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Making the House of Representatives More Representative

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"What's the job of the candidate in this world? The job of the candidate is to raise the money to hire the consultants to do the focus groups to figure out the 30-second answers to be memorized by the candidate. This is stunningly dangerous." – Newt Gingrich

"Would some change-minded candidate or other kindly inform the American people what this business amounts to? Change what into what? "- William Murchison

I’m not a candidate for anything, but one change I believe we should make is to change the House of Representatives into a legislative body that more effectively represents the will of the people. To this end, I propose a constitutional amendment providing for proportional representation in the House of Representatives.

Under the present system each state is divided into congressional districts and voters elect a single representative from their district. With proportional representation voters nationwide would each cast a vote for a political party and its slate of candidates. Political parties would nominate ordered lists of candidates pledged to support that party’s platform. Seats would be awarded to each party based on its percentage of the total number of votes cast nation-wide.

This approach would allow candidates for, and members of, the House of Representatives to focus on participating in drafting their party’s platform. It would relieve them of the burden of raising huge amounts of money to fund individual campaigns. This, in turn, would keep them from becoming indebted to special interest groups. Reducing the influence of special interests would go a long way toward improving the approval ratings of Congress and would begin to restore our faith in government.

If this amendment were to pass, the real action for members of the House of Representatives would take place during the run-up to each party’s convention and the convention itself, as they engaged in serious discussions of which issues should be included in the party platform and how each issue should be addressed. While it would be up to each party to determine just how strong of a commitment its candidates would be expected to make with regard to supporting the party platform, members of the party gaining a majority of the seats in the House would logically be expected (by voters as well as the party) to support their party’s platform.

Drafting a platform was once a vital part of the nominating conventions of political parties. The platform is supposed to define the party’s positions on the issues of the day and offer some idea of what the party hopes to accomplish. Today, however, the nominating conventions of the major parties have become little more than coronations formalizing the nomination of a presidential candidate who has already secured the number of delegates needed to win the nomination. By making party platforms and the conventions at which they are written meaningful again, proportional representation would provide an incentive for civic-minded citizens to get more actively engaged within party organizations.

With the focus shifted from individual candidates to party platforms, the sort of attack ads that have come to dominate political campaigns would be pointless in elections for members of the House. The fact that voters would be choosing between parties based largely on each party’s platform, as opposed to the personalities or peccadillos of individual candidates, would promote debates between political parties that would highlight the differences in their plans for addressing issues of importance to the nation.

I believe that most of our legislators ran for political office initially because they have a genuine interest in the give and take of dealing with political issues. I doubt that they are happy about being under constant pressure to raise money. Many of them would undoubtedly welcome the opportunity to spend more of their time devising solutions to the problems we face as a nation.

Political reporters must also be getting a bit bored with simply reporting the results of the latest polls and providing updates on the amount of money raised by each candidate. Even their “informed discussions” of strategy and momentum are a hollow exercise at heart. Covering the process of drafting party platforms and commenting on the details of each party’s proposals would clearly be more engaging for serious-minded members of the media. It would afford them the opportunity to participate in debates and discussion about how the issues and problems facing our nation should be addressed. It would cast them in the vital role of helping voters compare the agendas of various parties.

If we were to succeed in shifting a considerable amount of media attention to party platforms, formal debates could be restructured to do a lot more to help voters make informed decisions on election day. Instead of each candidate reciting their pre-programed responses to questions posed by the moderators, a series of in-depth discussions of the proposals included in each party’s platforms, with each debate focused on a different issue, would highlight the similarities and differences between the parties. Political parties could select one or more party members to represent the party in each debate.

Once elected, the members of the party winning a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives should have no problem getting the legislative proposals included in their party’s platform passed by the House. Combined with the fact that members of the House are elected every two years, this would make the House of Representatives much more responsive to the will of the voters. This is in line with the intention of the Founding Fathers that the House of Representatives would be the most democratic part of the Federal government.

The system of checks and balances provided for in the Constitution would remain in place. The Senate would have to concur with the legislation approved by the House for it to become law. The president would still retain the power to veto legislation. The Supreme Court could still declare a law to be unconstitutional. It would be up to voters to decide whether to vote a straight party ticket (for the Senate, the House, and the president), thereby reducing gridlock, or to split their vote. (Some people like gridlock.)

The system of representation in Congress provided for in the U. S. Constitution was the end result of a compromise between representatives from the small states and the large states.  The small states wanted to retain the provision in the Articles of Confederation giving each state an equal number of representatives, regardless of its population. The large states wanted representation based on population. The Connecticut Compromise provided for a bicameral legislature consisting of a Senate where each state would be equally represented regardless of the size of its population and a House of Representatives, where the number of representatives from each state would be determined by population.

This was a necessary and effective compromise at the time, but it failed to take full advantage of the concept of a bicameral legislature. Having both senators and representatives represent geographic regions (states and districts within states, respectively) is redundant. Furthermore, under the system devised over two hundred years ago, we have a “national” government without a single component that represents the nation, as opposed to the states.

In the early years of the republic most citizens of the United States identified strongly with the state in which they resided, considering themselves to be “New Yorkers” or “Virginians,” etc. This is no longer the case. While some people (particularly sports fans) may identify strongly with their state (or city or alma mater), when it comes to political matters most of us consider ourselves to be “Americans.” It is time for at least one part of the national government to represent the interests of the nation as a whole.

Proportional representation is not a new or an untested idea. It is quite common in other democratic governments around the world. Nor is this sort of change in the Constitution unprecedented. In a change necessitated by the rise of political parties, the Twelfth Amendment provided for the electoral college to cast separate votes for president and vice-president and provided a method for resolving elections in which no candidate received a majority of the electoral votes cast. Under the Seventeenth Amendment, direct election of senators by the voters within each state replaced election by state legislatures.

Our political process is in dire need of repair. Our elections have degenerated into a witches brew of fund-raising and advertising. Far too many of the ads paid for with the money raised are attack ads. Even the positive ads amount to nothing more than catch phrases designed by each candidate’s advisors to evoke a Pavlovian response from voters. Slogans, sound bites, talking points, and rhetorical platitudes, address the mood of the electorate, while carefully avoiding saying anything of substance.

Every candidate earnestly assures us that he or she will provide quality health care for all, improve education, help the U. S. achieve energy independence, support family values, and keep us safe from terrorists. Furthermore, they promise to cut taxes and balance the budget.

Like all good illusionists, they are careful not to reveal the details of how they plan to implement this amazing balancing act. Serious, in-depth discussions of the problems facing our nation and the issues of the day take place in forums on the Internet and in the op-ed pages of newspapers and magazines, but are missing in action during political campaigns.

