John Locke seriously underestimated the difficulty societies would encounter in constituting legislatures that accurately reflect the will of the people. The less accurately a legislature represents the will of the people, the greater the distance between a representative democracy and a “perfect democracy” (or a “pure” democracy). Nearly a century after Locke wrote his Second Treatise of Government, John Adams offered this excellent description (above) of the qualities that the ideal “Representative Assembly” should possess. His description remains extremely relevant today:
Polls consistently show that a solid majority of Americans favor a lengthy list of critically needed legislation that has not been passed by Congress, and is not likely to be passed anytime soon, within the present gridlocked, dysfunctional system: a federal job guarantee, access to affordable health care, as a right; a proper response to the existential threat posed by global warming, lower prescription drug prices; universal background checks and an assault weapons ban; codification of Roe v. Wade to keep abortion safe, legal, and rare; et cetera, et cetera…
The feeling on the part of many Americans, that what we want from our government doesn’t really matter, is confirmed by extensive research into the correlation between the will of the people and the acts of Congress. As one pair of researchers concluded:
“The preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
In other words, the people in the United States who claim their votes don’t matter are correct most of the time. The false friends and true enemies of democracy, who are in the majority in Congress (and in every state legislature) don’t care much at all about what we, the people, want. They serve the interests of their corporate benefactors and the tax-averse billionaires that give them the money they need to get elected and repeatedly reelected. Much of the money raised is used to launch deadly waves of attack ads aimed at any Champions of Democracy who seem likely to threaten their incumbency.
Implementing ranked choice voting (RCV) would help, especially if combined with at-large elections, or at least multiple-member districts, for seats in Congress and state legislatures. But RCV will not be enough, in and of itself, to make America a perfect democracy.
Given the deep and serious flaws in the manner in which we conduct elections, the corruption that has infected our political system, and the numerous anti-democratic provisions embedded in our Constitution, if we want government OF the people to be government FOR the people, we must have GOVERNMENT BY THE PEOPLE. Fortunately, there is a simple way to take power away from corporate interests and plutocrats and give POWER TO THE PEOPLE - proxies for citizens.
The “act” on the part of our “representatives” that matters most, if we want votes taken in Congress and in state legislatures to correlate strongly with the likely results of a direct vote by the people, is the act of voting – on the part of our representatives.
The best way for us to choose our representatives is by assigning proxies to whatever member of the legislative bodies that govern us who seems to each of us most likely to vote as we would vote, if voting directly.
Proxies are routinely used by corporations to allow shareholders to designate someone to vote on their behalf at annual shareholder meetings. Both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party utilize proxies at meetings of their national committees. The U. S. House of Representatives has been using proxies among its members since the early days of the pandemic, to minimize their exposure to the virus.
The best way to ensure that votes taken in Congress and state legislatures “bear a proportion” to the way the people would vote, if voting directly, is to give every citizen who is governed by the laws passed by a legislative body, a proxy that can be assigned to any member of that legislative body, and then allow each legislator to cast a number of votes equal to the number of proxies they hold (plus one for themselves) on every matter that comes before that legislative body (including votes taken in committees and on procedural matters).
Implementing a system of proxies for citizens will fundamentally alter the nature of the relationship between citizens and their representatives. Proxies will immediately establish a strong, near perfect, correlation between the will of the people and the acts of Congress and state legislatures.
Within the system that is in place, none of the legislation favored by a majority of the people is likely to pass. Certainly not anytime soon. As soon as we implement a system of proxies for citizens in both houses of Congress, or in a state legislature, all of the legislation favored by a majority of the people will be enacted immediately.
Proxies will instantly transform our corrupt, broken, dysfunctional legislatures into truly democratic institutions.
Despite the fact that most citizens of the United States recognize that our government is broken and dysfunctional, many people are uncomfortable with change. Implementing a system of proxies for citizens might seem like a major change, but it really isn’t. It is a simple add-on to the system that is in place. And this relatively minor change would have a large number of major positive impacts on our political system.
A simple form (see sample at left) could be completed and submitted electronically or a paper form could be completed and mailed to the appropriate government official (the secretary of the Senate, the Clerk of the U. S. House, or the Secretary of State).
Implementing a system of proxies for citizens in the U. S. House of Representatives can be done with simple legislation. Implementing a system of proxies in the U. S. Senate would require a constitutional amendment because Article I, Section 3 of our Constitution stipulates that “each Senator shall have one vote” and Article V states that “no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.”
