his victory margin. Thanks to the Internet and social networking technologies, voting blocs that use the IVCS application will be able to perform all the functions of political campaigns and political parties. In addition to recruiting new members on-line, they will also be able to form broad-based trans-partisan electoral coalitions that can acquire the voting strength to take over existing parties, or create new ones, to elect coalition-backed candidates.

How the Application Works

One of the most important functions of the application is to enable U.S. voters across the political spectrum to make their voices heard without the interference of manipulative politicians who claim to speak for voters. It enables voters who use the IVCS application to identify, debate and resolve their differences by themselves in arenas that are not controlled by the mass media or dominated by attention-grabbing pundits, politicians or party officials trying to ignite controversies in order to keep themselves in the limelight.

Surveys show that a majority of Americans share largely consensual policy preferences, suggesting that the acclaimed polarization of American public opinion is more likely to be an artifact of the two parties' electoral machinations and manipulation of public opinion, than an accurate reflection of voters' actual stances. One such survey, conducted just after the 2008 presidential election, demonstrates that this consensus remains intact. A majority of Americans across all demographic and political lines, by a greater than 2:1 majority, want government to ensure that everyone has at least a basic standard of living and level of income — even if it increases government spending. They prefer a government that actively tries to solve the problems facing society and the economy rather than one that stands on the sidelines.

The failure of the nation's elected representatives to enact this emerging policy consensus into law has led to a voter revolt in which a majority of Americans want to throw their elected representatives out of office. The IVCS application is designed to enable them to defeat these representatives, and run and elect candidates who will implement voters' legislative priorities. Here's how:

Step 1. Setting Agendas, Resetting the Nation's Priorities and Building Voting Blocs.

Unlike other voter mobilization applications such as those of the Tea Party and the Coffee Party, the IVCS application is a bottom-up organizing tool, designed to enable voters and voter mobilization groups to build consensus across voting blocs, and negotiate common policy agendas that they can use to form broad-based electoral coalitions. These coalitions will give them the voting strength they need to win elections against major party candidates they oppose. We believe the application can play a unique and unprecedented role in enabling voting blocs and voter mobilization groups taking on the two major parties to avoid fragmenting the dissatisfied majority of the U.S. electorate into political splinter groups too small to win elections, especially at the presidential level.

The IVCS application is unique in its capacity to empower voters to set their agendas across the board and use them to build trans-partisan voting blocs, political parties and electoral coalitions with common agendas which can run candidates and elect representatives who will enact them into law -- without fragmenting the electorate into splinter groups that are too small to win elections. Indeed, IVCS tools and services enable voters and voter mobilization groups to build voting blocs, political parties and electoral coalitions of virtually unlimited size around negotiated trans-partisan policy agendas.

It does so by providing voters and voter mobilization groups across the political spectrum a comprehensive Policy Options Database from which they can set an agenda comprising the policies they wish to see enacted into law. (Click here to view a prototype of the database.) The options cross party lines and advocate divergent and even diametrically opposed policy choices. (Voters can add additional options and update their agendas at any time.)

The trans-partisan comprehensiveness of this database is in sharp contrast to the policy platforms of typical voter mobilization groups, and political parties. Most options in the IVCS database do not refer to a specific political party, due to the application's mission of encouraging voters across the political spectrum to find common ground across political party lines. Moreover, voters are not asked to identify their political party or ideological stance (e.g. conservative, liberal, etc.) since research shows that when voters can freely choose their preferred policy options and are not restricted to a limited set of options, those they choose cut across party lines and ideologies. This contrasts sharply with the limited choices provided by most voter mobilization groups, such as the Coffee Party and the Tea Party.

Unlike IVCS, such organizations leverage the Internet and social networking technologies to recruit members and build an electoral base around a specific set of priorities. They invite people who are interested in the organizations' priorities to create accounts on their websites so they can communicate with other members, participate in local events sponsored by the organizations and even attend national party conventions. They require prospective members to provide their email address in order to register. This contact enables the organizations to email them newsletters and simultaneously solicit donations of money to run the organizations, get their message out and influence elections. The precipitous rise of these web-based voter mobilization organizations shows that they recognize the potential of the Internet to enable them to perform all the functions of national political parties.

In contrast to this centrally organized approach, the IVCS application is a bottom up organizing tool designed to enable individual voters at the grassroots to create their own voting blocs around their own policy priorities. While organized voter mobilization groups can also use the application, it is nonetheless designed first and foremost to encourage and facilitate voter self-mobilization and the formation by individual voters of self-organizing voting blocs.