This year’s hottest political buzz word is “change.” And the main thing voters want to change is the political culture in Washington. Approval ratings for Congress are even lower than for President Bush. (Not an easy feat ) Providing for proportional representation in the House of Representatives would make our government more responsive, more democratic, and more effective. Voters who are serious about wanting change should find out which candidates would support this amendment and vote for them.

A couple of footnotes:

1) If this amendment were to pass, it would need to include a provision to alter the Twelfth Amendment which provides for the House to elect the president with a vote by states if no candidate for president wins a majority of electoral votes. I would suggest having the House choose between the two candidates with the most electoral votes (instead of the top three), with each member (as opposed to each state) having one vote.

2) The same redundancy with regard to members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate representing geographic areas, is true of all of the state legislatures (except Nebraska, which has a unicameral legislature). Voters in each state who support the idea of proportional representation should encourage their state legislatures to pass similar amendments to their state constitution.

A final note:

Assuming that you are in agreement with this modest proposal, where do we go from here? You don’t need to join a political action committee or make a financial donation. You simply need to help spread the word. Send a copy of this essay to everyone you know who might be interested in making our government more responsive to the will of the voters. Be sure to include your representatives in Congress and your state legislature.

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About Winston Apple

Winston Apple is the author of "Edutopia: A Manifesto for the Reform of Public Education." He is a former teacher. He has a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Missouri at Kansas City (1990). He is also a singer-songwriter and recording artist.
  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    I’ve seen some suggestions like this before, but there are some fundamental problems in what you’re suggesting.

    First off, it totally violates the concept of federalism and the idea that the states reserve certain rights and powers under our system of government. You’re going to have to do a lot more to the Constitution than just amend the 12th Amendment to make this work.

    Second, one of the biggest problems we have right now is our entrenched party system. What you’re proposing would give MORE power to the national parties and take it away from local parties and grassroots movements, because ultimately the national party organization would play a determining role in picking who would be on their slate of ‘approved’ candidates. It would be a huge boom for party insiders and bar those without connections from major public office.

    Third, proportional representation was SPECIFICALLY one of the primary causes of the American Revolution. It was exactly the kind of governmental system which our founding fathers rebelled against and for a very good reason. Under such a system every representative is supposed to represent every voter equally, but the truth is that none of the representatives are specifically answerable to anyone but their party. Under British rule we were told that because of proportional representation every Member of Parliament represented every citizen, including those in America, but the truth is that their interest lay with the factions in Britain and they didn’t give a rat’s ass about America. Our current system has the great value of making representaitves directly responsible to the people who put them in office. That would be a terrible thing to lose.

    There’s more, but unless you can address these three concerns this whole idea is a non-starter.

    You might want to think about a reform moving towards a parliamentary system like they now have in England. They moved away from proportional representation for the same reasons we did, but kept some of the other positive aspects of their system.

    Dave

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Under such a system every representative is supposed to represent every voter equally, but the truth is that none of the representatives are specifically answerable to anyone but their party.

    Dave has this on the money. A proportional representation system for the entire House would eventually result in central committees in political parties controlling the representatives by determining who is #1 #2. #3, etc. on the party list of 435 candidates to be elected. Anybody in the #250 spot has only a dicey chance of being elected at all.

    This is the precise situation in Israel, and was the precise situation in pre-war Poland (the system that the Israelis copied when drawing the rules for the Zionist Executive in the 1930’s and later the Knesset).

    Trust me, you do not want any government that resembles the system here.

    If you want any structural change at all, you might want to go for a plural executive (as is found in Switzerland or Uruguay) or a parliamentary system, as is found in Canada.

  • troll

    *…one change I believe we should make is to change the House of Representatives into a legislative body that more effectively represents the will of the people.*

    why – ?

    furthermore: as a federation this ‘will of the people’ is supposed to emerge through the interplay of local interests in the back rooms of congress

    what’s the point of shifting the emphasis (and influence peddling) to the back rooms of the national parties – ?

  • http://winstonapple.blogspot.com/ Winston Apple

    Dave, let me take your objections in order. To begin with, “federalism” is a political system in which powers are divided between a national government and state governments. To say that my proposal “totally violates the concept of federalism” infers that it would shift some specific powers from the states to the national government. My proposal does not do that, it merely provides for one half of one branch of the national government to represent the people of the nation as a whole.

    I believe the national government has already usurped far too much power from the states. The “elastic clause” of the Constitution has been stretched well beyond the breaking point as the national government has taken on all sorts of powers that go well beyond being “necessary and proper” (pork barrel spending and “No Child Left Behind” come immediately to mind). While my proposal doesn’t do anything to address that issue in any way, it likewise doesn’t do anything to make matters worse in that regard.

    Secondly, I agree completely that our entrenched party system is a major problem. Specifically, I believe that a two party system where both parties are largely controlled by corporate/special interests because of the need to raise mountains of cash to finance election campaigns is the primary reason for the reluctance of our national government to address issues like health care or immigration in any meaningful way.

    As far as giving more power to “national” parties and taking power away from local parties and grassroots movements, I would point out that both the Libertarian Party and the Green Party are ”national” parties. They have members and offices throughout the country. How many seats in Congress do they hold? Under my proposal it would be far more likely that these parties, and grassroots organizations supporting them, could win seats in Congress.

    In the late nineteenth century third parties played an important role in our political system. This proposal opens up the possibility that they could play a larger role again.

    The two major parties (jointly) can’t gain any more seats between them than they already have. My proposal would focus more attention on party platforms and make it easier for voters to hold the party with a majority in the House accountable if they failed to make a good faith effort to promote their published agenda.

    I agree that party insiders could potentially benefit from this proposal. I emphasize “potentially.” It would be up to each party to determine how its ordered list of candidates is selected. Some parties might have rules that would give insiders more power, others might see the benefit in opening up the process.

    With regard to your third objection, the rallying cry of the American Revolution was “No taxation without representation.” The colonists were not represented in Parliament.

    I agree that under our current system representatives are “directly responsible to the people who put them in office.” The problem is the people who put them in office are the lobbyists and special interest groups who supply the money (or more accurately,legalized bribes) needed to fund the ad campaigns that pass for elections. The candidate who raises the most money wins about 80% of the time and in most of the other cases, the winner still raised a hell of a lot of money.

    The undue influence of the monied interests would be a wonderful thing to lose. Making our government more democratic by making the House of Representatives more responsive to voters would be a wonderful thing to gain.

  • http://www.marinrankedvoting.org Bob Richard

    I’m in complete agreement on the advantages of proportional representation. This is a great post. I will just add two thoughts.

