The Perfect Representation Amendment
(I wrote this plan for constitutionally limited direct democracy in 1995. Maybe the people are ready for it now.)
The second American Revolution is imminent, and the computer is the only weapon that can give us the power we need over those who would thwart the public interest, just as the power of an armed citizenry did in 1776. No longer can our guns stop a government that would oppress us, but we the people must directly govern America through a national computer network. The impending revolution is bloodless. The battlefield is virtual, and we have the advantage.
Our government is surely not legitimate, and so it seems a paradox that we may vote for anyone we choose to represent us; but consider how our confidence in government has fallen ever since assassinations of the 60’s. Had we power to elect a representative of choice, well then, why have we not exercised it yet?
Our Constitution sorely needs amendment because it failed to prevent the unconstitutional government we have today. The founders did not realize that it would encourage a government powerful enough to violate their own creation. The Supreme Court has upheld laws that violate our “inalienable” rights “guaranteed” by the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 9th, 10th, and 14th amendments – not to mention our many rights not mentioned in the Constitution. The Supreme Court has also supported laws that ignore the limitations on the power of Congress specified throughout the Constitution.
Our system of government is obsolete because the framers could not foresee the power created by modern wealth and technology. Our species has always abused power, and now there is far more power to abuse. The result is the rise of the political class, and the fall of the productive class – that’s us.
The time for change has passed. It was 1995 (when I first wrote this article) when government was more manageable and we had no threat beyond our borders, but the only change generated by the political class are more taxes, spending, mandates, and regulations. These only entrench our current system.
The solution is direct democracy. We must place the legislative branch directly in the hands of the people, and computer technology has made this possible for the first time in history. The technological challenge is trivial compared to the imminent political battle to enact the one essential Constitutional amendment.
Aristocrats “fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes”. Democrats “identify with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise, depository of the public interest.” — Thomas Jefferson
Let’s define the political class to be those who wish to draw all power from the people into their own hands. In other words, those who compete to influence the government while avoiding any option that limits their own power or that of the government. It sounds like we’re talking about the media, the lobbyists, the government, and the political parties. Let’s refer to them as the four branches of the political class.
The political class maintains power because neither the Democratic nor Republican candidate is ever the representative we want. The majority is voting against one candidate instead of for the other one in spite of massive campaign expenditures to make us like them. We thus have what is arguably a two party monopoly. In a later article I will elaborate on the two party monopoly and how it is the inevitable though unintentional result of the Constitution.
The political class is gaining power because the government collects and redistributes an increasing percentage of our wealth. The incentive for spending is obvious. Congress can decide to whom it will give one fourth of our GNP, and the Representative who is willing to spend the most receives the most campaign contributions and the greatest benefits after leaving office. To add insult to injury, Congressmen actually believe they can spend our money more wisely than we can.
The political class will continue to rise as technology advances. Each advance in computer technology makes it possible to manage more expensive and complex government programs. It also enables the government to monitor and control the behavior of each citizen with increasing efficiency. Advances in biology also make it easier to control people. (Imagine how many Soviets would have been forced to take Prozac if it were available.) There is potentially no end to the rise of the political class.
The political class fails to represent the public interest, and we have forgotten that the sole purpose of government is representation – government of the people, by the people, for the people.
Representation is the end – democracy is the means. Democracy does not guarantee representation.
In the United States we can vote for anyone we choose, but so could citizens of the Soviet Union.
In the USSR they elected a candidate approved by the Communist party. We elect a candidate approved by the Republican or Democratic Party. They had millions of citizens and only one choice. We have millions of citizens and only two choices. They had democracy and no representation. We have democracy and little representation.
The public is almost powerless to secure better representation. Although our confidence in the government has plummeted in recent decades, we have not forced a significant number of incumbents into retirement because of their performance. Even if we had, the two party monopoly ensures that we would only get more of the same.
The two party monopoly is a result of the Constitution because it establishes winner take all elections in geographical districts. Another catastrophic result of the winner take all districts is that over 250,000,000 unique individuals are subject to whatever enhances the political careers of 435 rich old white guys from law school.
Our government is far less accountable than business, which must please customers or die. 94% of businesses fail within the first seven years, but for over 200 years Congress has been dominated by the same kind of representatives – those who favor bigger government and are willing to use excessive force to achieve it regardless of what the people want.
When the Southern states seceded from the United States and formed their own nation, the US government would not withdraw its troops from Southern soil, and it forced Americans to fight a war that would cost over 600,000 lives so that it could maintain control over the former states, and that was the ONLY reason it fought the war in spite of what you “learned” in government schools.