The nature of the legislation needed to implement proxies for citizens in state legislatures will vary from state to state.
Article IV, Section 4, of the Constitution of the United States guarantees every state in the Union a “republican form of government”, but the government of the United States has not been able to keep that promise. If we define a republic as a representative democracy, with the attendant caveat that the legislature should reflect the will of the people, there is not a truly republican form of government in place in any state at present. The only way the federal government could “guarantee” the states a “republican form of government” would be to exercise its authority under Article IV, Section 4, to impose a system of proxies in every state. That is not the best way, or the proper way, to go about instituting proxies. Any state where the citizens are willing to do the work of getting a system of proxies in place will be instantly transformed into a true republic.
Proxies will bring us as close to "pure democracy" as possible in a representative democracy.
Direct democracy is sometimes referred to as "pure democracy" because laws and public policies are determined by the decisions of the majority of voters, with each voter voting directly and having a single vote. With proxies we will be represented by legislators who vote the way we would vote.
Allowing every citizen to assign their proxies to the legislators they believe are most likely to vote the same way they would vote on issues of concern to them will result in a system that effectively allows citizens to vote on legislation, albeit indirectly through their chosen representatives. Over time, the votes in Congress (or a state legislature) will align closely with what the results would have been if the voters had voted directly on legislation.
Proxies will give citizens far more choices regarding who will represent them in the legislative bodies that govern them.
Without making any other changes to our electoral and political systems, implementing a system of proxies will greatly increase the number of choices we have with regard to who represents us in Congress and our state legislatures. Instead of the one or two or three viable candidates appearing on the ballot in the legislative district in which we reside, we will be able to assign our proxies to any of the 435 members in the U. S. House; 100 senators; and any one of the senators and representatives our state legislature as our representatives.
Proxies will ensure that all citizens are represented.
In our bitterly divided two-party system, a Republican living in a state or district with a Democratic senator or representative does not feel represented, and a Democrat living in a state or district with a Republican senator or representative does not feel represented. Citizens who do not identify with either major party often do not feel represented in Congress or their state legislature regardless of whether they are “represented” by a Democrat or a Republican. And even for Democrats represented by a Democrat and Republicans represented by a Republican, the particular person serving as their senators and representatives may not always vote the way they would vote (and rarely, if ever, seem to “think, feel, reason, and act” as they do).
Proxies will ensure equal representation for all citizens.
Implementing a system of proxies will immediately result in the achievement of the most essential element of representative democracy – equal representation for all citizens. Every citizen will have one proxy to assign to one member of each legislative body that governs them. “Equal interests among the people” will have “equal interest” in each legislative body.
Proxies are the best means of obtaining the “consent of the governed”
The Declaration of Independence says that governments derive their "just powers" from "the consent of the governed” but does not go into the details of how the consent of the governed is to be obtained. The implicit (and reasonable) assumption is that the “governed” give their consent through voting. But the many problems plaguing our elections have rendered voting ineffective as the means of obtaining the consent of the governed. Giving every citizen a proxy that can be assigned to any member of the legislative bodies that govern them is the best means of properly obtaining the “consent of the governed”.
Grassroots movements will be empowered.
Proxies will empower active citizens and political organizations to build support for major pieces of legislation by reassigning their proxies as necessary, moving them to members of Congress and state legislatures who have demonstrated their support by introducing or cosponsoring the desired legislation. Once a majority of the members of a legislative body have signed on as cosponsors, the legislation can be brought to a vote and enacted.
Proxies will shift the focus of political activity from politicians to issues.
As more and more voters utilize their proxies in this manner, the focus of both legislators and media will shift from endless arguments and posturing by politicians to legislators proposing solutions to the problems we face as a nation (and in the states) and debating the pros and cons of each proposed solution. The response of the citizenry to various ideas put forward by our elected representatives will be tangible and objective – evidenced by the increases and decreases in the number of proxies held by legislators on both sides of an issue. That will shift the focus of political activity away from politicians and personalities to issues of concern - a much more constructive focus for political activity and media attention than which candidates have raised the most money and which candidates are ahead in the polls in the midst of one ugly, angry election after another.
Proxies will forge a much more direct connection between us and our elected representatives.