    (1) The Constitution does not prevent the states from using PR for their Congressional delegations. There’s a law on the books from 1967 that needs to be repealed, but that’s the only legal hurdle. There is a limitation, though, because several states only have one seat in the House. They would not be able to participate in a state-by-state shift to PR. And in states with only 2 or 3 seats, the degree of proportionality would be quite limited.

    (2) You suggest working for PR at the state as well as federal level. Actually, it’s best to start with local government. As the response from Dave and other commenters above suggests, PR is considered a very radical idea in the U.S. (ironically, since it was first proposed in Europe by conservatives worried about the growing size and power of the working class). People need experience with how it works, and that can be gained in cities and counties. Cambridge, MA has had PR for city government since 1940, and the voters of Davis, CA approved it in principle a year ago.

    See FairVote for lots of information and resources.

  • http://www.marinrankedvoting.org Bob Richard

    Winston has already dealt with much of Dave’s response, but there are a couple of points that still need to be made.

    First, PR was not invented until the 1830s, and played no role whatever in motivating the American Revolution 50 years earlier. Nor was it an available option at the time of the Constitutional Convention.

    Second, the statement that under PR “every representative is supposed to represent every voter equally” is just false. The point of PR is for every representative to represent an equal number of voters — and for every voter to have a representative s/he actually voted for. Within practical limits, of course. I’d much rather have a legislator linked to me by common views than by the accident of geography.

    Ruvy mentions Israel, which is the country most cited by opponents of PR. For every Israel and Italy (the other common bogeyman) there are several Hollands, Swedens, Germanys and New Zealands that are doing just fine with PR. Many of the problems attributed to PR in places like Israel and Italy are in fact the result of how prime ministers are chosen and cabinets formed — issues that can be addressed in their own right and don’t affect presidential systems like the U.S. anyway.

    Third, on political parties, there are several forms of PR, including one that doesn’t require party lists at all (in fact, it works great in non-partisan city elections). It’s called “choice voting” in the U.S., and is just like instant runoff voting (IRV) except that you are filling several legislative seats instead of one. This has been in use in the Republic of Ireland since 1922 or so and for the Senate in Australia since 1949.

    Check out Douglas Amy’s books, “Real Choices, New Voices” and “Beyond the Ballot Box” for more on the varieties of PR and how they could work in the U.S.

  • http://www.ciscohouston.com Jim Clark

    One agreement. A Nader or Duke or Libertarian party that got 5% of the vote now gets nothing. This would give them 22 seats. Those would count. This might lead to inertia (and who says THAT’S a bad thing?) as it becomes harder to get legislation passed, but the way a third party becomes more important is to have some say. Right now they are just standing on the sidelines, assured of no real part in the process. In addition, it would lead each of these parties to attract better quality candidates; if the Greens are gonna get 10 seats from the whole country, they do not have to run an attractive candidate in every district–they need 10 good national candidates.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    If I recall, under the German system a party has to receive at least 5% of the vote in order to get any parliamentary seats. This prevents the Bundestag from being filled with dozens of fringe, local and single-issue parties who can’t reach a consensus on anything.

    As has been pointed out by other commenters, proportional representation does have some serious flaws, but if used in circumstances where its results can’t cause too much damage – in local or city elections, for instance – it does have advantages. With this in mind, under the American system with its intricate checks and balances, it might actually work.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Ruvy mentions Israel, which is the country most cited by opponents of PR.

    You fail to recognize WHY I mention Israel. Presently, in America, you have the opportunity to control political parties from the bottom up at party caucuses, as is done in Minnesota and Iowa. These caucuses operate on the precinct level, state legislative district level and congressional district level before moving to the state level. In Minnesota, the best way to prevent moneyed interests from taking over the political parties is for members of the political parties to attend the precinct caucuses en masse. The fewer people attending a precinct caucus, the easier they are to buy off. In addition, under this system, issues at all levels of government do get addressed.

    In Israel, you have central committees running parties. In the Likud, to which I belong, there are elections for the central committee, and factions run in these elections. I belong to the Jewish Leadership faction of the Likud party, and in Likud central committee elections, or elections for the head of the party, I vote with the faction I favor. But these are national elections. Issues peculiar to Jerusalem, where I used to live, or to “Maté Binyamín”, where I live now, are not dealt with. So the local issues that bring most people out to vote, are never even addressed by the political parties. Therefore, there is a tremendous amount of alienation. This alienation is one reason that schmucks and traitors like Olmert are able to hang on to power, when in any other parliamentary democracy, they would have been forced out of power for sheer incompetence.

    The proposal in the article would necessitate the creation of national central committees which would then draw the candidate lists. And in these elections, the local issues that bring people out to vote, everything from potholes to streetlights to garbage collection and local education would all be ignored. The big enchilada would be The List, the list of candidates for the House of Representatives. That would be the only issue. So Americans would be even more alienated from the processes of democracy than they are already. The 2,000 county governments, the townships and all the other units that have made democracy viable in the United States would all be treated like they were not worth thinking about, and the mainstream media, whores at best, would be even bigger whores. Finally consider the structure of the governance of the House of Representatives under such a system. This is important because the governance of the House determines how laws get passed. I shudder to think of the abuses a system of proportional representation, and the national central committees it would necessitate, would entail.

    The final result would be a dictator for a president who would manage to pick in one way or another, a large proportion of the members of the central committee in his own party, and a House of Representatives that would be worse and less powerful than the Reichstag, the lower house of Imperial Germany a century ago. You could forget democracy in America. The moneyed interests, the oil and banking establishment, would sew up such a system so tight that it would collapse under a civil war and a revolution to get rid of the tyranny that greed would impose on the American people.

  • bliffle

    Why not take on an easier reform first? Like, get rid of the senate entirely. It’s just a carbunkle on the ass of progress as near as I can see. And talk about unfair! Every senator from Wyoming has as much senatorial power as one from California who represents 60 times as many citizens!

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Yeah, right on, Ruvy. All those terrible dictatorships in Germany, France, Spain, Holland, Denmark, Belgium, Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Norway, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand… I mean, you can’t fart in those places without getting a knock on the door from the men in long black leather coats. What is Winston thinking? Sheesh.

  • Silver Surfer

    I have a simple solution to all of America’s woes.

    Do away with the Prez, get someone to call Liz at Buck House and ask if you can return to the fold, and get yourselves a constitutional monarchy.

    Replace the Prez with Her Maj on the executive branch, as she has virtually no power and MUST do what the Government wants.

    Keep Congress and the Senate, but introduce proportional representation under a parliamentary system, and have compulsory voting and an election for Congress every three years and a half-senate election at the same time, unencumbered by all this primaries nonsense.

    Then, just to keep sweet with Liz, get rid of them stars in the corner of your flag and whack a Union Jack in there.