The application is also designed to facilitate the formation of consensus among diverse voting blocs and the creation by them of winning electoral coalitions — in contrast to voter mobilization groups that seek to differentiate themselves and their membership from each other, and, if possible, lure away each others' supporters. While the Coffee Party is on record as espousing civility and eschewing divisiveness, the Tea Party, and other more aggressive voter mobilization groups, tend to focus on controversial and divisive issues. They use them to criticize and even caricaturize the positions of competing organizations in order to attract new supporters, reinforce the loyalty of current supporters, and convince the supporters of competing organizations to come over to their side.

To help voters who use the IVCS application weigh their policy alternatives, all options contain links to online sources of information describing the pros and cons of the options from a diverse array of vantage points. Voters can propose additional links, which are updated continuously.

Voters can select any number of priorities, rank order them, if they wish, from most to least preferred, 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 preferred clusters of priorities, on their personal web pages on the website. They can also email their agendas to whomever they wish, such as their elected representatives.

Once voters have set their agendas, they can compare them to the agendas set by other voters. They can make these comparisons by entering their priorities into the IVCS Policy Priorities Database. Once they have entered their priorities, they can then query the database to find out how many voters have agendas that contain priorities that are statistically similar to their own and how many voters share with them clusters of similar priorities, or even a single priority.

They can ask for the ZIP codes of these voters so they will know in what states, counties, and electoral districts they live. They can also ask for the usernames and internal email addresses of voters whose policy priorities are similar to their own, based on the information they provided when they registered. 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.

It should be noted that by contributing their priorities to the IVCS Policy Priorities Database, voters will be joining with other voters throughout the country in resetting the nation's policy priorities, since statistical reports summarizing voters' priorities will be published periodically on the IVCS website. This unprecedented voter-initiated survey of policy priorities will be uniquely free of special interest or party bias and external constraints. IVCS users can take advantage of the published reports to see how their priorities compare with those of voters nationwide.

In addition to identifying and contacting like-minded voters, IVCS users (and voting blocs they establish) can also request database information of interest to them showing persistent patterns of policy priorities chosen by voters nationally and by ZIP code, as well as emerging trends and shifts in priorities that may result from political factors, such as lawmakers' statements related to pending legislative proposals and actions that voters favor or oppose; media coverage involving politicians and pundits; changing economic conditions, such as employment rates, etc.

Voters can send the results of their database queries to the news media, elected representatives and candidates to publicize the degree to which voters' preferences converge with, or diverge from, those espoused by representatives, candidates, political parties, advocacy groups, special interests and pundits, or those attributed to voters by these individuals and groups.

When media attention is focused on clashes between voters' policy priorities and elected representatives' statements and legislative track records, they will be pressured to change course if the divergences appear severe enough to raise doubts about their electability in the future.

Voters will be able to increase their political clout not only by publicizing their views and priorities in the media but by joining forces with like-minded voters to create voting blocs and electoral coalitions that can get their priorities enacted into law. If they join forces to influence the political process, their relationships will be unique among those of the 125 million Americans who use the Internet to exert political influence because they will owe their origin to initially shared policy agendas chosen from the same database. While many of the 346,000,000 people globally who use the Internet to post their views on blogs do so to contrast their views and debate their differences, IVCS users can create relationships around already shared policy preferences.

Voters who query the Policy Priorities Database to find and contact other voters with similar policy priorities can add these voters to their personal networks on the IVCS website, and vice versa, just as Facebook members add "Friends" to their networks so they can use social networking tools for one-to-one and one-to-many messaging. They can then access each others' networks, if allowed, and begin to expand the number of voters in their personal networks who share their priorities.

If the relationships among IVCS users with similar priorities who contact each other endure, and if, after examining their representatives' legislative track records they decide that the incumbents are not exerting their best efforts to enact their priorities into law, they can join forces to influence forthcoming elections to elect representatives who will, by transforming their personal networks into groups hosted on the website that can function as voting blocs. They can

1. Give their group a name

2. Create a registration process for new members

3. Establish a mailing list so they can email messages to all their members simultaneously, to send newsletters and invite members to participate in online and face-to-face events sponsored by the group as a whole, or by individual members.

4. Post their agenda on the group's home page on the website, if they wish

5. Decide how much access to their group and its activities they want to give non-members.

6. If they wish to recruit new members to their group, they can post its name and a link to it on the IVCS website's homepage. They can also add links to their group's site from external sites.