Proxies will make it clear that the legislators to whom we assign our proxies are casting votes on our behalf. With that being the case, more citizens will pay closer attention to how legislators are voting, especially to the way the representatives they have chosen are voting on legislation addressing issues of concern to them. Any citizen who disagrees with the way the legislators to whom they have assigned their proxies cast their votes will be free to reassign their proxies to legislators who will vote the way they would vote. This will ensure that all citizens will not only feel represented but will be represented.
Proxies will alter the primary source of power for legislators.
Within a proxy system, power will flow to legislators who hold the most proxies. Legislators who show leadership on key issues and help get legislation supported by a majority of the citizenry enacted will attract more proxies. Legislators who do not demonstrate leadership or who vote “with a view to the private interest” will see the number of proxies they hold shrink appreciably over time. The amount of money a legislator has raised will be of little interest to voters focused on actually and effectively addressing the problems we face as a nation. Making leadership on key issues, rather than raising the most money or seniority, the key to gaining power and remaining in office will be appealing to politicians who ran for office and serve for the right reasons.
Proxies will provide continual accountability for legislators.
Frequent elections have long been seen as the primary means of making legislators (and other elected officials) accountable to voters. Even with relatively short terms of office, however, citizens often have to wait for an election that may be nearly two, four, or six years away to effectively register their displeasure with legislators who are failing to keep their campaign promises or opposing legislation favored by a majority of the citizenry. And even then, the flaws in our electoral system may make it difficult, if not impossible, to vote a politician out of office, even if they have failed to keep their campaign promises.
There is also a major drawback to frequent elections. Legislators end up spending inordinate amounts of time raising money for their campaigns and campaigning for reelection instead of legislating. This is especially true for members of the U. S. House of Representatives, who serve two-year terms and must engage in fundraising nearly non-stop if they wish to remain in office.
Proxies will enable citizens to immediately and effectively withdraw their support from a legislator by reassigning their proxy.
Citizens will be represented as soon as they turn eighteen or become naturalized.
Depending on where your eighteenth birthday or naturalization falls within election cycles for various offices, it may be up to two years before you can vote for who will represent you in the House of Representatives and as many as four to six years before you can vote for both of the senators from your state. With a system of proxies in place, citizens will be represented immediately upon turning eighteen or becoming a naturalized citizen.
Proxies will increase civic engagement.
Many Americans who are eligible to vote do not vote because they believe (with considerable justification) that their votes do not matter. The fact that citizens who have assigned proxies to legislators will be voting, albeit indirectly, on the legislation voted on in Congress and state legislatures, will dramatically increase civic participation for citizens of all ages.
Proxies neutralize or minimize all of the problems with our elections.
Proxies will provide instant relief for citizens who are the victims of voter suppression or gerrymandering, ensuring that they will still be represented in Congress and their state legislature. Citizens who are discouraged from voting by tactics such as having a limited number of polling places or voting machines (making it necessary to stand in line for hours to cast your votes), having been purged from the voting rolls, or requirements for photo identification that they do not possess, will still be represented by simply assigning their proxies.
One of the most interesting features of a system of proxies is that proxies work very well with or without elections as part of the system. We will reap tremendous benefits from implementing a system without changing anything else about our electoral or political systems. We could reap significant additional benefits by replacing election days with “selection days” in determining who serves in Congress or a state legislature.
Despite the fact that most citizens of the United States recognize that our government is broken and dysfunctional, many people are uncomfortable with change. Implementing a system of proxies for citizens might seem like a major change, but it really isn’t. Proxies can be implemented as a simple add-on to the system that is in place, making Congress and state legislatures more democratic by ensuring that they reflect the will of the people - with or without other reforms to the manner in which we conduct elections. And this relatively minor change would have a large number of major positive impacts on our political system.
If we simply hold our elections as usual, with no changes at all, and then give citizens a proxy that can be assigned to any member of the legislative bodies that govern them, a system of proxies would be very beneficial. Proxies would address, neutralize, and/or negate all of the problems with our elections by giving every citizen the right to be represented by any of the 435 members of the U. S. House of Representatives, any of the 100 members of the U. S. Senate, and any of the members in both the House and Senate in their state legislature.