    Voila … genuine democracy, proper freedom, no president acting without permision of the legislature … plus, you also get a proper flag in the process.

    How good is that?? You can’t lose.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Clav’s having a fit on one of the other threads about this attitude of yours, Stan. Think he’s seen the light…

    ;-)

  • Clavos

    He’s a paid Limey agitator, I tell ya!!

  • STM

    I used to live in Milner Ave, as I explained before, which is kind of spooky. It obviously means that I’m a member of the Milner Group …

    It must be subliminal stuff, though, how they get you in because I never realised it before – and now it’s too late.

  • http://www.marinrankedvoting.org Bob Richard

    Ruvy writes, The proposal in the article would necessitate the creation of national central committees which would then draw the candidate lists.

    PR doesn’t have to be this way. Even with party list PR, a party could choose its candidates in an open convention with elected delegates. More to Ruvy’s point, parties could be required to nominate their lists this way. And then there’s choice voting (called Single Transferable Vote everywhere except the U.S.), the non-partisan method of PR. It’s completely candidate-centered.

  • STM

    Ruvy: “With regard to your third objection, the rallying cry of the American Revolution was “No taxation without representation.” The colonists were not represented in Parliament.”

    Geez, that’s a piss-poor reason for a revolution.

    There is a myth that Americans were oppressed at the time, but it couldn’t have been further from the truth – and they also enjoyed probably one of the best standards of living in the world at the time.

    No, the American revolution was more about enabling powerful men to hang on to their power structure and their wealth and influence than it was about “freedom”.

    I still believe it had a lot to do with Justice Mansfield’s 1772 King’s Bench ruling against the keeping of slaves and the growing abolitionist movement in Britain.

    It seems to me far too much of a coincidence that it was barely a few years after that ruling that the ice-cream hit the fan in the colonies, and it’s worth noting that the person most affected by Mansfield’s judgment was a Virginian slave owner.

    If it wasn’t, the founding fathers (some of whom HAD acquired their wealth through slaves) could simply have continued agitating for home rule, which doubtless would have been granted eventually and which would have cost a lot less lives.

    It was more about the above than a threepenny tax on a pound of tea. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Stan, what are you drinking? Dave wrote, the rallying cry of the American Revolution was “No taxation without representation.” The colonists were not represented in Parliament,” and the the author of this ridiculous proposal, answered him.

    I never defended the revolution. In the end, though, not revolting and ditching the colonial regimes, would have led to a revolution anyway.

  • STM

    Of sorts …

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Bob Richard,

    You entirely miss my point here. The elections for the central committees in Israel are national elections, and your proposed primary would have to be a national primary as well.

    What makes American democracy work (to the degree it does actually work) is the emphasis on bottom up control and local issues. The minute you get to the level of the state legislature, you start running into the local agents of the oil and banking establishment that runs the country.

    Winston’s proposals do not deal at all with the real problems of control by the oil and banking establishment. Shuffling the deck by making what amount to cosmetic changes in the government (of any kind) will not deal with the issues of concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, or the real system of socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor on which America operates.

  • http://winstonapple.blogspot.com/ Winston Apple

    Ruvy,

    You said in your second comment on my post that:

    “The final result would be a dictator for a president who would manage to pick in one way or another, a large proportion of the members of the central committee in his own party, and a House of Representatives that would be worse and less powerful than the Reichstag, the lower house of Imperial Germany a century ago. You could forget democracy in America. The moneyed interests, the oil and banking establishment, would sew up such a system so tight that it would collapse under a civil war and a revolution to get rid of the tyranny that greed would impose on the American people.”

    In your most recent comment you describe my “ridiculous proposal” as “(s)huffling the deck by making what amount to cosmetic changes.” It’s hard to imagine the consequences being so severe if my proposal amounts to nothing more than “cosmetic changes.”

    I also disagree with your assessment that “What makes American democracy work (to the degree it does actually work) is the emphasis on bottom up control and local issues.” The national government gathers up a huge percentage of the taxes paid by Americans and doles a much smaller percentage back out to state and local governments in the form of grants and “earmarks.” A great deal of apathy with regard to elections here can be attributed to the feelings of powerlessness shared by many potential voters. (Not exactly “bottom up control.”)

    The oil and banking establishment is well represented in government at the national level of our government (as well as at the state level, as you point out). Our long history of pseudo democratic government has given us the opportunity to fight “a revolution to get rid of (this) tyranny . . . (and) greed with ballots instead of bullets.

    I’m sorry that political parties in your country have made such a mess of things. I believe things would turn out differently here, if we amend the Constitution to provide for proportional representation in the House of Representatives.

    I don’t consider my proposal to be “ridiculous” in any way. It is a serious suggestion for making our elected representatives more responsive to the will of the people and further refining our democracy as we continue the “noble experiment” that began with the American Revolution.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Winston,

    We’ll let the comments editor clean up the double posting. You may have had trouble with the “co-comment” thingy that occasionally messes up. I know that I have often enough.

    The gist of my posts is that in any given “democracy”, the surest way to insure its efficient functioning is to provide for local control particularly of funding, so that local issues, the ones that matter to people the most, are dealt with in an intelligent manner.

    In addition, the closer the institution is to local issues, the more likely the citizen is to want to participate at all. To the degree that democracy still works at all in your country, it works at the local level. That is over two decades of experience talking, in both major political parties. Your proposal ignores this entirely, and would result in a national system that would alienate voters by being far away from them. Thus it would result in the “house of mirrors” that was the Reichstag in Imperial Germany a century ago, and yet amount to nothing more than a mere cosmetic change.

    Proportional representation is a nice concept, and the ideal solution would be to have a House of Representatives of 550 members, with 450 constituent districts to represent constituencies, and 100 elected in some fashion on a proportional representation basis. Thus the advantages of the present system of local accountability are preserved, along with the opportunity for smaller parties to get a share of the vote.

    But such cosmetic changes do not deal with the real problem your nation faces, a concentration of wealth that is obscene, and a concentration of power that only corrupts.

    That requires far-reaching change that, in the end, may require re-rigging the country altogether – a process that may well require bullets, rather than ballots. The oil and banking establishment will not give up its power unless it is compelled to.

  • http://winstonapple.blogspot.com Winston Apple

    Ruvy,

    It seems clear from your most recent comment that we are in agreement with regard to ends and differ less than you might think with regard to means.

    I agree with you (and with Thomas Jefferson) that democracy works best when it is closest to the people. You say that my “proposal . . . would result in a national system that would alienate voters by being far away from them.” A lot of voters in America feel pretty alienated. The approval ratings for both Congress and President Bush indicate how close to Washington, D. C. most voters feel.

