Poll: 55% Say a National Third Party is Needed

A majority of Americans continue to say that the Democrats and Republicans do such a poor job of representing the people of the United States that a third party is necessary.  From Gallup:
Americans are highly dissatisfied with the way things are going in the nation and have low economic confidence, creating an environment in which a third-party challenger could find significant backing from American voters. Indeed, 55% of Americans say the two major parties do such an inadequate job of representing the American people that a third party is needed.
Americans' current views regarding a third party are similar to what was measured last year and in 2007. However, in other years over the past decade, interest in a third party has been somewhat lower -- particularly in September 2008, in the middle of a spirited presidential election campaign involving Obama and John McCain, the two major-party candidates.

2003-2011 Trend: In your view, do the Republican and Democratic parties do an adequate job of representing the American people, or do they do such a poor job that a third major party is needed?
A slight majority of Democrats say a third party is not needed, while Republicans are evenly split on the issue. Independents, representing 44% of the population in this September poll, are, however, very much in favor of a third party -- with 68% saying it is needed.
But who are those people who think the Republicans and Democrats are doing an adequate job?  

How to Organize the Nonvoting Majority?

From Rich Tafel at the Huffington Post:
2012 is emerging as another anti-incumbent election year. However, swinging back and forth between two parties won't bring the change voters seek.  Instead, it's time for the frustrated American electorate to dump our two-party system. . . . multi-party democracies are the norm, not the exception, around the world.  In fact, there are only five two-party democracies in the entire world.

Jamaica is one, the only nation to declare financial default in 2010. Another is Japan, which has the highest debt to GDP ratio in the world, standing at well over 200 percent. Are you seeing the pattern of fiscal trouble and two-party systems?

It is a great irony that a country preaching freedom of choice offers only two real choices for our political participation.  If Americans were told to choose between two cars, shirts, colors or family sizes, we'd rise up in revolt against such Soviet dictates. Tell us we have only two parties, however, and we accept it as though any alternative is unimaginable.

The two parties don't reflect the views of our citizens. . . . The problem is that our political class, funded by the same donors, controls the system that works for them. Though the two parties bicker and attack each other, they join forces in protecting their two-party monopoly.
Advocates of independent and third party alternatives to the two-party charade often argue against the myriad ways in which the Democrats and Republicans have rigged our political system to consolidate power in the hands of the two-party machine at all levels of government.  Yet, despite the many discriminatory hurdles that have been erected against them, third party and independent candidates for office can often be found on ballots across the country every election season.  If so many Americans are so dissatisfied with Republican-Democrat party government, why do they continue to vote for Democrats and Republicans?  Of course, the majority of Americans don't, opting not to cast a ballot than cast it for a representative of the major parties.  However, so long as they refuse to actively support alternatives, we will all continue to be held hostage by the dwindling minority of Americans who, inexplicably, still support the Republican and Democratic parties.

If the majority of Americans don't vote, that likely means we all know a lot of non-voters.  Maybe it is time to take them to task. 

RNC Seeks to Override State Sovereignty

Republicans and Democrats do not represent the American people, the  constituents they are allegedly elected to represent, but rather the narrow factional interests of the parties and their corporate sponsors.  In other words, the Republican and Democratic parties represent a direct threat to democratic, republican government in the United States.  Consider the uproar in the GOP in response to reports that Florida may decide to move its primary election to January 2012.  Excerpt from CNN:
Florida is now expected to hold its presidential primary on the last day in January 2012, a move likely to throw the carefully arranged Republican nominating calendar into disarray and jumpstart the nominating process a month earlier than party leaders had hoped. . . .

If that happens, it would almost certainly force the traditional early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to leapfrog Florida and move their primaries and caucuses into early- to mid-January. . . .

Florida's move would directly violate RNC rules that forbid any state other than the first four "carve-out" states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- from holding a primary before March 6. [Emphasis added.]

States that ignore the RNC rules are subject to losing half of their delegates -- party representatives who ultimately choose the nominee -- to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, next August.
Apparently, the petty tyrants in the politburo of the Republican National Committee believe that they can dictate the time and manner in which states hold their elections.  The United States Constitution says otherwise.  Article 1, Section 4:
The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of Chusing Senators.
The very idea that a narrow, factionalist group such as the Republican party could override the US Constitution and the federalist system of government, and dictate when a state decides to hold any election, should be held in contempt by every thinking American.  Now the question is whether the people of Florida will kowtow to the demands of the party's apparatchiks or assert their political independence as guaranteed by the US Constitution. 

Third Party Advocacy and Political Messianism

When calls for third party and independent activism break through the mainstream media's duopolist filter, the response from the dead-enders of the Democratic and Republican parties in the pundit class is fairly predictable.  A third party candidate can't win, they say.  It's too difficult, they say.  It is more expedient to work within the confines of the two-party state, they say.  Among the most vocal proponents of a third party or independent presidential campaign in the mainstream press are Thomas Friedman in the New York Times and Matt Miller in the Washington Post.  Both columnists have come out in support of the Americans Elect campaign to draft a third party independent ticket in 2012.  On Sunday, Miller published an article in The Washington Post entitled "Why we need a third party."  Excerpt:
Why should we have to choose between timid half-measures and anti-tax fanaticism? Why doesn’t the president propose measures equal to the scale of our challenges? Why can’t Republicans acknowledge demography or math?

Three reasons, mainly. First, both parties’ chief aim is to win elections, not solve problems. Second, both parties are prisoner to interest groups and ideological litmus tests that prevent them from blending the best of liberal and conservative thinking. Finally, neither party trusts us enough to lay out the facts and explain the steps we need to take to truly fix things . . .

Multiply this dynamic across every major issue and you’ll see there’s a staggering void in the debate. The parties act this way because their core constituencies have a stake in a failed status quo. But where does that leave the majority of us who are not in the Republican or Democratic base? Where does it leave the country? . . .
we’ll never mobilize the “far center” without an agenda around which people can rally. To move this ball forward, I’ve taken a crack at a policy-heavy version of the third-party stump speech we need, to suggest what it would sound like if an independent candidate called seriously for a “decade of renewal.”
The response from the dead-enders of the political status quo in the pages of the Washington Post was swift.  Chris Cillizza points out that Americans remain more likely to throw their votes away in support of Democrats and Republicans than on a third party or independent candidate for president.  Conveniently, however, he fails to note that the wide majority of Americans refuse to vote for Republicans or Democrats at all, opting not to vote rather than cast a ballot for the stooges of the ruling parties and their corporate sponsors.  Greg Sargent argues that the policy preferences of the "far center" are already represented by the Democratic party.  Excerpt:
many of those calling for a third party are refusing to reckon with an inconvenient fact: One of the two parties already occupies the approximate ideological space that these commentators themselves are describing as the dream middle ground that allegedly can only be staked out by a third party. That party is known as the “Democratic Party,” and it alreadly holds many of the positions these commentators want a third party to espouse. 
See Miller's response for more.  Sargent's criticism is duopolist boilerplate.  When conservatives and libertarians call for third party and independent alternatives to the Republicans, Republicans argue that they would be better served by working within the GOP.  When liberals and progressives call for third party and independent alternatives to the Democrats, Democrats argue they would be better served by withing within the Democratic party.  Such responses completely miss the point, however.  They refuse to concede the obvious point that the structure of the Republican-Democrat two-party state is one of the greatest political problems facing the people of the United States.  To work within that system is to exacerbate and reproduce the problem. 