The “Republican revolution” in 1994 was revolutionary simply because the Republicans had a majority for the first time in 40 years. The biggest change they would make would be to spend more money on their constituencies than on the Democrats’ constituencies. Oh yes, … they also wanted the government to grow a little slower than the Democrats wanted.
The solution is a greater distribution of power. One could argue that the successes of our Constitution thus far are based entirely on the distribution of power. Some people refer to this distribution of power as “checks and balances.”
To achieve a greater distribution of power, we the people must be able to vote directly on everything that Congress votes on (direct democracy). We must also be able to initiate legislation more easily, and we must have the representative of our choice. In addition, we must have a convenient forum to communicate with other citizens across the nation.
Computer technology can deliver these goals through a nationwide network of voting terminals. We would soon recover 1000 times the cost through cuts in the federal budget that we the people would make. The voter network would have many other valuable uses too, such as education, which further justifies the expense.
Let us now define what is arguably the ultimate form of democracy.
The cornerstone of the New Democracy is direct democracy. A Representative’s vote would represent the total number of citizens in that district minus those who voted directly using a computer terminal. House votes will no longer be 235 to 200. A tally might be 50 million to 170 million.
Congress would operate the same as always, but it would lose much of its power to the people. Its primary role would still be to draft legislation, but it would have much less control over what bills became laws.
Congress would be our proxy. When we abstain, our vote would automatically be cast to match the vote of our Representative, but this still isn’t good enough. Were it not for the computer, we might forfeit many votes to Congress because we wouldn’t each have a staff to keep us abreast of the issues. The computer empowers us to forfeit nothing because it will let us each designate any person we choose to carry our vote if we abstain.
The personal representative you choose could also have a proxy who would get both of your votes if you both abstain, or you could specify that your second choice proxy always carry your vote instead of your proxy’s proxy. If you feel that your Congressman does not represent your best interests, you would still have the representative of your choice. Your Congressman would simply be the last choice in a hierarchy of personal representatives.
Even personal representation may not prevent Congress from thwarting the public interest. What if congress won’t present us with the kind of bills we want to pass? We must therefore be able to place a bill on the floor directly by using the network. Perhaps a petition by ten percent of the voters would be a good approach.
The New Democracy would distribute power so widely that there would be no one in particular to influence. Although this would severely strain the resources of professional lobbyists, they could still try to influence the people directly, and what would stop the media from continuing to place profits and their personal biases above the public interest? I predicted in 1995 that a computer network based on the Perfect Representation Amendment (where voters can directly communicate with all other voters) would tend to neutralize lobbyists and other special interests.
(update) We have in fact seen some of this effect since then with the Internet, but of course, lobbyists can still influence votes on bills almost as easily as before because power is still concentrated in Congress.
The Representation network should not be limited to e-mail or else those who could afford television commercials would still retain enormous influence. In 1995 I explained that were are fortunate because we already had the technology to create an information superhighway that could host millions of multimedia terminals. Anyone could produce and distribute commercials and documentaries on the network for the cost of a camcorder.
We could implement the New Democracy with a single Constitutional amendment.
The political elites deride and censor their critics. They say in effect that if we don’t have the solution then we should be silent, but their argument has three major fallacies. First, the Constitution says we have a right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” It doesn’t even imply that we should also have a solution. Second, exposing and eliminating corruption is a major solution. Third, we elected THEM to come up with the solutions. Because they have not, I present the following Constitutional amendment. It is one of the Freedom Amendments, and I call it “The Representation Amendment.”
The right of citizens of the United States to vote directly on each referendum of any kind before the Congress shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state for any reason.
Each citizen may choose any citizens of the United States as proxies. A proxy may not be assigned to a citizen by anyone else for any reason. If a citizen abstains, that citizen’s vote and any abstentions for which that citizen is a proxy shall be cast by that citizen’s proxy. A citizen may choose to use an alternate proxy in those instances where the primary proxy abstains.
Each vote by the Representative for each Congressional district adds to the tally a number equal to the number of citizens in that district less those votes cast by the citizens of that district both directly and by proxy. The tally must include those votes cast by citizens directly and by proxy. The tally is not legitimate until it equals the total number of citizens of the United States who are eligible to vote.
The polls for each vote shall remain open at least 48 hours, except when the Congress exercises its sole authority to set a shorter time by a two thirds majority.
The Congress shall act in good faith to implement this amendment using the fastest technology commonly available.
A voter shall be able to verify his or her vote, and any implementation of this amendment shall employ maximum transparency – without violating the tradition of a secret ballot.