    Furthermore, we already have a “national system.” While we may technically still operate under a federal system, the powers of state and local governments have steadily eroded having been largely usurped by the national government. I understand completely that this particular proposal of mine does nothing to shift power from the national government to state and local governments. (A reform I strongly support.) On the other hand, I don’t believe it does anything to make matters worse in that regard. No POWERS would be shifted to the national government.

    I agree with you that “the surest way to insure (the) efficient functioning (of a democracy) is to provide for local control particularly of funding.” Shifting power (and the percentage of total tax receipts) from the national to state and local governments needs to happen, but I that is a separate issue.

    I disagree that “ local issues” are “the ones that matter to people the most.” Speaking for myself (although I believe a lot of my fellow Americans agree with me on this), I have very little interest in city government. I like to see potholes repaired promptly. I want effective police and fire departments. I enjoy easy access to safe drinking water. And maybe I’ve been spoiled by the fact that we have those things in Independence, Missouri. Life is very easy and pleasant in my neighborhood. I play my piano. I play with my grandchildren. I go for bike rides at a scenic trail that runs along a river not far from my house.

    My interest in national and international issues sometimes causes my frustration level to rise. I am embarrassed when my country bullies and threatens other nations, acts like a bull in a china shop with regard to foreign policy, and refuses to acknowledge that global warming is even a problem, let alone do anything about it. I look on, feeling helpless, as health insurance companies buy policies (via campaign contributions) to insure that they can continue to pillage and plunder the health care industry. I try to avoid thinking about Cheney, Halliburton, the oil companies . . . . And when I start feeling really upset – I play my piano, I play with my grandchildren, I go for a bike ride.

    I’m pleased that you agree with me that “(p)roportional representation is a nice concept.” Your “ideal solution would be to have a House of Representatives of 550 members, with 450 constituent districts to represent constituencies, and 100 elected in some fashion on a proportional representation basis.” My proposal would result in a Congress of 535 members with 100 senators representing constituent districts (states) and 435 elected on a proportional basis. It seems we are not that far apart after all.

    With “local accountability . . . preserved, along with the opportunity for smaller parties to get a share of the vote” we might have a better chance to focus campaigns for national offices on issues instead of personalities, neatly packaged by consultants.

    We also agree that “the real problem (America) faces (is) a concentration of wealth that is obscene, and a concentration of power that only corrupts.” A good first step in addressing those problems would be to starve the beast by enabling legislators to get elected without needing millions of dollars from special interests to pay for television ads. With the Libertarian party and the Green Party having the opportunity to hold seats in Congress (and state legislatures), gaining exposure for their party platforms in the process, our chances of compelling the “oil and banking establishment (to) give up its power” would be significantly improved. If the major parties failed to act responsibly, one of these “fringe” parties might find itself transformed into a major party.

  • http://www.marinrankedvoting.org Bob Richard

    ruvy: You entirely miss my point here. The elections for the central committees in Israel are national elections, and your proposed primary would have to be a national primary as well.

    What makes American democracy work (to the degree it does actually work) is the emphasis on bottom up control and local issues.

    OK, I missed your (main) point. Now I have a new problem. What does PR, FPTP, or any other electoral system at the national level have to do with the importance and vitality, or lack thereof, of local government?

    I grant that national PR would not solve the problems of local government. But PR for city councils and county boards might help. The relative importance of different levels of government seems like a separate problem, and separate discussion, to me.

  • Baronius

    Winston, what would your proposal do about a Gary Condit? How would the voters be able to intervene when they liked a policy but not a candidate? For that matter, how would they be able to support a candidate whose priorities and shades of policy detail match theirs? Where is the place for leadership?

    I’ll tell you two policies I’d support, or at least consider. For the Senate, we should drop the 17th Amendment. Put the Senators back on the leash of the state houses, and make them more compliant to the state’s interests over the federal. On the House side, we should greatly increase the number of districts. A thousand congressmen would encourage the inertia Jim wants and the greater accountability I’m looking for.

    Would you support either proposal?

  • http://winstonapple.blogspot.com Winston Apple

    Baronius,

    I would anticipate that with a system of proportional representation like the one I propose, there would be a greater incentive for a political party to keep individuals who are under suspicion of misconduct or corruption off of their ordered lists of candidates, since a single unsavory character could theoretically cost them more than one seat.

    The time and place for voters to “intervene when they (like) a policy but not a candidate” would be during the run-up to a party’s convention and during the convention itself, by joining the party and participating actively. As we all know, active participation does not insure that a voter will be happy with the results. In some cases choices might have to be made between a party platform with which you are in general agreement and an ordered list of candidates containing one or more individuals of questionable character.

    For me it would be an easy choice. I would be quite happy to see Congress actually agree upon and implement effective solutions to the problems we face as a nation. If a few unsavory people slipped into office in the process, I could live with that.

    With regard to the two policies you mention, I wouldn’t rule out supporting a repeal of the 17th Amendment, although my initial response is that I’m interested in making our government more democratic, not less, and there is general agreement that direct election of senators is more democratic than election by state legislatures. If upon further reflection I became convinced that such a change would facilitate a shift of power from Washington, D. C. to the states, I would be more inclined to support it.

    As far as enlarging the House to 1000 members, I see no real benefit and a great deal of added expense in the form of salaries, perks, and staff for an additional 565 representatives. Our government has been inattentive to the needs of the people for some time now. I understand the appeal of gridlock and inertia when government is up to no good. My hope is that my proposal would make our national government more responsive to the will of the people and more effective as a result.

  • Baronius

    Winston – So, in essence, we are to trust the parties to pick the best people, and if they fail, we should vote for the wrong people. The parties have our best interests at heart. And history shows that parties have the ability to get rid of the few bad eggs.

    I don’t know what party you’re a member of, but it’s not one of the two biggies in the US. It’s not one of the six biggest. It’s apparently the one that always puts policy over personality (but still chooses the best people).

    Forgive my scepticism, but there’s nothing more important to a democracy than a creep filter. You’re asking us to abdicate our current method of weeding out the mad and the power-mad without any consideration of a new system.

  • STM

    Proportional representation, preferential voting and compulsory participation at the polls are the three things that hand the political process back to the people it belongs to – yep, that’d be the people.

    America has a serious problem right now in that while it touts itself as a “representative republic”, it’s really representative in name only as the political process has been hijacked by the two major parties (how many independents or minor party reps are elected to Congress or the Senate?), big business and lobby groups. In short regarding the latter, whoever has the most money is the one that gets the voice.

    One of the things I love about Australia is that it is truly a democracy (in the modern sense of the word), as it has all the three things above that give the community a genuine voice, and America, sadly, has ceased to be one.