This is not to say that the proposals of commentators such as Miller and Friedman are not deserving of criticism, however.  The top-down focus on third party and independent candidates for president is unhelpful to the extent that it distracts from the necessity of building opposition to the two-party state from the bottom up, from the local to the state and federal level.  Indeed, such a focus is arguably symptomatic of an inability to imagine a real alternative to the deadlock and dead end that characterizes the two-party system, which imbues the presidency with messianic and magical political powers.  A viable third party or independent presidential ticket would be a welcome alternative to the Democrats and Republicans, and should be supported by third party and independent political activists.  But that should not distract us from the more pressing task of challenging the two-party deadlock at the local, state and Congressional level.  

Poll: Historic Levels of Negativity Toward US Government

A new Gallup poll finds historic levels of negativity toward the US government among Americans.  Excerpt:
  • 82% of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job.
  • 69% say they have little or no confidence in the legislative branch of government, an all-time high and up from 63% in 2010.
  • 57% have little or no confidence in the federal government to solve domestic problems, exceeding the previous high of 53% recorded in 2010 and well exceeding the 43% who have little or no confidence in the government to solve international problems.
  • 53% have little or no confidence in the men and women who seek or hold elected office.
  • Americans believe, on average, that the federal government wastes 51 cents of every tax dollar, similar to a year ago, but up significantly from 46 cents a decade ago and from an average 43 cents three decades ago.
  • 49% of Americans believe the federal government has become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens. In 2003, less than a third (30%) believed this.

Occupy Wall Street Protest Enters Second Week, Mass Arrests, Protests Planned in Other Cities

Cross-posted from Third Party Independent:

The Occupy Wall Street protest that began on September 17th in New York's financial district has entered its second week.  Yesterday, scores of demonstrators were arrested during a march from the group's encampment at Liberty Plaza to Union Square, and more arrived from around the city and across the country.  Similar protests and assemblies are apparently now  being planned in over thirty cities.

Thousands of protesters descended on lower Manhattan last Saturday in response to a call for occupation-style protests against the influence of money in politics on the model of Egypt and Spain.  Hundreds have camped in a nearby park every night since.  Their numbers swell into the thousands during the day.  More appear to be arriving from across the country on a regular basis.

An informal tally at the encampment on Saturday found that no less than twenty-six different states were represented at the site.  There are protesters and demonstrators from Maine to Florida, from New York to California and from Texas to Michigan. One man said he had come from Alaska.

They are a politically diverse group as well.  There are disillusioned Democrats, Ron Paul Republicans, Independents, Socialists, Libertarians, and anarchists, among others.  If there is one thing they all appear to agree upon, however, it is the sense that the Democratic and Republican parties no longer represent the interests of the people of the United States.

One of the first arrests on Saturday took place near the Chase Bank building up the street from the New York Stock Exchange.  As hundreds marched along the sidewalks of the financial district, one man walked out into the street, and fell down to his knees.  "That's the bank that took my mother's home," he said.  He then stated: "I will go to jail tonight because it's not right.  I will not just stand by and watch. I would rather die than be quiet and watch them lose everything."  He identified himself as, Robert Stevens, a law student from Washington D.C.  Told by police that he would be arrested if he didn't move, he put his hands behind his head.  He was then cuffed and hauled away.

Many more arrests followed over the course of the march, both individually and en masse, as it weaved from the sidewalks into the streets and through parks.

None of the assemblies, marches or actions that have taken place in the last week have been formally permitted.  No permits have been sought as would normally be the case for a large political demonstration or protest.  When queried about whether they have obtained permits, protesters point out that the freedom of peaceable assembly is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution and that permission from the government is not necessary.

Despite numerous incidents of excessive force by police in the face of civil disobedience during the march to Union Square, relations between protesters and police have been fairly good over the past week, though tense at times.

Critics of the Occupy Wall Street protest say that it is disorganized and does not have a clear message, among other things.  But such criticism may well be putting the cart before the horse.  Demonstrators hold general assembly meetings daily and have formed numerous working groups and committees to discuss principles and demands, plan events and actions, and organize provisions for the day-to-day necessities of the group.  All of this information is available on the assembly's website, NYCGA.

Similar protests are now being planned in over thirty cities across the country, according to an informal umbrella site, called Occupy Together, which has become a hub for the spontaneous network nationwide.

The Parties that Created the Current Crisis Cannot Resolve the Current Crisis

From an opinion piece in the Post Crescent:
We all know too well that our two-party system isn't working. The leaders in Congress, from both parties, are focused more on party ideology and how to finagle the election in 2012 than trying to solve problems. . . .

The idea that the richest 2 percent of Americans will rush out and create jobs if only they can have another tax break has been disproved. American companies establish overseas headquarters for the sole purpose of paying no U.S. taxes.  They invest in overseas factories while the plants in this country are idle or demolished and we have long-term unemployment. . . .

Meanwhile, many who have jobs are exhausted from 10- to 12-hour workdays and 50- to 60-hour weeks.  New workers aren't being hired, even though the jobs exist for them, because having health care coverage tied to employment discourages hiring.

Repairing the infrastructure of highways, bridges, schools would provide jobs but seems to have been dismissed because it costs money.

It's time for some new thinking outside the party boxes or we'll remain in this recessive state far longer than is necessary.
Upon reflection, maybe it is wrong to say that manufacturing is dead in the United States.  The Democrats and Republicans are capable of manufacturing a crisis whenever they need one.  

Exhibit A in the Case Against Party Government

The Democratic and Republican parties have so distorted our politics and government that many Americans are likely incapable of imagining that self-government is possible without the interference of the party apparatus.  At The Think 3 Institute, Sam Wilson reflects on the character of the "party state":
In every case, perhaps, a party-state exists, not only when one party monopolizes government and forbids opposition parties, but when government and politics themselves are imagined only in terms of parties -- when parties become the fundamental organizing principle of political life.
There is, of course, no mention of party or parties in the US Constitution.  But this likely is not the case in any number of state constitutions.  Consider the simplicity of the First Amendment to the US Constitution in the Bill of Rights:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Compare that with Article 1, Section 1 of the New York State Constitution's Bill of Rights:
No member of this state shall be disfranchised, or deprived of any of the rights or privileges secured to any citizen thereof, unless by the law of the land, or the judgment of his or her peers, except that the legislature may provide that there shall be no primary election held to nominate candidates for public office or to elect persons to party positions for any political party or parties in any unit of representation of the state from which such candidates or persons are nominated or elected whenever there is no contest or contests for such nominations or election as may be prescribed by general law.
Party government is an aberration, a cancer in the US body politic. 