The United States Congress, in accordance with this amendment, shall vote on any bill supported by ten percent of the voters.
This amendment could have worked in 1776, though not nearly as well as now. That must be why they didn’t adopt it …
Many concerned Americans are struggling to enact other specific legislative reforms, but I believe that any solution of merit would be easy to adopt once we enact the Representation Amendment. I believe we should thus drop our smaller initiatives and unite to enact this watershed legislation. Our message to each candidate should be, “No Representation Amendment, no victory.”
The Representation Amendment would be the foundation. We must then craft the laws necessary to make it work. Let’s consider accessibility, crises, elections, representation, security, lobbying, special interests, and tyranny of the majority.
Accessibility demands that the network contain public access points, but this would require surprisingly few tax dollars, and not just because so many Americans could use their computers at home or office. Many businesses will install computers to attract customers just like they have done with ATM’s, pay phones, lottery machines, credit card scanners, rest rooms, water fountains, etc.
Accessibility does not require literacy, let alone computer literacy, because a voter could sit at a computer and choose yes or no for a graphical image that represents a bill or a candidate. TV stations could explain each bill while displaying its corresponding image. Candidates for election would simply use their photographs and maybe a logo for their party.
Accessibility also demands that we have enough time to vote. The polls could be open for about one week whether we are voting on a bill or electing a candidate. Voters could have plenty of time to think about their vote and even go back and change it if they choose.
Crises, such as war, will require Congress to make some decisions very quickly. We must therefore allow it to set the length of time that the polls remain open for each vote, but this action also requires a vote. It would be the only kind of vote that Congress can make unilaterally. We would be wise to require at least a two thirds majority to set the time to less than one week.
Elections would be much more efficient. We could have unlimited candidates and runoff elections – neither of which is viable today. We could even have preference voting, which enables us to list our order of preference for everyone on the ballot.
Representation is guaranteed because we are represented either by ourselves or anyone we choose from among the entire citizenry.
Computer technology lets us be more creative. We could choose representatives for different categories such as domestic and foreign, and we could have a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice. For example, we could specify that we be represented by our 2nd choice rather than the representative of our 1st choice, or vice versa.
Many would choose a favorite journalist or TV personality, which is a healthy decision as long as we pick someone whose votes are published and audited just like most representatives in Congress. Without an audit we should assume we would be picking someone whose public image is a pretense – although that’s unlikely in most cases because such a conspiracy would be too risky. Detection could damage the conspirators’ cause for decades after the fact.
I cannot stress the importance of this point enough. Imagine that a popular conservative like Rush Limbaugh were the proxy for ten percent of all conservatives, and then he confesses on his deathbed that he was always a liberal and that ten percent of all conservative votes had always been cast for the liberal cause! Then again, exit polls would catch this pretty quickly in such a large case.
Security is simple at the individual level. Everyone has a password. No one could possibly steal or buy (and then use) enough passwords to influence an election. Even if someone applied this strategy, voters could examine their voting history and see that their votes had been changed.
The only real danger is someone altering the results after they have been stored. The solution is many checks and balances such as independent polls, inspectors, redundant storage facilities, and giving voters access to their stored voting history.
Voters could see if their past votes had been altered. First they could check one vote storage facility, and then just for fun they could check another one to see if they matched.
No one could alter the software that ran the network because everything would be completely open. Anyone could examine the source code at any time. Anyone could compile the source code and compare it to the software running on the network at any time.
When a violation of security occurs, we could easily take action to prevent the same kind of breach from recurring – because we will have superior representation. Also, a violation would almost certainly be uncovered eventually, and the conspirators’ cause would be devastated. Why would they risk it?
Digitization gives the network a natural immunity. Evidence constituting illegal tampering would be clearly defined, and would thus be risky; whereas, tampering with a Congressman is ambiguous because we cannot be sure what is in his head. He can plausibly deny just about anything. Also, he can initiate and actively maintain deception; whereas, computers cannot do any of these things. They will not cooperate with conspirators. They cannot be bribed.
Lobbying and campaigning would be the only recourse for anyone who would influence the people or the government. It would be directed at the public as well as Congress, and thus the main issue is whether we, or Congress, are more easily persuaded to do ourselves harm. Clearly, we are far more conscious of our own needs, and we are much more concerned about them.
Bribes would be harmless because we wouldn’t accept one unless it was worth more to us than the consequences. Either way, we win. The real danger is that we may bribe ourselves by trading our future for short term gains. Then again, this is far better than Congress trading our future for their short term gains.
