Some associated sites:
For more resources, see our
The Paradox of Democracy in America
We Americans have always been fiercely proud of our
democracy and democratic institutions, and
compared to most countries in the world - let's make that almost all countries of the world, we have a lot to
be proud of.
We have, however, never been fully happy with the
way that our representatives have conducted our
business, and have tried at different times to introduce direct democracy ; ie. the citizen voting directly on
issues and thereby bypassing the representatives, or to impose various restrictions or limitations like
campaign finance reform and term limits in the attempt to reduce the perceived shortcomings of
Direct democracy is, however, not without its own
problems, most important of which is that while it can do
an excellent job fulfilling the wishes of the majority, it can ride roughshod over the concerns of minorities.
Our present representative democracy, because of
the necessity politicians have of getting the support of as
many minority blocks as possible, to both get elected and stay in office, takes care of minority concerns
very well. Too well, perhaps, as one can see by the disproportionate power and influence of many small
vocal and /or wealthy groups.
Direct democracy in all its forms has none of these
concerns for minorities, but why should we, the majority,
be concerned with minorities? We need to be concerned because we are all, in many different ways,
minorities. Our race religion, ethnic origins, sex, place of residence, fatness, tallness, or brightness, and
personal interests, make us minorities with minority concerns. So we have a quandary:
With direct democracy we tend to have "Tyranny of
the Majority" but with representative
democracy we tend to get Tyranny of the Minorities.
What we need is a system of government that, while
retaining the advantages of both
representative and direct democracy, institutes checks and balances between the two that
eliminates or at least significantly reduces the disadvantages.
"The worst defect of democracy is that politicians are under constant pressure from the lobbyists of special-interest groups to support particular public policies.REFORM WITHOUT REVOLUTION
Because their future depends on winning elections, and because elections are won by attracting marginal voters,
politicians seek the support of marginal voters who belong to such groups by promising to vote for legislation they favor. This weights the legislative process in favor of interest groups, especially the
well organized and well funded."
"The Constitution and Democracy" Acad.Amer.Ency.Grolier interactive 1996
What we need is reform that
can be put into place with the existing political structure. We
don't have the luxury of a clean slate as the Founding Fathers had, and the side effects of a
complete revolution can be somewhat severe.
ENTER THE RATIFIERS!
This system can operate wherever there is a Legislative
Assembly of either one or two houses and a voting
population of 100,000 or more. This could be at the federal level, state level, or city or county level. The
Legislative Assembly operates as it does today, but once it has passed a piece of legislation, instead of it
either automatically becoming law or going to the Executive for final approval, it is presented to the Ratifiers
for their verdict.
"The Body of Ratifiers" is a large number of voters
selected at random from the Voters' Roll (one Ratifier
for every 1,000 voters is a good statistical number). Ratifiers never meet as legislators do, but instead, they
deliberate and vote in their own homes on a supplied terminal in their own spare time. They read the
legislation, review the proponents' and opponents' arguments, and either ratify or reject it.
A STATE EXAMPLE:The
passage of bills at state level with the checks and balances
between Legislature, Ratifiers, and Governor
Let's take a hypothetical "typical"
state with a two-house legislature (all states except Nebraska, which has
one) and a governor who has a significant veto right (most states).
If all the bills passed by
the legislature were subject to first, whatever veto rights a Governor
of that state
has, and then, to a veto by a simple majority of the Ratifiers, then few bills would pass and those that did
would be so watered down to try to make everybody happy. The legislators would lose power, they
wouldn't be able to pass the tough and somewhat unpopular bills that we sometimes need, and we could
only attract a lower grade of politicians as our legislators. We would all be the losers.
To overcome this problem and
to introduce the checks and balances, the legislature would propose, debate,
and vote on bills as they do now. The governor may then negotiate with the legislature (as he does now) but
in the end he has three choices.
1) He may pass the bill as
2) He may vote against it.
3) He may submit his own version of the bill.
Regardless of which choice he makes, the legislature's bill then goes to the Ratifiers for their vote, together
with the governor's version, if any.
The American system is already home to several types
of majorities, depending upon the ways the scales
need to be weighted to the balance of powers. They range from the simple majority typically required within
a House, on its own legislation, to the complex federal and state combination necessary to pass an
amendment to the Constitution of the United States, to the two-thirds or three-fifths majorities designated by
many state legislatures to override their governors' vetoes, with these supermajorities mandated precisely
because a simple majority would upset the balance of power between different branches of our elected
The Ratifiers would need to have a balance designed
into their system of voting, too, for the same reasons -
to maintain the balance of powers.
The system we propose is what we call "inverse proportional voting". Here's how it would work.
If the governor passed the legislature's bill, then the number of Ratifiers needed to vote for it, is the inverse
proportion of the legislators voting for it.