OH: The Party is Over

From a letter to the editor of the Mansfield News Journal in Ohio:
Ohio is represented by 18 congressional districts. As of 2010, five districts were Democrats and 13, Republican. According to Wikipedia, as of 2008, an estimated 2,408,178 Ohioans were registered to vote as Democrats, while 1,471,465 Ohioans are registered to vote as Republican. That accounts for 3,879,643 of the 8.1 million Ohio voters in the United States. Does anyone else see a problem here, and is this fair and equal representation for Ohio? . . .

Now, when a new Congressional member hits Capitol Hill, two things happen. First, an orientation by their parties' political leaders (the establishment) where it is explained how things really work on the Hill. Following that, the PACs and lobbyists call on the new member to remind them of where the money comes from. And finally the Congressional caucuses have their input about how things will be done. The promises to the constituents are erased and replaced by multiple agendas, and the wheel of corruption continues to turn.

There are several ways to break this cycle, and the current climate is ripe for change. We need to break the Good Ol' Boy Club on the Hill by electing independents. People with no political party. Candidates who represent the majority of individual voters in Ohio. Elected representation that will not succumb to the pressures of political party, PACs, caucuses or deeply embedded political leadership . . .

Poll: Only 6% of Voters Think Congress Deserves Re-election

Another new low for the Democrats and Republicans, this time in a CBS News poll:
Just 12 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing - the same as the lowest percentage recorded in this poll, reached in October 2008, right before the November elections. Dissatisfaction with Congress cuts across party lines. Republicans, Democrats, and independents all overwhelmingly disapprove of the job Congress is doing. . . .

In keeping with Congress' dismal review, just 6 percent of registered voters think most members deserve re-election - the lowest percentage ever in CBS News Polls during the past 20 years, and a lower percentage than the 9 percent who thought so right before the 2010 midterms. . . .

Americans are usually more positive when assessing their own representative in Congress.
That's true now, too - 33 percent say their representative deserves re election - but nearly six in 10 registered voters don't think their own representative deserves re-election. 
Americans consistently say that they want to "throw all the bums out," but then come election day, they almost invariably vote to keep them in office.  How can we explain this contradiction?

Poll: Half of Americans Say the Parties Do Not Represent the People

Some interesting numbers from Rasmussen:
Voters are more convinced than ever that neither major political party in Washington, DC is on their side.  Now roughly one-out-of-two Likely U.S. Voters (49%) think it’s fair to say neither party in Congress is the party of the American people, up six points from a year ago. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 32% say it’s not fair to characterize the two parties that way, while 18% are not sure. (To see survey question wording, click here).

A plurality (44%) of both Republicans and Democrats agree that neither party in Congress represents the people. But voters not affiliated with either of the parties are even more emphatic: 60% feel that way. 
Only 32% of voters in this survey stated that they believe the major parties represent the American people!  Predictably, the dead-enders of the ruling parties are most likely to state that their party does represent the American people, but it is noteworthy that nearly half of Democrats and Republicans also admit that neither major party does so.  An obvious question thus arises: if nearly half of Democrats and Republicans believe that neither major party represents the American people, why would they continue to support the Republican and Democratic parties?  

NYC: Occupy Wall St. Protest Enters Third Day

From today's column at CAIVN:

Since their initial rally and march from Bowling Green to Zuccotti Park on Saturday, demonstrators have continuously occupied the site, which they have begun to refer to by its original name, Liberty Plaza, leaving in large numbers only for impromptu or planned marches snaking through the financial district.  Hundreds have been camped out in the park for the last two nights.  Their numbers have swelled into the thousands during the day.

The spark for the action was provided by an article published in Adbusters on July 13th entitled "#OCCUPYWALLSTREET."  It stated:
On September 17, we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices. . . . It's time for DEMOCRACY NOT CORPORATOCRACY, we're doomed without it.
People have been organizing via social networking sites ever since.  Just who has been participating in the protests?  There are many young people in their 20's and and 30's, but there are also a fair number of baby boomers and veteran activists. There are students, professionals, workers, and unemployed among them.  In the crowd, one can find disillusioned Democrats, Ron Paul Republicans, third party and Independent political activists, anarchists and members of the hacktivist collective Anonymous, among others.

The protests do not have a top-down organizational structure.  No permits have been acquired for any of their marches and rallies.  There is no mass-produced signage.  Protesters have been holding regular general assemblies to facilitate consensus and take decisions, and a number of voluntary working groups were formed over the weekend to deal with organizational, strategic and tactical planning.

Patrick Bruner, a Brooklyn resident from Tucson, Arizona, said he thinks the protest is providing a voice and presence for the millions of Americans who go unrepresented by the Democratic and Republican parties.  "80% of Americans disapprove of the track the country is on.  We are the voice of the silent majority," he said.  "The banks got bailed out, we got sold out," chanted protesters during an impromptu march yesterday evening, articulating a grievance shared by a great many Americans across the political spectrum.

The sentiment is likely global in scope.  Tourists strolled through the park throughout the day yesterday, inquiring about the demonstration.  Many agreed with the protesters' message.  "The financial industry has messed up not only their own country," said Miriam Dervan, visiting New York City from Ireland, "but also ours and the rest of the world."

Some protesters see the occupation of Wall St. as a step toward ending Wall St.'s occupation of their own communities.  "We need to take our communities . . . familes . . . and the earth back from the grasp of Wall St.," said Lacy MacAuley, who traveled to New York from Washington DC for the demonstrations.   Her point was echoed by Carl Person, the Libertarian Party's candidate for Attorney General of New York in 2010.   "We need to be defending people against foreclosure," he said, "towns should get behind people whose homes are in foreclosure."   Person spent a number of hours at the demonstration on Sunday, talking with protesters and observing the afternoon general assembly while promoting his candidacy for the Libertarian Party's nomination for President in 2012.

Though the action has not (yet?) attracted the 20,000 participants originally envisioned by organizers, a number of their other goals have already been met.  Wall St., for example, has been shut down for the last two days.  Ironically, however, it is the NYPD who set up the barricades.  Since Saturday morning, ahead of the protests, the streets in the immediate vicinity of the New York Stock Exchange and Federal Hall have been closed to all traffic except for official vehicles and individuals who live or work there.  Reports indicate that this policy may continue today.