Group members can take advantage of the website's chat and forum features to discuss their agenda, consider proposals to update them to take account of major events and changing conditions, and plan how they can use their agendas to put pressure on their representatives and influence upcoming elections.

They can add links to their group's web pages connecting their members to websites that provide information about elected representatives of interest, including their legislative votes, sources of the campaign funds they receive, speeches, public statements, press releases and stories about them published in the media. The IVCS website itself will provide all its members an exhaustive set of links to websites that they can use to zero in on 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 IVCS application can truly transform U.S. electoral and legislative politics. For the agendas, backed by the voting blocs formulating them, create an unprecedented lever of individual and collective control over the entire U.S. political process, by serving as a written mandate that voters can use in a quasi-contractual sense to set the terms and conditions according to which they will vote for or against any electoral candidate, or put any candidates on the ballot, and vote for them in primary and general elections.

Agendas can thus serve not only as mandates, but rating tools for evaluating announced candidates and recruiting prospective candidates, as well as monitoring tools for tracking and overseeing elected representatives' legislative actions. The agendas can also be used to structure online, as well as face-to-face, debates among candidates that are run by, and for the voters, rather than reporters and journalists, who typically let candidates weasel out of giving clear, unequivocal answers to voters' questions. Voting blocs can request that candidates discuss particular policy priorities, how they envisage getting support from their Congressional colleagues to move them through the various stages in the legislative process, and their analysis of the prospects for getting them enacted.

In effect, voters can use across-the-board agendas to wield real clout in negotiating with their representatives and candidates, specific policy-based terms and conditions for giving them their votes at the ballot box, instead of wasting time writing ineffectual letters to compromised representatives about single issues; or signing petitions launched by voter mobilization groups to influence representatives who have already sold their votes to special interests. If incumbents cannot provide tangible proof that they have exerted their best efforts to implement specific policy priorities contained in voters' agendas, they will not get their votes.

Incumbents and first-time candidates will no longer be able to get elected just by talking through their hats. They will have to have credible IVCS agendas in hand that converge with voters' agendas, supported by concrete evidence showing they can be trusted to do their best to enact them into law.

To institute such unprecedented voter-representative relationships based on written policy mandates, IVCS-enabled groups can request that elected representatives and candidates state and email them their policy agendas, using the IVCS Policy Options Database, accompanied by tangible evidence of prior support of voters' policy priorities. Then voters can compare their own agendas with the agendas of representatives and candidates, and their track records. If the agendas converge and the track records reflect best efforts, the group can pledge to vote for them in the next election.

On the other hand, if their respective agendas diverge, or the group is dissatisfied with the representatives' track record, the group can decide to transform itself into a voting bloc aimed at ousting them and running and electing their own representatives. Such a course of action is feasible, since voting blocs can put candidates on existing parties' primary and general election ballots, with or without the support of organized parties, and get them elected if they can mobilize enough voters behind their candidates.

Once the group has decided to move from dialogue to action and transform itself into a voting bloc that becomes a major player in targeted elections, members may wish to create an organizational structure, if they have not already done so, to divide up and share the various tasks involved in electoral campaigns.

To help them plan and execute their campaigns, the IVCS website will partner with organizations that have developed state-of-the-art, cost-effective tools for raising funds online, putting candidates on the ballot, and mobilizing voters behind slates of candidates. They can also use IVCS tools and services to build broad-based electoral coalitions that have winning electoral bases, as described below.

Step 2. Building Electoral Coalitions, Debunking Political Disinformation, and Defusing Hate-Based Politics

Voting blocs using the IVCS application can be built around any set of policy issues and priorities and target elections at any government level and any number of states, including all 50 states.

We anticipate, however, that many blocs with significant clusters of members in specific states will initially decide to focus their attention on influencing elections in a single state, e.g. elections of the state's representatives in Congress. By focusing attention on electoral races where their current members are clustered, they can potentially exert a direct and decisive influence over the most fundamental and decisive electoral activity of all -- the nomination of candidates to run for office.

Even though most media attention in U.S. politics is focused at the national level, especially on the interactions between the president and Congress, none of these elected officials can get elected unless enough local voters sign nominating petitions to meet state requirements for putting them on the ballot and then vote for them in primary and general elections.

Moreover, despite all the hype, Congressional elections are no less important than presidential elections, because Congress holds the purse strings and the president is dependent on their authorizations to implement his legislative proposals.

