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Misconceptions to Improving Our Democracy
Who Needs Community Listening?
Who Is Being Asked?
Two Ways to Improve
Misconceptions to Improving
New Measures of Civic Engagement
In your lifetime, have any of your candidates or elected officials asked you what your concerns are? Click here to discover that we're not alone.
What are your concerns? Click here to see if you share the concerns of 100 of my neighbors.
The five biggest misconceptions to improving our democracy are: increasing voting, instant runoff voting, public financing of campaigns, eliminating gerrymandering, and creating a strong third political party.
I used to believe that some of these strategies would work but now see they all fall short – none of these processes creates a mechanism to ask us our concerns and effectively address those concerns.
In no particular order, here is why I believe these five misconceptions will not succeed in getting our voices heard any better or resolve our concerns any more effectively than a Community Listening System.
Increasing voting seems a laudable goal as voting is considered to be the most tangible proof of my civic engagement and contribution to our beloved democratic society.
Can anyone please tell me how my one vote informs my electeds about what concerns I'd like resolved or how I'd like them resolved?
My one vote is like a wet noodle trying to push an elephant to go where I want it to go.
How can my one vote convey my thoughts and wishes to all 48 of my elected officials? How does it help them make rational decisions while my fellow residents have differing views?
My state legislative district senator and two representatives represent 137,000 people in their legislative districts. That's a lot of people with potentially differing views on a concern.
How does my one vote stack up against 20 of my neighbors' wishes that differ from mine (that no elected cares enough to ask any of us to express anyway)?
Tell me how my one vote is more effective than a wet noodle prodding an elephant – or a donkey?
Instant runoff voting (IRV, aka ranked choice voting and other names) is a system which tabulates our votes based on how we prioritize candidates in each race. For example: between three candidate choices, you may rank fictional candidates Mary Smith as your #1 choice, Tabatha Tanaka as #2, and Frank Jamal as choice #3.
Two claims by IRV supporters is: a) "it works" (but "it" isn't defined) and b) "smaller party candidates will have a better chance to become elected".
For IRV to be useful, election races must have three or more candidates and only one election – not both a primary and general. If only one candidate runs, it changes nothing to rank that one candidate as your first, second, or third preference.
How can we vote for the lesser of two evils (or have a meaningful debate) with only one candidate? Our bigger problem is finding enough qualified candidates to run.
In King County's 2015 local general election, 317 races could not benefit from IRV: 198 candidates ran unopposed and 119 races had two candidates for races such as school board, city councilor, fire district commissioner, water/sewer board commissioner, parks commissioner, etc. During the primary election, only 41 races would have benefited from IRV – they had three or more opponents.
How can a smaller political party candidate win when there is no smaller party or party candidate? The Green Party of Pierce County closed their doors circa 2008, the year Pierce County instituted IRV for one year. There was no Green Party candidate for that instant runoff election.
Public financing of campaigns (aka Get Money Out of Politics) is a system in which our tax dollars help candidates with less money compete with candidates with the bigger bucks. To qualify for public financing, candidates are required to get a minimum of signatures and a nominal amount (about $5) from each resident who supports their candidacy.
Public financing of campaigns does not ensure our concerns are heard by any candidate or elected officials.
There is currently nothing forcing candidates to raise money for campaigns.
Amanda Helmick, went the extra mile to promote her value of getting money out of campaigns. Instead of paying the filing fee to run for Seattle City Council position #1, Amanda asked registered voters to sign her petition (declaration of candidacy) to be placed on the ballot. In the end, she was a few valid signatures short of the minimum requirement and was not able to run. (Kudos to Seattle for recently changing their voting districts so city councilor positions are voted on by specific location instead of all running at-large.)
Do you care how much money candidates raise or that they listen to your concerns?
Gerrymandering is “to divide (a state, school district, etc.) into political units that give one group an unfair advantage” per Merriam-Webster.
If residents were asked their concerns, then gerrymandering would be a moot point. Someone is elected to represent me regardless of being gerrymandered INTO or OUT of a distrit.
It wouldn't matter which party was elected to represent the voter and whether or not that voter belonged to the prevailing party. The winning candidate was elected to represent their constituents, you and me, regardless of party affiliation.
If gerrymandering works, it only works for a few partisan offices (such as legislative district, and maybe state offices), not the remaining non-partisan lower government levels (such as school, city, parks, sewer and water, fire, mosquito, flood/diking/drainage, and so on).
Every 10 years, congressional, state legislative, and county voting boundaries are adjusted based on population increase (or decrease) per the latest U. S. Census report. Each voting district's boundaries are unique unto themselves, sharing few boundaries with other voting districts (county boundaries do not match a parks district's boundaries, city boundaries do not match a fire district's boundaries, and so on).
Do you care which political boundary you live in or that whoever is elected to represent you actually represents you?
A strong third political party is perceived as valuable because we believe in good ol' competition – maybe we hope a third party will listen because the main two parties don't seem to have time.
Even if we had the power to create a strong third political party, there is no guarantee that third party or their candidates will ask us our needs any more than the current stronger parties.
In reality, third parties have yet to generate the volume or capacity of the two main parties. In the last few years, a dozen or more people have been trying to restart the Pierce County (population over 750,000) chapter of the Green Party, which has been closed since about 2008.
In my state (Washington), the strongest clue we have that a political party exists is when they register their presidential candidate (every four years). Over the years anywhere up to eight parties (including Republicans and Democrats) have registered a presidential candidate. Surely, one of them could have developed into a strong party by now.
Do you care which party is in power or that those in power represent you and your concerns?
[Update 5/1/16: Kudos to members of the 2016 legislative session who have revamped the 2015 proposed Voters' Rights Act of Washington State (VRAWA) SB 5668 and HB 1745 into something that is productive and solvable by legislation – making it simpler and accessible for voting districts to be changed to manageable sizes (my words) so candidates can be elected closer to residents' neighborhoods and demographic makeup better reflecting their constituent community. Unfortunately, these sensible bills did not pass this legislative session.]
Copyright 2016 Deb Blakeslee