    If you really want to get back to your roots with this, you DO need to make changes (especially federally) – otherwise you are just going to keep getting the governments you deserve instead of the ones you should have or could have.

    For all those opposed to compulsotry voting: libertarian ideas can be taken too far (come on, you have drivers’ licences, don’t you – what’s the difference?). Voting is a privilege as much as a right. It’s part of the exchange – the trade-off you get for living in a free and democratic country.

    Studies show it helps the incumbent, on whatever side of the fence, so it also brings some stability to politics.

    As does proportional representation, as Winston argues above.

    Prefential voting works nicely too: I put my vote in for a minor party, for instance, but give a second preference to another – which means in a tight race out of two, I also get the chance to elect the candidate I’d prefer if my first choice isn’t going to make it.

    I realise Americans are very opposed to change of any kind, but unless you have some changes made now or in the not too distant future, the day will come when the American people have no power for change. It seems to me, an outside observer and a very keen America-watcher, that you need to get out of the cul-de-sac and back on the straight and narrow.

    Also, America needs to remove some of the presidential powers, which are making it a modern parody of the Britain (and the America) of mad King George.

    As the Queen now serves the same role as the President on the executive branch but has far less power (almost none), why would Americans who make such a song and dance about shaking off the monarchy 200 years ago continue with a system that is in effect almost a de facto monarchy of the kind the British did away with a few centuries ago? True, their system is far from perfect, but it does put power in the hands of the people who were given that power by the people.

    Surely ALL the power in government should lie with the elected representatives of the people in the two legislating houses. In a modern democracy, government is the people, ALL the people, after all.

    (And to any pedants who want to debate what I mean by democracy, I’m using it in the modern sense, not the ancient Greek – ie, true representative government).

  • http://winstonapple.blogspot.com Winston Apple

    Baronius,

    I believe the parties do pretty much whatever it takes to gain power and the politicians within each party do whatever it takes to stay in office. The parties, presently, have the best interests of special interests at heart. History shows they have great difficulty getting rid of bad eggs.

    I’m not a member of any party, I am an independent voter. I do put policy over personality. I look at the positions of the candidates on issues of importance to me and try to pick the candidate most likely to do what I think should be done to address important issues and problems we face as a nation at that point in time.

    With the help of the Internet it has gotten a little easier to ferret out information regarding a candidate’s position on various issues. It would be even easier if we managed to shift the focus of attention in elections for the House from individual candidates to party platforms.

    I do believe there is something “more important to a democracy than a creep filter.” The most important thing in a democracy is that voters can make informed decisions about which candidates or parties have put forward the best proposals to address the issues of the day and that it is relatively quick and easy for voters to hold parties and politicians accountable if they fail to deliver on their promises.

    The present system makes accountability difficult. An individual candidate for Congress can say all the right things and then plead innocent to achieving nothing because a single member of the House of Representatives can not pass anything single-handedly.

    Holding the party with a majority of the seats in the House accountable would be much simpler. The party had a platform, we voted them in on the basis of that platform, they failed to pass the legislation necessary to carry out their platform, two years later we vote them out of office.

    I am “asking us to abdicate our current method of weeding out the mad and the power-mad” because it is not working. There are plenty of creeps getting through the filter. Congress has lower approval ratings than Bush, yet most incumbents will be reelected later this year. I’m asking for your due “consideration of a new system.”

    Change is easy to dream about, easy to talk about, and difficult to accomplish. If we want to change the corrupt, ineffective culture in Washington, D. C., we are going to have to actually change some things about the way our political system operates.

    My proposal is one change I believe to be worth making. We have the advantage of knowing that proportional representation is not a new or untested idea. Comments made in response to this post have cited numerous countries where it has worked quite well and only a few where it hasn’t.

  • http://winstonapple.blogspot.com Winston Apple

    STM (#28),

    I strongly oppose compulsory voting. The quality of our elections, and perhaps our government, would be helped immensely if fewer people voted. There are far too many people going to the polls who never read books or op-ed pieces about the issues of the day, who don’t watch debates, and who vote based primarily on the basis of the TV ads they’ve seen between episodes of “American Idol” and “America’s Top Model.”

    The couch potato vote is the primary reason candidates need to sell their souls to lobbyists so they can flood the airwaves with meaningless ads.

    I’d like to take all of the money devoted to TV ads and do a massive ad campaign encouraging people who have no real interest in a serious discussion of the issues of the day to stay home on election day. Something along the lines of “Voting is a right, not a responsibility. But, if you choose to vote, please vote responsibly.”

  • STM

    Sorry Winston, but I live in a country (Australia) that has had compulsory voting since the 1930s and whose parliamentary system is based on preferential voting and proportional representation, and we find it is the opposite here. It actually works really well.

    Your idea seems to me a classic case of supposing that a certain percentage of the population are morally and intellectually inferior, and therefore shouldn’t vote.

    I say, unless the whole population votes, you don’t have true representative democracy (in the modern sense of the word for all the pedants out there).

    Our experience here has been that because it engages the whole community, politicians tend to focus a lot on the every-day grey areas that bother people hugely and the two main political parties tend not to have to manufacture polarising-type issues designed to divide the community with the intention of cementing a vote.

    There is here, therefore, always a large swinging vote. While there are always die-hards on both sides of the political fence, most people are not so set in their ways that they won’t swing their vote according to which candidate they prefer, especially in relation to local issues. That’s really simple stuff like petrol prices, interest rates, cost of living, some social issues, education, health, etc. It’s always more about that stuff and less about Left vs Right.

    So a lot of elections are decided by the swinging vote. Money tends not to come into the picture at all.

    I realise most Americans are opposed to anything not invented in America, and because most Americans are geographically challenged (and I’m being polite) they generally don’t have any experience of those things, so they probably aren’t really in a position to make judgements.

    Contempt prior to knowledge is a foolish thing, but seems to be a very American thing in regard to this stuff from what I can gather on this site.

    You are very obviously in a political mire at the moment, and it will take more than proportional representation to fix it. My view: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but if it is broke (or as my mate Clav says, a bit dinged up) then you have to look for whatever solutions you can to fix it.

    Truth is, most outside observers and America-watchers can tell that you are no longer really a representative democracy (in the modern sense), because the voice of the people is now the voice of big business and big lobby groups with big bucks.

    Somewhere along the line, you’ve let go of the rope.

  • http://winstonapple.blogspot.com Winston Apple

    STM (#31),

    My opposition to compulsory voting is based on my love of freedom. If someone is not interested in politics (and many of my fellow Americans are not) they should be allowed to go about their business without paying any attention whatsoever to politics or politicians. I am a political junkie myself, but I understand completely why many people have no interest whatsoever in political matters.