As we have seen, in the case of the number of signatures required to put a candidate for Congress on the ballot, the number is small compared to the number of votes cast, which is also small compared to the number of eligible voters. Moreover, the growing number of dissatisfied voters identified in recent surveys makes it much easier for insurgent candidates to receive a plurality of votes cast once they get on the ballot.

At the outset, IVCS users who create voting blocs to influence Congressional elections in their state may not have enough members to put candidates on the ballot and elect them without undertaking concerted efforts to increase their numbers by creating electoral coalitions with other voting blocs, voter mobilization organizations and, possibly, existing political parties.

To build popular coalitions that can win Congressional elections, whether they are transient or long lasting, emerging voting blocs are likely to find it necessary to negotiate with prospective coalition partners shared agendas that attract broad cross-sections of voters, agendas that comprise trans-partisan sets of policy priorities that cut across traditional ideologies and party lines.

Parenthetically, it should be noted that the IVCS application enables voters not only to build broad-based consensus among disparate groups and voting blocs, but simultaneously to shift the locus of political debate from the national level to the local level, where the critical issues facing the nation can be solved by fair-minded citizens, rather than left to fester in the hands of conflict-fomenting lawmakers.

To build coalitions that can oust these dysfunctional officials from office, voters may decide that the most effective course of action is to devise among themselves pragmatic compromises to the burning political controversies that politicians keep stoking in Washington, D.C. to increase their re-election prospects. These controversies include, in particular, those relating to the relationship between government and the private sector and the extent to which government should regulate the practices of businesses, banks and financial institutions; or transfer public funds into private hands, whether they are banks, automobile manufacturers or insurance companies.

The IVCS application intertwines the processes of conflict resolution with coalition building, by providing voters eight outreach mechanisms for simultaneously building consensus about policy priorities and expanding the number of voters belonging to trans-partisan electoral coalitions to give them the voting strength needed to elect their candidates. All of them take advantage of the application's unprecedented outreach tool for engaging U.S. voters of all political persuasions in an entirely new consensus-formation and coalition-building political activity; namely setting their policy agendas across the board, in writing, and building voting blocs and electoral coalitions around shared agendas. Significantly, they will be assisted in this endeavor by the IVCS Voting Utility, which enables the members of existing voting blocs and prospective coalition partners to vote on any issue, including which priorities they want to include or exclude from common agendas.

IVCS voting blocs seeking to increase their membership and form electoral coalitions can invite prospective members and allies to set their policy agendas using the Policy Options Database, to provide them a basis of comparison, and see how much convergence there is with respect to the policy priorities they have each selected. If their stances are sufficiently similar on issues they mutually regard as fundamental, so as to indicate that they might be able to agree on common slates of candidates who share their agendas, they can proceed to create a formally organized coalition through which they can join forces to screen and select candidates, put them on the ballot, and elect them in primaries and general elections. They can then use IVCS tools for creating a single group on the IVCS website which includes all their members and provides the leadership of the coalition, and all members, one-to-one and one-to-many messaging tools.

On the other hand, if they are in agreement on fundamental priorities, but disagree strongly on other priorities that are part of each other's agendas, they will have to figure out whether these discrepancies are a deal-breaker with respect to forming a coalition. If necessary, they can put the matter to a vote by their respective memberships using the IVCS Voting Utility. The members of the two blocs can vote separately on which priorities they want to include in a common agenda, and which ones they are willing to drop in order to join forces to obtain the voting strength that coalition candidates will need to defeat their opponents in the election. If a majority consensus emerges on which priorities to include and exclude, the coalition can come into existence and move to the next set of strategic and tactical decisions, including decisions on a common slate of candidates, and collecting the signatures required to get them on the ballot.

Below is a list of eight IVCS outreach mechanisms through which voting blocs can attain the numerical voting strength they need to win elections. They can:

1. Search the list of existing IVCS-enabled voting blocs that the blocs have elected to post on the IVCS website, to identify prospective coalition partners and contact those with priorities similar to their own. If they are willing, they can open negotiations to create shared agendas using the IVCS Policy Options Database. If a consensus emerges, they can proceed to see if they can select common slates of candidates.

2. Contact external voter mobilization groups with similar agendas and, if they are willing, open negotiations to create shared agendas using the IVCS Policy Options Database. If a consensus emerges, they can proceed to see if they can select common slates of candidates.