Food and supplies have been donated from supporters across the country and around the globe.  Liberatos Pizza, located a few blocks from the park occupied by protesters, reported yesterday that their phones had been ringing off the hook.  People had been calling in from all over the world placing orders for pizza to be sent to the park encampment.

It remains to be seen how the protest will develop in the coming days and whether it will be able to sustain itself going forward.  The protesters appear adamant, however.  Asked how long he was going to stay on Wall St., Eric Gersbacher, a student from Buffalo, New York, said: "I'm planning to stay as long as it takes."

NYC: Occupy Wall St. Protest, a Day 1 Recap, #occupywallstreet

Thousands of people converged on the financial district in downtown Manhattan on Saturday to protest the influence of Wall St. on our nation's politics.  Billed as the US Day of Rage by organizers, the protesters' united being one single, simple demand: free and fair elections.  An excerpt from the original call to action:
Legitimate government is born of the self-interest and will of the people expressed by its citizens in free and fair elections. It does not spring from a tyranny of special interests, patronage, or a system or ideology that runs counter to the aims of life.

The institutions of government were designed to protect the principles of our democratic republic and to serve the will of citizens.

Corporations, even those owned by foreign shareholders, use money to act as the voices of millions, while individual citizens, the legitimate voters, are silenced and demoralized by the farce.
Free and fair elections inspire good citizenship and public service, because they engage the intelligence and genuine good will of the American people.
Protesters can be found on Wall St. on any given day of the week. And large demonstrations against the big banks and the undue influence of corporate interests take place in the financial district on a fairly regular basis.  The Occupy Wall St. protests are different, however.  The protesters have not gone home.  In fact, they are still there right now.  They are streaming their assemblies live if you want to check in.  Here are some of my pics from the day. 

Their immediate tactical goal is to occupy a space in the financial district and hold it.  None of their actions have been technically permitted, in the sense that no permits were obtained ahead of the protest action, as would normally be the case for a fairly large protest and demonstration.  But, aside from a couple tense moments over the course of the day, the NYPD appear to have been fairly accommodating to the protesters thus far, though they did shut down all the streets immediately surrounding the New York Stock Exchange to all traffic except for those who live or work in the area.

Around midday protesters gathered at Bowling Green for an impromptu rally with an open podium.  By 2pm, a few thousand people had assembled.  I happened to catch Rev. Billy, the Green Party's candidate for NYC mayor in 2009, speaking to a small group of independent media reporters who asked him about everything from the relationship between the major parties and the big banks, environmental policy, manufacturing and even the two-party duopoly.  I'm sure you can guess which question I asked:

At around 3pm, the assembled crowd marched from Bowling Green up Broadway to Zuccotti Park, also known as Liberty Plaza, in the shadow of the World Trade Center site.

Excelsior at the WTC site, from the NW corner of Liberty Plaza

At Liberty Plaza, folks milled about for a while, talking and chanting.  A quick general assembly was held, and people then broke up into smaller discussion groups.  So who was in the crowd? There were people from all over the country and, of course, New York City, which means that there were also people from all over the world.  There were no mass-produced signs, as one can often find at large demonstrations, a potential indicator that this was not a top-down organizational affair.  In terms of political ideology, there were anarchists, socialists, libertarians, Greens, Ron Paul supporters, Independents, and a fair number of folks from Anonymous in Guy Fawkes masks.  One Anon said he was a construction worker who helped dig out the Ground Zero site following 9/11, if I heard correctly.  He spoke about civil liberties and support for Ground Zero workers in one of the discussion groups at Liberty Plaza:

An Anon addresses a discussion group.

Discussion in the groups inevitably turned to the topic of what to do next.  Many decided to hold a spontaneous march back down to Wall St.  As Wall St. had already been walled off by the NYPD, the chaotic march snaked through the financial district.  The most tense moments of the march took place when protesters were blocked from heading up toward the stock exchange at the corner of Wall St. and William St.  That also just happens to be where Cipriani Wall St. is located.  Partiers at the posh restaurant headed to the balcony to see what all the ruckus down on the street was.  In formal attire, with more than a couple holding martini glasses, they were greeted with boos and chants from the crowd.  Eventually, the march made its way back up to Liberty Plaza.  People hung out until about 7pm, when another general assembly was called.  Hundreds of people remained in the park as darkness fell.

The assembly was very well-run, especially given the fact that there were hundreds of people there, and no amplification was allowed since there were no permits.  A handful of organizers moderated and facilitated the discussion within the large crowd using a consensus-based discussion and decision-making model.  People were fairly disciplined, maintaining both order and high spirits.  They discussed everything from organizational strategy to sleeping arrangements to NYC laws governing political protest on the streets, to media strategy, potential demands, strategy and tactics moving forward and so on.  I'm sure you can find it all on Twitter under #occupywallstreet, if you're so inclined. 

People gathered for the evening general assembly.
Two incidents in particular highlighted the discipline of the assembled crowd.  At one point, none other than Jimmy McMillan, former NY gubernatorial candidate for the Rent is Too Damn High Party, appeared at the edge of the assembly accompanied by two others.  Folks were initially excited about his appearance, but it quickly became apparent that he wanted to go "up on stage" and speak to the group.  What he didn't understand was that there was no "stage", that the people standing in the middle of the group were only facilitating the discussion for the rest.  People basically told McMillan to back off, yelling that if he wanted to address the group, he would have to follow the procedures that had been set out at the beginning.  He opted to leave instead, apparently.  A similar incident happened a bit later on when a local reporter from ABC News disrupted the proceedings by walking to the middle of the crowd with a camera and microphone.  They were shouted down and told to get in line if they wanted to talk.  They opted instead to leave the assembly and ended up interviewing a number of folks on the edge of the crowd.  

By the end of the general assembly, the group had decided to pursue a non-confrontational posture toward the police, and to march on Wall St. if they were ordered to disperse from Liberty Plaza before the night was through.  They plan on continuing their protests tomorrow and into the workweek on Monday.  Many state that they are prepared to maintain the protest for days, weeks and even months.  There were probably well over a thousand people still there Saturday night.  I'll head back down in the coming days to see what's up. Stay tuned.

I left the protest at around 10pm, shortly after the nearly three hour assembly broke up into smaller working working groups focused on practical and organizational concerns such as acquiring bedding and food, developing media and communications strategy, and so on.  You might be wondering what I did all day between the marches and assemblies.  I was handing out copies of the first and second issues of Third Party Independent, which you can find embedded below:

WV: Third Party Gov Candidates Seek a Fair Shake

Next month, there will be a special election for governor of West Virginia.  The office became vacant when the sitting governor was appointed to the US Senate seat formerly held by Robert Byrd.  There are at least five candidates in the race: a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent, a Mountain Party candidate (state affiliate of the Green party) and a candidate from a party called America's Third Position, which, as I understand it, is a white nationalist organization.  The third party candidates have, predictably, largely been ignored by local media and are systematically excluded from candidate forums and debates.  To their credit, 59 WVNS News has published a lengthy article on the three third party candidates in the race, and takes a look at some of the hurdles typically faced by those who stand in opposition to the Republican-Democrat two-party state.  Excerpt:
Bob Henry Baber and Harry Bertram are running for governor of West Virginia as third-party candidates. Marla Ingles is running as an independent for that same position. All three candidates say they have faced their fair share of struggles ahead of the Oct. 4 special gubernatorial election.