    Although we don’t have compulsory voting, a fixture off every election cycle here is various forms of pressure put on people to vote. The organizations of every candidate work very hard to locate people who are inclined to vote for that candidate and to make certain they get to the polls and on election day. There are also generic ads urging people to vote. The message of these ads is that voting is a responsibility. I disagree. Voting is a right, not a responsibility.

    You say that “(my) idea seems to (you) a classic case of supposing that a certain percentage of the population are morally and intellectually inferior, and therefore shouldn’t vote.” A few paragraphs later you say: “most Americans are geographically challenged (and I’m being polite) they generally don’t have any experience of those things [things not invented in America], so they probably aren’t really in a position to make judgements.” You also say: “Contempt prior to knowledge is a foolish thing, but seems to be a very American thing in regard to this stuff from what I can gather on this site.”

    In Madison’s “Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787″ (the book link is in my post) the Founding Fathers expressed very clearly their disregard for democracy, based upon their belief that the common people were ignorant and ill-informed.

    I wouldn’t go as far as you or the Founders. I certainly wouldn’t judge someone as being morally inferior on the basis of being disinterested in political matters. As far as intellect, it is not distributed evenly. The bell curve does exist. Some people are smarter than others. But again, I don’t believe people should be excluded from voting on the basis of their score on an I.Q. test.

    You also say that you “realise most Americans are opposed to anything not invented in America.” I have a deep appreciation for the ideals of the Enlightenment. And while our own Thomas Jefferson may have provided the most eloquent summary of those ideals in the Declaration of Independence, the ideals were developed in England and France by John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others.

    With regard to your comment that my country is “very obviously in a political mire at the moment, and it will take more than proportional representation to fix it,” I agree. On the other hand, proportional representation is PART of the solution. (Also part of your system, as you point out.)

    Finally, you say “Truth is, most outside observers and America-watchers can tell that you are no longer really a representative democracy (in the modern sense), because the voice of the people is now the voice of big business and big lobby groups with big bucks.” I agree, but would modify your observation slightly. This is not a recent development. A careful reading of Madison’s notes reveals the Founding Fathers working diligently to devise a system that would appear to be democratic, while in reality being controlled by the monied interests (notably including all 55 of the men who participated in drafting the Constitution). They did a pretty good job.

    Over time our government has become somewhat more democratic as a result of amendments to the Constitution and Supreme Court rulings. The interests of the common people have been represented on some occasion, the most famous of which was Andrew Jackson’s ascension to the presidency. If you are looking at who really holds power, however, our system could be most accurately be described as a plutocracy. I think it’s time to take another step in the direction of genuine democracy and an amendment providing for proportional representation would be a good step to take.

    It is good to know that compulsory voting works so well in Australia. I will remember your remarks and take comfort in them should compulsory voting be introduced here. However, as much as I love democracy, I love freedom more. I don’t believe in forcing people to vote, if they are disinclined to do so.

    The right to vote, along with a long history of peaceful political transitions on the basis of election results, are among the blessings of liberty we enjoy. Liberty is the greatest blessing of all.

  • STM

    My love of freedom is the reason why I LOVE compulsory voting.

    It’s the one thing that gives us, the people of this country, an absolute stranglehold over any government that thinks it might like to oppress us. Rule of law is a wonderful thing.

    We get to do our talking to them at the ballot box, and if they play up too much, they get punted royally – which is what happened to George Bush’s mate John Howard a few months back.

    Yeah, and I love liberty too. That’s why I live in Australia. It’s also why I chose not to live in America years ago, because I find too many Americans are deluded about rights and freedoms and think they are the only ones who have them and listening to it just becomes so tedious and boring. What’s written down with good intent in America often doesn’t translate to reality, which is where it falls down.

    I don’t like the idea that there are two tiers of society, either: like, as in those who should be voting and those who should be encouraged not to.

    Pound for pound, in my experience, this country actually has many more real rights, freedoms and privileges than America, which is what makes it such a good place.

    I see compulsory voting in the same way I’d see being forced by the state to pay for a driver’s licence, or to stump up my income tax to the federal government – except it’s a lot cheaper if you don’t vote – $25.

    The vote is secret, though, and you can vote informal if you wish – but you do have to turn up at the booths and get your name ticked off the electoral roll, and having done that why would anyone want to waste their vote?

    But I suspect, Winston, the real reason you don’t want compulsory voting – and you’ve said as much – is that you think a large proportion of the population are intellectually and morally inferior to you (those couch potatoes and the like you mentioned before) and therefore shouldn’t even be allowed to vote in the first place.

    So who would they be? I’d love to hear your answer, in detail.

    So what’s that about? It’s only people who in your view can cut the mustard who are allowed to vote??

    If that’s your liberty American style, I’ll take the Aussie version any day: a fair go for everyone, rather than just for the select few.

  • STM

    And I hope you don’t take my post as a personal attack … it’s just meant as a bit of constructive criticism to further the debate here, with particular focus on your comment about encouraging some people not to vote, which I found of interest.

    I am not an America hater. Far from it.

    I don’t fall for every bit of bullsh.t though, either; the same way I won’t fall for it here, where it also gets thrown around prodigiously.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    My love of freedom is the reason why I LOVE compulsory voting.

    It’s the one thing that gives us, the people of this country, an absolute stranglehold over any government that thinks it might like to oppress us.

    Hardly absolute, Stan.

    All a government would need to do is pass a law ending compulsory voting.

  • Clavos

    Besides, Stan, how long did you guys put up with Howard??

    I don’t think it’s so absolute.

  • http://winstonapple.blogspot.com Winston Apple

    STM (#33)

    The “real reason” I don’t want compulsory voting is that it would increase the power of advertising, which should be reduced, not enhanced, in my opinion. The knowledge that many voters have regarding candidates is limited to what they get from ads, or (not much better) the main stream (corporate owned) media.

    The dominant role of advertising (TV ads in particular) is why raising huge amounts of money is a necessary precondition for a candidate to have any chance of winning an election, or to even be considered a viable candidate. Hence, the power of the monied interests. They provide the money to buy the ads.

    I would like to shift the focus to a discussion of the issues. Once that discussion takes place, those who have participated in the discussion, or at least paid attention to the discussion, are more likely to cast informed votes. As the percentage of the electorate who have no knowledge other than what they’ve seen in ads goes up, the quality of overall participation goes down.

    I will readily admit (and have above) that I believe some people are intellectually inferior to others. (“The bell curve does exist. Some people are smarter than others.” – Me #31) I will just as readily admit that some people, cold blooded murderers, rapists, and child molesters, for example, to be morally inferior to others (including me).

    However, to quote myself again: “I don’t believe people should be excluded from voting on the basis of their score on an I.Q. test.” (#31) Felons are another matter. They are barred from voting and should be.