3. Contact labor unions with state and local chapters. If they are willing, open negotiations to create shared agendas using the IVCS Policy Options Database. If a consensus emerges, they can proceed to see if they can select common slates of candidates.

4. Recruit new non-IVCS members by advertising their voting bloc, its agenda and action plans in venues outside of the IVCS website. Invite prospective members to set their policy agendas using the IVCS Policy Options Database. After submitting their priorities to the IVCS Policy Priorities Database, the prospective members can then query the database to compare their agendas with the bloc's agenda. If they find that they share a sufficient number of shared priorities with bloc members, they can opt to join the bloc.

5. Invite like-minded friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to set policy agendas, using the IVCS Policy Options Database, submit them to the IVCS Policy Priorities Database, and then query the database to see whether their agendas comprise a sufficient number of shared priorities to motivate them to join the voting bloc.

6. Invite newly registered IVCS members to join their bloc by continuously querying the Policy Priorities Database, to locate and contact new voters in their electoral districts who have recently submitted policy agendas with policy priorities that are statistically similar to those of the voting bloc.

7. Query the IVCS Policy Priorities Database for IVCS members whose agendas are statistically dissimilar but comprise enough shared policy priorities to motivate the individuals to join the voting bloc in exchange for the addition or deletion of objectionable options.

8. Join forces with existing political parties, or start new parties. Voting blocs seeking to expand their membership can contact existing local political parties to see whether they are interested in forming a coalition. Since the Democratic and Republican parties have been losing supporters in recent years, on the whole, they may welcome the opportunity to reinvigorate their electoral base.

To put the negotiations on a concrete plane, the IVCS voting bloc can invite party officials and interested party members to set their policy agendas using the IVCS Policy Options Database. Officials and party members can then submit their priorities to the IVCS Policy Priorities Database for tallying under the party's name. The members of the voting bloc and the party can respectively compare their agendas to see whether there are a sufficient number of shared priorities to form the basis of a coalition. If so, they can proceed to a vote using the IVCS Voting Utility so their members can vote on which priorities their members wish to place in a common agenda and what slate of candidates they wish to run.

If a consensus emerges, according to whatever procedures and rules they decide to adopt, their coalition can pool their resources to mobilize their members to go to the polls to vote for the slate of candidates they jointly agree to endorse.
Strategically and tactically, IVCS-enabled voting blocs may decide that they will be more effective in getting their candidates elected by working within existing political parties, and eventually getting control of them, than to divert their resources to starting new parties, state by state. The new party route will leave the Democratic and Republican parties intact, and permit them to continue to use their unfair advantages in gerrymandered districts and special interest fund-raising to run and elect party-backed candidates to office.

This strategy of working within existing parties prevents the fragmentation into losing splinter groups of the majority of voters who want to see most Democratic and Republican candidates replaced. However, IVCS consensus-building tools enable broad-cross sections of voters to build voting blocs and coalitions that can win elections, whether they work inside or outside an established party.

The splintering of the majority of U.S. Voters, who want to oust the nation's Congressional lawmakers, into a whole raft of small political parties is not a formula for success in running winning candidates against the candidates of the Democratic and Republican parties, particularly at the presidential level. In the long run, agile and malleable IVCS voting blocs will become more important than political parties. We believe that they, not political parties, will become the driving force in elections and legislation, especially since these blocs can easily gain organizational control of established parties once they start winning elections on party lines and register enough bloc members in the party to elect them to a majority of party positions.

The fact of the matter is that IVCS-enabled voting blocs can perform all the functions of a political party without actually having to form a party, especially since they can run their candidates on existing party lines on the ballot by collecting the number of signatures required by the state to get them on the party's lines. Moreover, IVCS blocs have unique mechanisms that parties do not have for building ever larger trans-partisan electoral bases, by merging with other voting blocs and forming electoral coalitions with voters across the political spectrum.

By running their candidates on existing party lines and building winning electoral coalitions that have the voting strength needed to beat party candidates in primaries, they can avoid the time consuming efforts involved in collecting the signatures needed to create new political parties from scratch. Moreover, once they start electing their candidates to Congress carrying the banner of the two major parties, they will have access to the pivotal leadership and committee positions that are traditionally divided up between the major parties, positions that have the authority to decide which policies will and will not move through the legislative process and be enacted into law.

Representatives who owe their election to IVCS-enabled voting blocs, and truly represent the best interests of the American people, will be free to revoke anti-majoritarian rules and practices like the Senate's filibuster and secret holds, which have permitted a minority of elected representatives representing a minority of the American people to decide which bills will and will not be enacted into law.