Baber, a Mountain Party candidate, said there is a ceiling no third-party candidates can push through.
"What happens is they say 'you guys don't show anything in the polls.' You won't show in the polls if the people can't hear your message," he said. "It's a self-fulfilling philosophy." . . .

Ingles, an independent who has never sought public office, also said she feels ignored. She attributes that to the fact that many West Virginia voters are "fully rooted in their political parties."

"I don't judge them for that. It's not my job," she said. "News reporters don't take us seriously, and the people are skeptical. They don't hear much about us because the press won't report on us, and we don't have millions to throw away." . . .

The former mayor of Richwood, Baber said he feels left out of the process because he has not been invited to speak at public events where the two major party candidates -- Democratic nominee acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Republican nominee Bill Maloney -- have appeared. Baber most recently was not invited to a debate sponsored by the West Virginia Broadcasters Association. His campaign maintains that leaving him out was not only unfair to him, but also to West Virginia voters.

"They have wiggled and created some sort of bogus rule that is really insulting to the people of West Virginia," Baber said. "They have decided for the people of West Virginia who they get to hear. It's un-American. If you're on the ballot, you should get to be part of the debate.". . . .

candidates can only increase their name recognition if others will allow them. The West Virginia Broadcasters Association hosted a debate between Maloney and Tomblin, but did not invite the other three candidates to participate. Executive Director Michele Crist said her organization has the right to produce its own content. She said things such as time restrictions prevent her from including all candidates in the debate.

"You have very little time for these people to get their platforms out there," she said. "The people we wanted were the Republican and Democratic challengers."

"We have no other agenda," she added. 
At least she admits that aiding the Republican and Democratic parties, and artificially maintaining appearances for the sake of the two-party dictatorship is their actual agenda.  The whole article is worth a read.  It contains a number of interesting tidbits.  For instance:
Public Policy Polling found in a survey released Sept. 7 that 14 percent of West Virginia voters are undecided. However, Tomblin and Maloney were the only two options respondents were given. But those polling results may not represent the true intentions of the voters.

Ingles [the Independent] said one unnamed polling firm contacted her for a survey recently. "They asked me 'Who are you going to vote for, Tomblin or Maloney?'" she said. "I said that I was going to vote for me. They said that was not an option and marked me as undecided."

Top Two and Third Party Strategy

It is no secret that third party activists are some of the most outspoken opponents of the top two style primary system.  One of the most frequent objections is that top two will result in the exclusion of third party and independent candidates from the general election, needlessly robbing voters of an array of candidates to choose from when it really counts.  But what are third party advocates to do in states where top two is already the law of the land?  Unless they are willing to simply throw up their hands and give up the fight, or engage only in drawn-out court and petition battles that may or may not result in the repeal or reform of the system, they must adapt to the new environment.  So the strategic question then becomes: how can third party and independent candidates leverage the system to their advantage?  Today's column at CAIVN provides some thoughts that could help to flesh out an effective third party or independent strategy in states with top two.  Excerpt:
An analysis of the new maps that have been drawn up by California's Citizens Redistricting Commission reveals that there are twelve State Assembly districts and six State Senate districts in which the percentage of decline-to-state voters is significantly greater than the percentage in the state at large.  The state legislative district with the highest percentage of Independents is AD19 in West San Francisco, where 31% of voters are registered Independent.  Indeed, there are more than twice as many decline-to-state voters as Republicans in this majority Democratic district.  Just 13% of AD19's voters are registered Republican, while 53% are Democrats.

No less than six Democrats have already expressed interest in running for the open seat, including two Daly City council members and the current San Francisco Assessor.  To get a sense of the potentially surprising effects inherent in the top-two open primary system, let's assume for the sake of argument that six Democrats, a Republican, an Independent and a third party candidate from the Green or Peace and Freedom Party (it is west San Francisco after all!) were to run in the district's primary election next year.

One might easily conclude that two Democrats would be assured the top two spots in the primary and head to the general election, since it is a Democratic majority district.  But, if there were a Democratic favorite supported by half of all registered Democrats, with the rest of the district's Democrats more or less equally supporting the other five Democrats in the race, the Republican, Independent or third party candidate could easily advance to the general election with as little as 8-10% support in the primary, depending on how the district's Independents vote.  [Emphasis added.]
It is for this precise reason that the state's Democratic and Republican parties are considering holding caucuses or conventions prior to any such primary elections, to nominate the candidate who would be the "official" representative of the party at those elections and hopefully avoid splitting their party's vote.
Read the whole thing.  It is noteworthy that the Democratic and Republican parties cannot stop anyone from running for a given office in the primary under their party's banner.  Upstart Democrats and Republicans can run in the primary even if they are actively opposed by the party as a whole.  One could imagine an array of potential dirty tricks that could be played by a well-organized  third party organization given this situation.  One would need only take a page or two out of the Democrats' and Republicans' playbooks, for instance, by running "dummy" major party candidates in order to split the major party vote and create an opening for a third party or Independent campaign.  Of course, a third party group may not have to even do this, as the Democrats and Republicans could very well supply those candidates themselves.  And sometimes it seems like all of the candidates from the major parties are "dummy" candidates, no?

The vote-splitting phenomenon creates potential strategic openings for third party and independent candidates in both lopsided districts that lean heavily toward one of the two major parties, as well as in districts where the major parties are relatively competitive.  To ignore such opportunities is both short-sighted and self-defeating, even if one continues to work toward the ultimate goal of repealing or reforming of the system as a whole. 

TSA's Frankenstein Says Agency Has Become a Monster

It has become commonplace that when people speak about Frankenstein, they often appear to forget that 'Frankenstein' was the name of the mad scientist who created the monster in Mary Shelly's novel, not the monster itself.  Just as Victor Frankenstein lost control of the monster he created, and eventually came to regret his megalomaniacal project, it appears that at least one of the architects of the Transportation Security Administration may have a conscience.  Representative John Mica says the TSA should be dismantled.  From Human Events:
a decade after the TSA was created following the September 11 attacks, the author of the legislation that established the massive agency grades its performance at “D-.”

“The whole program has been hijacked by bureaucrats,” said Rep. John Mica (R. -Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

“It mushroomed into an army,” Mica said.  “It’s gone from a couple-billion-dollar enterprise to close to $9 billion.”

As for keeping the American public safe, Mica says, “They’ve failed to actually detect any threat in 10 years.”