Lobbyists and campaigns would have far more competition than they do now. If they try to compensate by spending money, we will know they are representing special interests. If we are deceived, we will have the power to pass laws to eliminate that kind of deception in the future. Eventually we will legislate many kinds of corruption out of existence.
We should not fear expensive campaigns because we aren’t as easily influenced as the statistics imply. What actually happens is the candidate most likely to win naturally receives the most contributions.
It seems that only the most apathetic and weakest of character among us could make worse decisions than Congress, and those of us who fit this description rarely vote. So, don’t fear your neighbor’s vote, or for that matter, your neighbor’s right to keep and bear arms. That is exactly how the political elite want you to feel.
Special interests could no longer control the government because common citizens do not worry about getting reelected, so they don’t need to make deals like politicians do. The result is less government, and a government with less money will attract less pressure from special interests, which will itself tend to make government smaller. This is self reinforcing.
Another influence that would make our government smaller is that we’ll want to be able to understand it. We would therefore tend to simplify our laws and government programs. This would eliminate most claims that government is unfair because Representatives would no longer decide to whom to give one fourth of our GNP.
Special interests demand more than entitlements, which tend to be bad. They also demand rights, which tend to be good, but what if the majority could deny rights as well as entitlements?
The tyranny of the majority is potentially the biggest problem in the New Democracy because the majority could impose its will more easily. Some would proclaim the tyranny of the majority a myth because different persons comprise the majority for each issue or because we all have essentially the same needs, but the fact remains that a sufficient majority could use its power to oppress a specific minority. It could even elect legislatures to repeal their Constitutional rights — but it always could.
The reality is that the majority has elected and reelected politicians who have taken the unprecedented measure of implementing welfare and affirmative action programs, which by definition are biased against the majority. If minorities are treated so graciously by the politicians elected by normal Americans, then they should have nothing to fear from normal Americans themselves. Again, I cannot overemphasize how important it is to not fear your fellow citizens, because that is exactly how the political elites want you to feel.
One of the many ways the people may deal with this potential tyranny is by enacting a Constitutional amendment that requires a two thirds majority to pass a law, and a one third minority to repeal it. If all else fails, and the government of the majority becomes too oppressive, well . . . , that’s why responsible citizens own guns.
One thing is certain. The Freedom Amendment would radically alter our nation. I believe an era of renaissance would follow the fall of the political class.
The Representation Amendment would be the end of the two party monopoly. Anyone could instantly become a candidate for public office and post campaign material on the network at no cost.
Organizations would offer their opinions on candidates, but our choice would no longer be limited to the candidates endorsed by just two of these private organizations. In fact, we could elect an enemy of the political elite – a practical impossibility today. Parties as we know them would be obsolete.
Back room meetings to create a voting block would be futile. They would keep splintering because they would have so many potential candidates, and 100 million voters can’t fit in a back room anyway. In other words, efforts to influence enough voters cannot be discrete. Any such effort would prompt us to enact legislation, for example, to expose who contributes what to a campaign. We would be free to shun any candidate that receives large sums of money from any one block because we have so many other candidates to choose from. Although no system can be completely immune to corruption, our remedy could be swift and effective – because we would have superior representation.
Three obvious steps we could take to go further in this direction would be to enact a similar system for state legislatures, elect members of the supreme court, and eliminate the office of the President.
We would witness the end of the one necessary ingredient for political corruption — the concentration of power.
We could have balanced budgets and many reforms. We could also do more interesting things like:
- enforce term limits
- create more districts
- create a third house in Congress selected by lottery
- elect the Supreme Court
- make voters responsible for the federal debt in proportion to the deficits created during their tenure as a voter
Change would finally be possible. Effective change is not possible today, but with pure democracy, it is, and that works both ways. Not only can we try the greatest ideas, but if we try something and it doesn’t work, we can change course immediately.
An empowered citizenry would shed its apathy. Americans would be in heated competition to deepen our understanding and broaden our horizons because on the network, we will always encounter those who doubt us, those who embarrass us, and those who deceive us. Confronted with doubt, one strives for clarity. Losing an argument, one longs to be more persuasive. Once lead astray, one hungers for truth.
Even if such enlightenment describes only 10% of future citizens, that would be a huge improvement.
There is nothing to fear. The people would still have less power than Congress does today because not everyone would participate, and even 100% participation would merely equal the power of the politicians in Congress today. Although change would be more likely initially, war and taxes would be less likely – permanently. Remember, it is the people who like freedom. It is the politicians who don’t like freedom. It is the people who don’t like war and taxes. It is politicians who do like war and taxes.
The second American Revolution would be the second Renaissance.