Working within existing parties at the outset does not prevent the eventual establishment of one or more IVCS-enabled third parties in all 50 states, similar to what Ross Perot attempted to do back in the 90's. IVCS-enabled voting blocs will have members in all 50 states who can easily use IVCS tools and services to bring together around common agendas decisive numbers of large cross-sections of voters under a minimal number of party umbrellas.

IVCS voting blocs will be well-equipped to proceed on this front, since they will not only have enough members to gather the number of signatures required by the state to establish a political party, but they will also be familiar with the legal ropes, having worked with state election authorities within state legal guidelines for running candidates on the ballots of existing parties.
These blocs can use IVCS agenda-setting and consensus-building mechanisms to enable their members to determine the parties' policy agendas. Since the members of the party can update their agenda at any time by using the IVCS Voting Utility, the party will not be plagued by internecine conflicts over its platform since they can resolve divergent views by holding on-line votes to determine the preferences of the majority.

Moreover, they can use the platform to screen prospective candidates by comparing the party's platform with the candidates' platforms. By using IVCS agenda-setting and consensus-building mechanisms, and analyzing past election results and current polls, they can also determine how they might wish to customize their agendas to enhance the election prospects of their candidates in particular states and counties.

Unlike the present situation where candidates of both major parties espouse policy options that fall well outside the confines of the preferences of rank-and-file party members, IVCS-enabled third parties and their state-based supporters can prevent candidates from running on their lines, in the event that they espouse policies that are clearly inimical to those of the party.

The important point to keep in mind is that the goal of the IVCS application is to enable voters to fundamentally alter the entire political system so that they run the government, not political parties, compromised politicians, special interests that fund their campaigns, or lobbyists whom special interests fund to sit at the table with lawmakers and dictate the legislation they pass.

Whether IVCS-enabled voting blocs opt to get control of the Democratic and Republican parties or create new parties is merely a means to this end. In either case, IVCS-enabled voting blocs will be more powerful than parties, because they will dominate the political landscape from coast to coast by engaging the newly empowered U.S. electorate in setting its agenda and deciding who will be elected to enact it into law.

Moreover, it will be the members of IVCS-enabled voting blocs who will shape public opinion, not political parties or politicians. Since voters will be running the government and sharing their political views over the Internet at the speed of light, their influence will dwarf that of the political pundits, political parties, politicians and their special interest campaign contributors who have limited the parameters of public debate for decades in order to promote and protect their private interests.

IVCS-enabled voting blocs, due to their size, ubiquity and capacity to continuously build consensus among voters across the political spectrum, will also dwarf their influence in deciding which candidates run in primary and general elections and win. This is because IVCS-enabled voting blocs will possess a nimbleness, flexibility and fluidity that enables them to continuously reshape and resize themselves in response to voters' changing policy priorities so that they can create whatever electoral bases they need to run and elect bloc candidates to office at any level of government and in whatever states they choose.

IVCS-enabled voting blocs of any size can join forces and recombine into larger blocs within states and, eventually, across any and all 50 states, virtually overnight. All they have to do to launch these expanding blocs is to take advantage of the Policy Options Database, the Policy Priorities Database and the Voting Utility to determine what policy priorities are preferred by how many voters. At every turn, they will be able to build consensus among ever larger numbers of voters and gauge whether they have an appropriate mix of policy priorities to obtain the voting strength they need to elect their candidates in upcoming elections. Any shortfalls can be overcome by forming electoral coalitions with other voting blocs, voter mobilization groups, unions and political parties around shared policy agendas.

What matters most is that it will be U.S. voters at the grassroots who possess the exclusive power to run elections and decide who will represent them in government, and what policies their representatives will be instructed to enact in their name.

Conclusion

The Interactive Voter Choice System is a web application designed to support the creation of self-organizing voting blocs and popular political coalitions that become the driving force of U.S. electoral and legislative processes. We see people using the IVCS website to formulate policy agendas comprised of prioritized policy options and then forming cohesive voting blocs around these agendas. IVCS will create the potential for so many policy agendas and voting blocs to form that it is virtually certain that new and powerful blocs and even political parties will emerge to reshape the political landscape. They will grow rapidly and begin to acquire local, state and national influence once they figure out how to develop the right mix of policy agenda, collaborative modes of interaction, leadership, marketing savvy, and, no doubt, luck.