“Everything they have done has been reactive.  They take shoes off because of [shoe-bomber] Richard Reid, passengers are patted down because of the diaper bomber, and you can’t pack liquids because the British uncovered a plot using liquids,” Mica said.

“It’s an agency that is always one step out of step,” Mica said.

It cost $1 billion just to train workers, which now number more than 62,000, and “they actually trained more workers than they have on the job,” Mica said.

“The whole thing is a complete fiasco,” Mica said.

In a wide-ranging interview with HUMAN EVENTS just days before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Mica said screeners should be privatized and the agency dismantled.
Read the rest for all the gory details.  Of course, it should surprise no one that the Transportation Security Administration has been an abject failure.  The people who constructed the TSA are the same people who continue to support the failed war on drugs, Republicans and Democrats alike.  Of course, the TSA hasn't been a complete failure.  It has been invaluable to the Democrats and Republicans in their ongoing war against constitutional rights and liberties, the Fourth Amendment chief among them. 

AZ: Now Three-Way Race for Mayor in Tucson

From yesterday's column at AZIVN:

Following the city's August 30th primary election, a three-way race for mayor is taking shape in Tucson.  Democrat Jonathan Rothchild, Republican Rick Grinnell, and Green Mary Decamp will face off in the mayoral general election this November.

In June, as I reported here at AZIVN, Democratic party activists purged Rothchild's Republican and Independent rivals from the ballot with a wave of petition signature challenges, creating the potential for a two-party race between the Democratic candidate and the winner of the Green Party's primary.  However, with his successful Republican party write-in campaign in the primary election, Grinnell has assured his place on the ballot and ensured a three-way race for mayor.

In the primary, Grinnell received 7,770 write-in votes, according to the city's current tally, far exceeding the 1,060 he needed to secure his place on the ballot.  Without much in the way of competition, Jonathan Rothchild easy cruised to the nomination of the Democratic party, receiving 26,918 votes, 96% of the total cast in the Democratic Party.  In the Green party's historic primary, Mary Decamp defeated rival Dave Croteau, 71% to 24%, with 369 votes.

Though KOLD News 13 reported a record turnout in the contest, over 83% of Tucson voters did not bother to cast a ballot.  Voter turnout stood at just 16.65%.  Only 44,356 of the municipality's 266,448 registered voters participated in the election.

Jobs and the economy figure prominently in each of the three candidates' visions for the future of Tucson.  Democrat Jonathan Rothchild proposes the streamlining of business codes and procedures, and the creation of a "small business ombudsman" to act as a liason between small business owners and the city government.  Republican Rick Grinnell seeks to establish a business commission consisting of business and community representatives to "build a strong economy," and promises to lobby the governor to open an office for the newly-established Arizona Commerce Commission in the city.  Green Mary Decamp proposes the creation of "Community Conservation Centers" throughout the city which could house everything from local health clinics, to non-profit organizations and information centers for local entrepreneurs.

Decamp is the only candidate who explicitly addresses Independent voters, the fastest-growing constituency throughout the state.  She argues that voters should not have to "hold your nose" and cast a ballot for the lesser evil between the Democrats and Republicans.  To that end, she proposes the implementation of ranked choice voting to encourage higher voter turnout as well as third party and Independent candidacies for local office.

Though Pima County leans Democratic in terms of registration, registered Independents now outnumber Democrats statewide.  In the secretary of state's most recent registration tally from July, 35% of Arizonans were registered Republican, 33% Independent or third party and 31% Democratic.
Tucson is the only city in Arizona that still has partisan elections.  The state legislature passed a law in 2009 instituting non-partisan elections for municipal offices throughout the state.  Tucson challenged the law in court and won.  The state government's appeal is pending.

NY-9: Socialist Candidate May Tip Scales in Special Election

Tomorrow, voters in New York's 9th Congressional District will head to the polls in a special election to fill the seat vacated by Democrat Anthony Weiner.  There are three individuals running for the seat, the stooges of the Democratic and Republican parties, and a Socialist Workers Party candidate who petitioned his way onto the ballot.  At the Battleground Blog, Darcy Richardson has an extensive article on Chris Hoeppner of the SWP.  Excerpt:
With Republican Bob Turner clinging to a narrow lead over Democrat David Weprin in New York’s 9th Congressional District, little-known Christopher R. Hoeppner of the Socialist Workers Party could be a major factor in the outcome of Tuesday’s hotly-contested special election to replace disgraced former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner. . . .

The son of a New York firefighter, the 61-year-old Hoeppner grew up in Woodside, then a predominantly Irish-Catholic neighborhood in Queens.  Involved in left-wing politics for forty years, he joined the Socialist Workers Party — or more precisely, the Young Socialist Alliance — when he was still in high school and actively participated in the antiwar movement during Vietnam.

Hoeppner, who ran for mayor of Seattle in 2005 before returning to his New York roots, has been waging a whirlwind campaign throughout the district, beginning with a Herculean petition drive over the Fourth of July weekend, a monumental task that resulted in 7,080 signatures on nominating petitions — more than twice the number required — to place his name on the ballot.

Despite uncomfortably, if not painfully, hobbling around on crutches — the result of a recently breaking his foot while returning home from work one evening — the low-key yet determined socialist has been campaigning like a man on a mission ever since . . .
Unlike the wealthy Turner, a retired advertising and television executive, and Weprin, a Wall Street favorite who once served as deputy superintendent of the New York State Banking Commission and chairman of New York’s Securities Industry Association, Hoeppner describes himself as the “only working-class candidate in the race.”
The little-known SWP is fairly active in local NYC politics.  Read the whole thing.

The Pentagon's Black Hole

On September 10, 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced that the Pentagon was unable to account for over $2.3 trillion in tax payer dollars.  Over the last ten years, the people of the United States have nonetheless continued to shovel more and more of their hard earned money into the black hole known as the Pentagon budget.  From CBS News in 2009:
On Sept. 10, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared war. Not on foreign terrorists, "the adversary's closer to home. It's the Pentagon bureaucracy," he said.

He said money wasted by the military poses a serious threat.

"In fact, it could be said it's a matter of life and death," he said.

Rumsfeld promised change but the next day – Sept. 11-- the world changed and in the rush to fund the war on terrorism, the war on waste seems to have been forgotten. . . .

According to some estimates we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions," Rumsfeld admitted.

$2.3 trillion — that's $8,000 for every man, woman and child in America. To understand how the Pentagon can lose track of trillions, consider the case of one military accountant who tried to find out what happened to a mere $300 million.

"We know it's gone. But we don't know what they spent it on," said Jim Minnery, Defense Finance and Accounting Service.

Will Gary Johnson Seek the Libertarian Party's Nomination for President?