    Let me be as clear as possible. I don’t propose setting up any sort of mustard-cutting requirement for voting. Any one who is eligible to vote should obviously be allowed to do so. I just don’t believe in forcing people with no interest in politics to vote.

    In his comparison of various types of government, Aristotle listed monarchy, aristocracy, and a polity as “good” forms of government. He listed tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy as “bad” or “corrupted” forms of government. His key point is that good government is possible whether a country is ruled by a single person, a small group of people, or all of the people. The difference between these forms, according to Aristotle, was that in the good forms of government, the person or persons in power ruled in the common interest. In the corrupted forms, the people in power ruled according to self-interest.

    In reading and responding to the comments to my first post, I have very much appreciated the opportunity to learn more about other governments from first-hand reports (Ruvy in Jerusalem and you in Australia). From your description of compulsory voting in Australia, it sounds like the common people may vote in a manner that is just as self-interested as the oligarchy here in the U. S. Is that a reasonable assumption?

    In closing, let me make one more thing perfectly clear. I don’t judge people on the basis of their interest, or lack of interest, in politics (or their tastes in clothes, music, movies, etc.). I think the world would be a pretty boring place if everyone was just like everyone else. I celebrate freedom and relish the diversity it sustains and nurtures.

    I don’t want to force TV junkies to vote. I don’t want to be forced to vote for the next American Idol. I don’t watch the show. Never have. Never will. I would not be an informed voter.

  • Silver Surfer

    “All a government would need to do is pass a law ending compulsory voting.”

    They won’t … it helps the party in power, according to studies, which is a recipe for political stability when combined with PR. Besides, too many people would jump up and down about it. We’ve had it since 1924, after a low turnout out the 1922 federal election. It’s part of the political landscape. They won’t end it.

    We didn’t put up with Howard, Clav. He was voted into office fair and square (even if I didn’t like it). Like I say, the good thing about democracy and rule of law is that you have to accept the result, even if you don’t like it.

    But when he pushed a bit too far (by removing workplace rights and court-administered arbitration that set wages and conditions, and which had existed for over a century), we gave him the big heave-ho.

    And Winston … of course the people vote in their self-interest here.

    The country belongs to us, not to the political parties. But the country stays on an even keel through the same kind of rule of law you have.

    The people we elect only represent the wishes and aspirations of the people who elect them.

    That is, I believe, what the founding fathers were really aspiring to in the fledgeling US when they were looking to good governance.

    The other good thing about this system is that independents and small parties will often win a small number of seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate, which means they can on occasion hold the balance of power and will sometimes therefore force voting on conscience rather than along party lines.

    Which is a good way to keep the bastards honest.

  • Silver Surfer

    Winston: I can’t link because I don’t have thre instructions at hand but Wikipedia’s entry on the Australian Electorial System (for once) gives a pretty good and accurate overview, and answers some of your questions about advertising, and how PR and preferential voting works here.

    It is worth a look, especially given your interest in PR.

    It also explains why we have what has been called the “Washminster system” of government – one that takes after the US in its bi-cameral form, but the British system in function – with some differences.

    I think the great example of how much we trust our system is that we’ve never had a Bill of Rights.

    Some rights are enumerated under our constitution, others through common law or statutes or Acts of Parliaments, both state and federal.

    The one thing I never hear Australians worrying about is that their rights are going to be taken away – I guess because they trust the process.

    It is certainly one of the major differences I have noticed between Americans and Australians (and there aren’t that many, to be honest).

    The fear factor is near zero. I wonder, however, whether that will change should we ditch the constitutional monarchy and become a republic. It will happen, no doubt at some stage, and if it happens in my lifetime, I’ll be a keen watcher.

    So, really, I guess, what’s it’s really all about ultimately is that there are many roads that lead to the same place.

  • bliffle

    The first and most important legislative reform is to get rid of the archaic and unrepresentative US Senate and institute a unicameral legislature.

  • Clavos

    “But when he pushed a bit too far (by removing workplace rights and court-administered arbitration that set wages and conditions, and which had existed for over a century), we gave him the big heave-ho.”

    But it still took as long as it does here in the States; compulsory voting didn’t make your power over him absolute until enough people turned against him.

    I agree with Winston regarding mandatory voting; I probably have the lowest opinion on this site of the intelligence of humans as a species.

    I see no good at all to be gained from suddenly forcing millions of hitherto nonvoting ignoramuses to go to the poll against their will to vote.

    On the contrary, I think it could be disastrous.

  • Silver Surfer

    Clav: “I see no good at all to be gained from suddenly forcing millions of hitherto nonvoting ignoramuses to go to the poll against their will to vote”.

    I guess people here aren’t really voting against their will. They are quite highly engaged in the whole process as a rule. They’re so used to the notion that they have to vote on polling day, it’s just part of the landscape. It’s no different to putting in a tax return, or enrolling your child in school.

  • fry

    I appreciate Winston’s goals to gain a more representative goverment, to reduce corruption and reduce the influences of special interests.
    I appreciate the sentiment of him and the other posters that we need to fix the structure of government, not just change the players as most Americans believe.

    I also appreciate the careful writing of the original proposal and the thoughful commentaries from far away. This is a small, sincere, and extremely intelligent community with a very high level of discourse not generaly found on the web. Thank you all for your focus!

    I believe there is a system that will achieve the goals that Winston has laid out better than the system he is proposing. It is a system where
    – the issue of compusatory voting is moot.
    – the issue of the problems that the Italian and Israeli governments have with PR is moot.
    – the money for advertizing that will be perhaps less prevalent in PR than in current US elections (but still present) is also moot.
    – This system also does away with the difficulties of the relationship between voting for a party’s principles vs. the actual character of the candidates that was so thoughtfully articulated above.

    I will not even attempt to summarize it here because it is . [though I’m delighted to learn that Autrailia has a structure that works better than that in the US.] For just one of many examples, Kenya’s having severe problems with its structure right now. In the structure I am proposing, at least some of Kenya’s problems would go away. I am not after perfection, but we have such a long way to go that tweaking at the margins is pointless. We need the boldness of big ideas. If I’m correct in my assessment, Winston and the responders here will not shirk from big, bold ideas.

  • STM

    Fry, ther change of government in Australia a couple of months ago would probably mean that the US won’t be supporting the Bush govt in Iraq at least.

    Since it has similar aims to the Democrats, however, you could expect them to quite pally again if a democrat is elected to the Whitehouse.

    And Kenya’s problems?

    Don’t think they’ll go away with any political solution.

    The violence there may be linked to the disputed election result, but it’s really more tribal violence over fears of power-sharing (or not sharing) than anything.