The blocs will at first have only a virtual identity, but the social ties formed will be real. When bloc members start to transform their blocs and electoral coalitions into competing forces with which the two major parties must contend because the majority of angry voters will be driving them, the transition will be made from virtual to political reality. IVCS tools and services will support agenda formation in ways never imagined by legacy parties. The collaborative tools will be better than the meager fare offered by legacy parties. State-of-the-art content management tools will enable voters to get into the nitty-gritty of policy analysis, formulation and advocacy to a degree that political parties never intended, or wanted to afford their members. IVCS social networking tools will enable individual voting bloc members to grow their blocs by leaps and bounds, virtually effortlessly, as infuriated voters realize that they no longer have to tolerate their political impotence at the hands of political parties that have betrayed their trust.

The IVCS application will support an unprecedented degree of openness, transparency, and political inclusiveness within IVCS-enabled voting blocs and coalitions. Because of these characteristics, they will more effectively solve disagreements and conflicts, and adapt with far greater agility to the non-stop political crises overtaking America.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the application will work as we've envisioned it. But the likelihood that new national blocs, popular coalitions and even political parties transcending state and local boundaries will form and maintain themselves is great, because of the richness of the application, the potential for many, many groups to form and fail, while giving up their members to those that survive, and also because of the yearning in America for change. Most Americans want to do something about the mess that we're in. They'll respond to an application like IVCS that enables them to prevent the looming collapse of a democracy that once provided inspiration to democracies everywhere.

(Cross-posted at Re-inventing Democracy, All Life Is Problem Solving, and Fiscal Sustainability).

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Submitted by libbyliberal on

You nail the problem and provide a solution.

we know the enemies of real democracy, the profit-makers uber alles, even death over people is not too high a cost, are scrambling to defeat the profoundly wounded liberal movement doing anything and everything, right now especially by ending net neutrality our capacity to stay informed and inform each other.

for the strategists like you and nancy finding answers and ways to fight the good fight we have to first rally and emotionally overcome the profound "learned helplessness" from such sustained corruption of our government, our business anti-community community and our shallow amoral and corrupt media. How many cycles of the 5 stages of grief do we have to go through as a nation? The gamesmanship trumping statesmanship on the part of our leaders and media commentators.

we have the most intelligent as well as courageous and morally awake among us and we need them to embrace the opportunity to step forward on the front political line or the second political line and work with each other. (I was so sorry to see the health care people, some of them, dis-assemble or stay focused on that one issue, instead of continuing on in a proactive but wider sense or focused in another worthy area sense, some of them, with the anti-war effort say. I see a lot of us behind certain issues not really using our numbers to emotionally renew each other in the War against Kleptocracy. look at the way the oligarchs twist populism to organize tea partiers to fight hard against us and their own interest. it boggles the mind and heart.)

we need to fight fight fight against the evil in this nation along with fighting the passive "Good Germanhood" of this nation, as we watch the inmates continue to run the asylum we call America.

I am away right now, skimmed this on a borrowed computer, and need to really reread and drink in your hope-giving strategies. Which I will do soon.

Thank you for your awesome work and heart, lets (and nancy)! We all need to rally our own hearts and minds. God knows, we can't count on the supposed parental leadership as it stands of this nation.

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

It's a long read for a blog, so thanks you for getting through it, even skimming.

Nancy and I need feedback of course. Nancy's been at this for a long time. It's her idea. I'm just trying to help her get it going.

I'm glad you like the idea. I've also worked up some thoughts on the IT aspects of it, as well, but haven't posted those yet.

Nancy and I both think that this has to get done fast, and Nancy is trying to raise the capital needed to get it going. We really need to make this an operational success in 2011, so that people can use to develop alternatives to the majors in 2012.

The application will be neutral on the question of third party vs. working within the majors. But the objective is to make it possible for activists to take over one or both of the majors or to get a third party going if they prefer.

jeffroby's picture
Submitted by jeffroby on

I was lured here from Firedoglake by letsgetitdone, and I would like to repeat the comment to letsgetitdone that I posted there:

Let's start by accepting your premise that "Full Court Press in 2012 would be much easier with the IVCS." The first question that rears its head is, "what are the prospects for having IVCS in place BEFORE the 2012 elections?"

I think such a possibility is non-existent. That is not to reject IVCS, but to locate it among the forces and issues currently in play. There are certain thorny chicken-and-egg to be dealt with. So what kind of organized forces would have to be created to achieve IVCS? And if we had such forces, what else would we have been able to accomplish already?