There are some reports circulating that GOP presidential candidate Gary Johnson may seek the Libertarian Party's nomination for president in 2012 if he continues to be blacklisted by both the Republican party and the mainstream media.  From paulie at Independent Political Report:
George Phillies at Gold Mass Group confirms a story IPR previously reported, which quoted a claim previously posted by Lew Rockwell (embedded links added by Paulie):
Your Editor can confirm from the first-hand source that a senior staff member from the Gary Johnson (Republican) for President campaign has contacted a member of the Libertarian National Committee about determining the response if Johnson were to switch parties and run for President as a Libertarian. Johnson, who is a former two-term Republican Governor, has been shut out of Republican Presidential debates in favor of candidates who he out-polls. Older members of our Party will remember Johnson directly; he appeared at one of our State Conventions and gave the keynote address.
Phillies sought, but did not receive, the Libertarian Party Presidential nomination in 2008, and the Libertarian National Committee Chair position several times, including 2010. He has served in a number of local and state positions in the Massachusetts LP, including Chair and Congressional candidate.
Johnson’s statement about the latest debate exclusion:
“If Republicans and Independents were looking for new ideas and decisive plans in the debate, they were disappointed. That’s what happens when the media decides, six months before the first ballots are cast, who should be allowed on the stage. Much of the debate was about the records of the governors running for president. Where was the governor who vetoed 750 bills to control the size of government? Much was said about job creation — or lack thereof — in those governors’ states. Where was the governor whose state had more job creation than any of them? And where was the governor who polls show to be the most highly regarded in the state he governed? I suspect voters would like to hear from the one governor among them all who actually did the things that need to be done today to right America’s ship.
“There is much to debate in this country today, and within the Republican party. But we didn’t see or hear a debate tonight. We saw business-as-usual wrapped in a bunch of different packages.”
Johnson was previously a dues paying member of the Libertarian Party in 1993-1994 . . .
A good deal of Johnson’s support comes from libertarians associated with the Reason/CATO wing of the movement, which dominated the Libertarian Party from the mid-1970s to 1983, when they lost the presidential nomination. Ron Paul’s core supporters also left the Libertarian Party in 1989, when they lost a battle for national committee chair; they are centered around Lew Rockwell and the Mises Institute. The Rothbard/Rockwell/Mises vs. CATO/Reason split in the libertarian movement goes back to about 1980. The Rothbard/Rockwell/Mises side accuses the CATO/Reason crowd of being too moderate on foreign policy and economic issues, while the CATO/Reasonites consider the Rockwellians to be too socially conservative. For many years during the 1990s and 2000s, both sides had little to do with the Libertarian Party. If the rumors about Johnson switching to the LP prove to be true, it is possible that this may change.

Ranked Choice Voting and Its Discontents

Ranked choice, or instant-runoff voting, is probably the best-known alternative method to the plurality voting system.  It is supported by reform groups like Fair Vote, Independents, third party advocates – Greens in particular –, and even independently-minded Democrats and Republicans.  Ranked choice has already been implemented in a number of cities across the country, from Maine to Minnesota to California.  San Francisco is set to hold its first mayoral election under the new system.  At Divided We Stand, the Dividist takes a critical view of the process.  Excerpt:
As a direct consequence of our new public financing rules for the mayoral race in San Francisco, we now have a cavalry charge of 16 candidates running for mayor . . . As Ron Popeil might say - "But that's not all!" At no extra charge we will now throw all sixteen candidates into the mix-master of our first ranked voting / instant runoff election for mayor. On November 8th, all San Francisco voters will cast three votes for mayor in rank order of preference. "Rank" being the operative word in that sentence. . . .

Who knows what kind of a gawd-awful mess will come out of this election? Recall that in Oakland's 2010 ranked voting mayoral election, candidate Jean Quan had 10 points fewer first choice votes than Perata in the first vote count. I am talking about - Her Honor Jean Quan, the current mayor of Oakland, who had 10 percentage points fewer first choice votes than the loser Don Perata.

The simple fact is that most SF citizens have no friggin' clue about the ramifications of ranked voting/instant runoffs. While the voters may not understand it, be assured the candidates who would otherwise have zero chance of winning a plurality in the election or a majority in a real runoff know how exactly how the voting system can be gamed.

Net net - As a voter it is more important to decide who to exclude from any of your three votes for mayor than it is to pick who you would prefer to see win as your first choice. In fact you may be better off ranking your favorite as your second or third choice. This is Game Theory Gone Wild. We might as well be drawing lots to pick the next mayor . . . 
Fortunately, for those who are not fans of the instant runoff, ranked choice is not the only alternative to plurality: there are alternatives to the alternative, so to speak, such as approval voting and range voting

CA: State Legislature Set to Ban Write-in Voting in General Elections (UPDATED)

One lesser-noted aspect of the top two open primary system is that it requires the prohibition of write-in candidates in the general election run-off.  If anyone could wage an upstart write-in campaign following the primary, it would completely undermine the apparent goal of the top two system as such, namely, restricting the number of candidates up for election to just two.  The hasty manner in which the law implementing top two in California was passed resulted in a number of contradictions and inconsistencies in the state's elections code.  Today's column at CAIVN lays out the situation in the Golden State and takes a look at a newly-amended law that would ban write-in candidates and write-in voting in all general elections covered by the top two system:

A little-known provision of the law implementing California's top-two open primary system banned the counting of write-in votes on general election ballots.  The State Senate is now considering legislation that would prohibit write-in candidates and write-in voting at the general election for voter-nominated offices. The write-in ban is currently being challenged in court.

How many write-in votes were cast in the July 12th Special General Election for US House in California's 36th Congressional District?  No one knows because they were never counted.  As I reported here at CAIVN in July, the implementation of the top-two open primary system resulted in a contradiction between two sections of California's elections code, one which states that voters may cast write-in votes in all elections and another which states that some  write-in votes shall not be counted.

Section 15340 states that every voter may "write the name of any candidate for public office . . . on the ballot of any election."  However, the law instituting the top two system placed a separate section on the books which prohibited the counting of write-in votes in general elections covered by the new primary process.  Section 8606 states: "A person whose name has been written on the ballot as a write-in candidate at the general election for a voter-nominated office shall not be counted."  As such, section 8606 is unconstitutional.  Article 2, Sec. 2.5 of California Constitution requires that all votes must be counted: "A voter who cast a vote in an election in accordance with the laws of this State shall have that vote counted."

Today, the State Senate is scheduled to vote on AB 1413, a bill that would address this inconsistency by banning all write-in candidates from the general election ballot for voter-nominated offices and removing the space for write-in votes from the those ballots.  The bill under consideration in the Senate is substantially different from the one that was initially  proposed in the Assembly and passed through committee.  AB 1413 was introduced into the legislature on March 14th by the chair of the Assembly's Committee on Elections and Redistricting, Paul Fong.