With this being the case, proxies will provide instant relief for citizens who are the victims of voter suppression or gerrymandering, ensuring that they will still be represented in Congress and their state legislature. Citizens who are discouraged from voting by tactics such as having a limited number of polling places or voting machines (making it necessary to stand in line for hours to cast your votes), having been purged from the voting rolls, or requirements for photo identification that they do not possess, will still be represented by simply assigning their proxies. Proxies will allow voters who want to be represented by someone who resides in their state or district will be free to choose a representative on the basis of geography, while those who care more about other criteria will be free to assign their proxies to legislators who live in other states or districts.
Once a system of proxies is in place and seen to be working as anticipated, with proxies making frequent elections unnecessary, even if we decide we want to continue electing legislators, we could and should amend our constitutions to give longer terms to legislators who currently serve two-year terms, especially in Congress. Holding elections less frequently would not only reduce to the cost of conducting elections for the government but would reduce the amount of money that candidates need to raise, which would, in turn, significantly decrease the corrupting influence of money.
If we are going to continue having elections, we should also implement ranked choice voting, combined with at-large elections or multi-member districts. That would give citizens a more diverse group of legislators to choose from in Congress and state legislatures when assigning their proxies.
The best system of all would be to forego even having elections for Congress and state legislatures, using selection by proxies to determine who serves in a legislative body. Instead of election days, we would have selection days, a designated day where the candidates with the most proxies would be awarded seats in a legislative body. This could be done by districts or at-large. At large selection would maximize the choices for citizens. People interested in serving in Congress or their state legislature could register to serve in much the same manner as candidates now file to run for office. They would then reach out to their fellow citizens, letting them know that they have filed to serve and can have proxies assigned to them. The citizens willing and wanting to serve as legislators would presumably provide their fellow citizens with information regarding the issues they view as being of most concern and how they would vote on those issues. As designated “selection days” approach, citizens who believe someone seeking their proxy would be more likely to vote as they would vote could reassign their proxies. If a non-incumbent holds more proxies on a given selection day than the incumbent for a particular seat or legislative body, the incumbent would be replaced.
Using selection rather than elections to determine who serves in Congress or a state legislature would save the government the expense of conducting elections, dramatically reduce the amount of money that needs to be raised to be selected to serve as a legislator, completely eliminate the ugly “attack ads” that dominate the airwaves as election days approach, shift the focus from politicians and personalities to how legislators vote on issues of concern to voters, and distribute control of a legislature to the legislators who vote as citizens would vote on issues of concern to the citizenry.
With some Republicans actively working to undermine faith in our elections. The fact that proxies could render elections unnecessary could make simply doing away with elections a more appealing option.
A primary consideration between these various alternatives should be how much change a majority of the citizenry is willing to make, or at least comfortable with making. It might be advisable to introduce proxies initially without making any changes with regard to elections. Sooner or later, as citizens come to realize that proxies do render elections unnecessary, the benefits of having selection days rather than election days would outweigh concerns about such a change being too much of a change.
As a service to its members and a disservice to citizens who want to hold politicians accountable, Congress works in ways that make it difficult to assess the voting record of incumbents. Many issues are never brought to a vote, especially in the U. S. Senate with the abuse of the filibuster. Amendments are attached to bills that are unrelated to the issues addressed by the amendments simply as a means of getting legislation passed in a system that makes it difficult to pass major legislation and easy to defend the status quo. Our system of “checks and balances” could just as easily be called “Gridlock by design.”
Voting records are also, by their very nature, focused on the past. That often gives a sense of how a legislator might vote in the future, but people do change – sometimes even politicians.
Information that helps anticipate how a legislator will vote in the future, especially on matters of particular concern to each of us as citizens is much more useful in deciding which legislators are most likely to vote as we would vote on particular issues. In that regard, information regarding who has introduced legislation and which legislators have signed on as cosponsors is particularly useful and can be obtained at the official website - Congress.gov – among other places.
Numerous political organizations already keep track of which legislators do and do not support various reforms, laws, policies, or programs.
All of this information is more readily available for members of Congress than for state legislators, but in states that implement a proxy system that would almost certainly change rapidly.
We already have web sites that help voters decide which candidates to vote for by entering information regarding your position on issues and matching that with candidates’ positions on the issues. Using voting records or co-sponsorship of various pieces of legislation in the same manner would make it easy for citizens to figure out which members of Congress or a state legislature would be most likely to vote the same way they would vote on the issues that are of most concern to each voter.
Once you get past the typical landing page asking you to make a campaign contribution and/or volunteer, the web sites for most candidates offer detailed information about a candidate’s position on issues of concern.
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