I think the way out requires the concept of "agitational value." In other words, there are certain demands that have to be actually WON in order to achieve other things. Like winning the right to unionize as a pre-condition for raising bargaining demands. But some issues are useful, in some ways, precisely because they are not short-term winnable. We need an adequate safety net, and its absence raises issues of why we don't have it, for instance.

In other words, and I say this to support you, your presentation is overly technocratic, and that can keep you marginalized. We need the modern equivalent of Bread, Land and Peace (Jobs, Justice and Peace?) and IVCS has to be inextricably linked to those demands, the way to achieve those demands.

But it won't work if IVCS stands on the sidelines and merely explains its merits. IVCS would have to be an inextricable part of the struggles for those demands. And unfortunately, the struggle for jobs, justice and peace is not doing terribly well, gutted in part by the healthcare fiasco.

So maybe we can discuss this from that as a starting point?

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

for coming over here, too. I'll also repeat what I said at FDL in reply to you there.

Maybe, but I’m not sure you understand the function of IVCS. Its purpose is to provide an environment for low-cost organization of new voting blocs, voting bloc coalitions, and perhaps political parties. So, if we had IVCS in place then you and I and Julia and others dissatisfied with the system as it exists would have a low cost way of organizing to provide alternatives to what is now represented by the Parties. Progressives are not the only ones who might organize using IVCS. People of all persuasions also would use it.

Can IVCS be available in time for the 2012 election? I think it can. It will need some capital and then some rapid systems integration. But I do think it could be off the ground in 18 months.

Submitted by lambert on

... since I'm going to bed, but is this a completely parallel structure? And is there a verifiable, Bradblog-approved way to vote online? This would be a "you have some place to go" voting system as well....

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

Lambert, not sure what you mean by completely parallel. I think we see it as a way for people and voting blocs to organize and communicate virtually in a venue outside of the present system. As the blocs grow however, they're probably going to want have in-person meetings, events, and actions that go outside the virtual environment.

On voting, I haven't thought about the technical aspects yet, but I agree that we'd certainly have to create a tool that is completely "trusted" to produce honest results.

Nancy Bordier's picture
Submitted by Nancy Bordier on

Hello Jeff,

Glad to see that you still have all the great fight in you!

I think that IVCS could become operational and even decisive in 2012, and that it would further your objective of running primaries and general election whenever and wherever possible.

In fact, Joe (letsgetitdone) and I are working on a piece right now on the topic of how IVCS-enabled, voter-organized transpartisan voting blocs could get control of Congress in 2012.

Would you be willing to read and critique it in the next week or so, with an eye to how your effort and ours could be mutually reinforcing?

Submitted by Xavier Onassis on

The majority general human consciousness is already firmly in the driver's seat, steering the course of human events...to entirely predictable catastrophe.

It only appears to be the 1% wealthpower giants (elected and not) who are driving everything that is going on. It's an illusion we maintain so we can keep our heads in the sand and keep ignoring our insane human reality: an inequality factor that resides in the billions despite the fact that only work creates wealth and natural limits mean no one can work more than twice as hard as anyone else.

What does it matter who pulls the levers of government when the entire human species still prefers the overpayunderpay that is killing us all and this planet to the fairpay justice that would increase human happiness and safety a thousandfold and give us back our chance to have a future?

6 billion people are unaware that they are unaware that they are unaware that the non-negotiable price of survival is fairpay justice. People think economic fairpay justice would be a cost to them; they never suspect the investment in fairpay justice would mean they would reap the biggest dividend they dare not even imagine, ushering in a golden age of sustainable peace, plenty, prosperity, happiness, safety, freedom like they've never known. The leading paradigm of the human species has for thousands of years been the idea that more money is always better, and for thousands of years it has been wrong and has been a club we bash ourselves over the head with relentlessly on our (easily reversible) march to extinction.

It is not enough to keep fighting and fighting against what is wrong. What is doing the greatest harm to our happiness must be identified and got rid of.

Murder the self-defeating, ultimately pan-species-fatal idea to allow overpayunderpay.

Doing anything less is geno-masochistic-sadism. Is suicide. Is killing a perfectly good planet and everything on it by default.

Our ability to ignore the bits of our reality we choose not to see can be taken too far.

I repeat: The majority general human consciousness is already in the driver's seat, steering events. 6 billion people do not understand this - and so we, lost in our myriad self-contradictions, keep on failing to act in accord with what we all really actually do believe in - which is justice.

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