As originally written, the bill would have provided for minor changes to the state's campaign finance laws by amending aspects of the Political Reform Act of 1974.  In this form, it passed through the Assembly and to the State Senate floor and was on file to be considered in the Senate this week.  However, on the Friday before Labor Day, the bill was amended and effectively rewritten by Assembly Member Fong in a manner that significantly alters the state's Elections Code, addressing the inconsistency noted above, among others.

Under the newly-amended and rewritten bill, section 15340 of the Elections Code, noted above, would prohibit write-in votes on the general election ballots for voter-nominated offices: "Except for a voter-nominated office at a general election, each voter is entitled to write on the ballot the name of any candidate for any public office."  In conjunction with this change, section 8606 of the Elections Code, noted above, would prohibit write-in candidates from running in the general election: "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a person may not be a write-in candidate at the general election for a voter-nominated office."  The bill would further provide that the space for write-in votes be removed from all general election ballots for voter-nominated offices.

California election law has provided space for write-in candidates on general election ballots for partisan office since 1891, according to ballot access expert Richard Winger.

Assemblyman Fong may well have been spurred to action by a pending lawsuit against a number of provisions within the Top Two Primary Act.  On August 24th, Chamness v. Bowen moved from the US District Court to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  A write-in candidate for the July 12th Special Election for CD 36 is seeking to intervene in the suit to challenge the disenfranchisement of write-in voters and write-in candidates.

The standing plaintiffs in the suit are challenging the law's party preference ban – which prohibits candidates who are not affiliated with a party officially recognized by the state from stating their party preference on the ballot –, as well as provisions that prohibit candidates from describing themselves as 'Independent' on the ballot.

Fong's amended bill systematically replaces the phrase "party preference" with the phrase "party affiliation" throughout the Elections Code, and explicitly repeals a provision that equates the term "Independent status" with "No Party Preference" (i.e. section 325).

The title descriptions of the bill seem to demonstrate the absurdity of the amendment process in a manner that borders on high satire.  The original title description of the bill read: "An act to amend Sections 81008, 83109, and 84211 of the Government Code, relating to the Political Reform Act of 1974."  It is now officially known as:
"An act to amend Sections 81008, 83109, and 84211 of the Government Code, relating to the Political Reform Act of 1974. An act to amend Sections 13, 300.5, 332.5, 334, 337, 359.5, 2026, 2150, 2151, 2152, 2154, 3006, 3007.5, 3205, 7100, 8002.5, 8025, 8040, 8041, 8062, 8068, 8081, 8106, 8121, 8124, 8141.5, 8148, 8300, 8600, 8606, 8803, 8805, 8807, 9083.5, 10704, 10706, 12104, 12108, 13102, 13105, 13107, 13206, 13207, 13212, 13230, 13300, 13302, 15340, 15402, 15560, and 19301 of, to repeal Sections 325, 7000, 9084.5, and 15451 of, to amend and renumber Section 6000a of, and to repeal Chapter 0.5 (commencing with Section 6000) of Part 1 of Division 6 of, the Elections Code, relating to elections."
UPDATE: According to Ballot Access News, the California State Senate's Election Committee has now called for a hearing on the newly-amended bill ahead of any vote.  If you feel strongly on this issue, Richard Winger is urging folks to contact Assembly Member Fong and the State Senate President Darrell Steinberg.  Follow the links for the contact info.

UPDATE II: According to Richard Winger, who has been following developments regarding this bill very closely, no hearing was held on the measure today, and the legislature has wisely decided to put off consideration of the bill until next year, thus allowing more time for hearings and public debate.

John Anderson Makes the Case for Runoff Elections and Proportional Representation

Hello dear readers and friends!  I hope you all had a relaxing or exciting holiday weekend, as the case may be.  I took a much needed blog break myself, which you might have noticed, and am still catching up on the news from the last few days.  Did you see John Anderson's op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor last Thursday?  He touches on one of the big points of discussion in the comments here over the weekend.  The former Independent candidate for president in 1980 and current board member of Fair Vote argues strongly against the winner-take-all system, and in favor of a number of electoral reforms, including runoff voting in presidential elections and proportional representation in Congress and state legislatures.  Some excerpts: 
while it’s just a matter of time before an independent wins the White House, America’s “winner-takes-all” voting system suppresses potential support for independent candidates and blocks their fair representation in Congress. We need new rules better designed for the realities of today’s politics. Americans’ desire for independents at all levels of government is clear.

Americans’ desire for independents at all levels of government is clear. Independents and third-party candidates have won recent gubernatorial elections in Alaska, Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, and, in 2010, Rhode Island. Last year, independent candidates also finished ahead of major party nominees in races for governor and US Senate in Alaska, Colorado, Florida, and Maine . . .

plurality voting is not mandated in our Constitution . . . To combat the injustice of plurality voting rules that we use in our presidential election, many cities, states, and nations require a separate runoff election between the top two finishers if no candidate earns a first-round majority . . .

The problem of voting representation is even greater in congressional elections. It’s time to take on elections that distort fair representation in our state legislatures and Congress . . .

Reforming winner-takes-all elections for state legislatures and Congress may be a greater challenge than upholding majority rule with runoff systems in presidential elections, but doing so is a pre-condition for giving all voters real choices and new voices.

As a start, Congress should repeal a 1967 law that took away the power of states to adopt proportional voting systems for US House elections. As alternatives to winner-takes-all systems, proportional voting allows like minded voters to earn seats in proportion to their share of the vote – 30 percent of the vote earns 3 of 10 seats, rather than nothing, which would be the case if their chosen candidate didn’t win the most votes in their district.
Read the whole thing.

On the Necessity of a State-Level Electoral Reform Movement

From Miles Townes at The Violence of Nations:
The problem is that our electoral system is biased towards a two-party system. Plurality voting and single-member districts are as much of a guarantee of bipolarity as you’ll get from an electoral system . . .  a national-level fix to national institutions would be rather difficult. However, one of the quirks of our system is that lots of responsibility for national-level institutions is left to the States.  In particular, the Constitution in Article 1, sect. 4 says this: “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.” . . .

The principle goal of a state-centric reform movement would be to lower the bar for political parties to enter races. We like to vilify political parties, but they are absolutely necessary to a functioning democracy. No voter has the time or intellect to learn enough about the set of candidates they are expected to vote for each election season; parties provide a handy identifier, greatly reducing the cognitive burden on the voter. The real problem is that we have only two parties, and those parties are extremely broad . . .

A state-level electoral reform movement – focusing only on making the machinery more representative, more democratic (little ‘d’) – would not only appeal to the existing third-parties, but would not necessarily require reform-minded members of the other two parties to abandon their tribal loyalties. Nor should these reforms be limited to Federal offices; they could apply all the way down to city dogcatcher. At its best, such a movement would be a genuinely trans-partisan, Americans-united-together effort to make our government work better.
Read the whole thing.