To give an example,
If the the legislature passed this bill 60% to 40%, then 40% of the Ratifiers voting are needed to pass the
bill. Looking at it the other way, more than 60% of voting Ratifiers would be needed to defeat the bill.
This gives the legislature and the governor the ability
together to override even a majority of ratifiers and
gives them the ability to lead and to pass unpopular but necessary legislation. As this should not happen by
default, when a bill receives less than majority ratifier support it is returned to the legislature. They may then
sit on it and lose their own bill, amend it and resubmit in an effort to get greater ratifier support, or if they feel
that this is a bill that is really crucial, they can again pass it and it becomes law.
A legislature that does this too often or is not
perceived to be right over time, will be ousted at the next
election; but one that that is perceived as having been right, will be credited with vision, strength, and
If the governor voted against the bill, then a majority
(50% plus one vote) of voting Ratifiers is needed to
pass the bill.
If the governor submits his version of the bill,
the Ratifiers are faced with a three-way choice:
· the legislature's bill
· the governor's bill
After the first vote, there is a play-off vote between the two highest scoring choices. 50% plus one vote
takes the day.
If the governor has not, after the designated time
mandated by law, made one of the choices (and here we
would end the option now available in about one quarter of the states, of killing the bill without further
debate by the governor's "pocketing" it - just not signing it into law ), he is deemed to have voted against the
bill and it goes on to the Ratifiers for their vote.
& A's about the Ratifiers
JOE BLOW REPRESENTS ME?
Wouldn't this be taking power away from our elected representatives and giving it to some randomly selected Joe Blow?
He doesn't represent me. I never elected him and never would.
That's right. He doesn't represent you. In a voter-at-large sense, he is you. In a case such as this, with a
large enough number, say a million voters and a thousand Ratifiers, if any question or vote is put to the
Ratifiers, the result is virtually the same as if it were put to all voters with only the smallest amount of
statistical variable. If you look at your fellow voter and are worried about him being a Ratifier, then at the
the next Presidential election you should be petrified. He will be electing the one who holds the nuclear
This would be taking away some of the power from
our elected representatives, but it goes to where it
came from in the first place: you, Joe Blow, and all the voters. Those legislators who were inclined to push
laws through that would benefit their campaign fund contributors but were not generally wanted, would find
their power to do so sharply reduced. With so many ordinary people deeply looking at every bill they
proposed and every vote they made, some legislators, who accurately judged the direction and speed that
the voters wished to go in, would find their prestige and power increased. The legislators would still be the
proposers and the leaders. We would still be the followers but with a better means of telling them if we
thought they were wandering off the path.
HOW CAN REGULAR PEOPLE BE EXPECTED TO UNDERSTAND
How can some factory worker or housewife ever understand, let alone make an informed, judged vote on some of the
important but highly complex bills that come before the legislature?
True, but what do we have now? The average legislator is no genius; in fact his IQ is most likely very
average. Nor is he adept at carefully analyzing highly complex bills. His aptitude is more likely to be slanted
to what he has to do to get elected, with obtaining campaign funding for commercials being far more
important than examining issues. After he is elected, there is the next election that needs ever more money,
looming all too soon on the horizon. He generally doesn't have the time, energy, or talent to make an
informed vote on every bill, so at best, he relies on his staff, or perhaps his Party. At worst, he votes as his
contributors tell him, or he makes a deal with a fellow legislator: "I'll vote for your contributor if you vote for
Advantages of Ratifiers
Some of the Ratifiers would be way above average intelligence, most would be around average, and some
would be a bit below. Their social aptitudes being very mixed, the Body of Ratifiers would include
extroverted, political-personality types, as well as many "socially-challenged" deep thinkers who are not
electable as representatives today. They would have volunteered, first by registering to vote, and then when
they have been selected by lot, by accepting appointment. Having accepted, even though they would be
doing their ratifying after work in their own time, they would, virtually all, do the best and most conscientious
job they could. Their rewards would be a certain amount of prestige in their local community, a
once-in-a-lifetime experience of taking part directly in the democracy of the country, a feeling of doing
something personally to make the state they live in a better place, and a warm feeling of satisfied patriotism
and civic duty fulfilled.
Now, back to that dreaded H.C.B. (Highly Complex
Bill). Left unaided, Ratifiers wouldn't do very well.
But with the help of the Commission and its Information Bank, Ratifiers can make an informed judgment
with a higher level of responsibility than many a harried legislator.
The Information Bank
This is where the Information Bank kept by the Commission comes in.Ratifiers would have, for their thinking
ease and convenience, all the modern streamlined information available to legislators today, supplied now by
large public service staffs - legislative bills boiled down to the basic meaning so that anyone can understand
them; background information such as the effects of similar laws in other places. After a bill is passed by the
legislature, it is entered followed by arguments written by the main proponent and opponent and a rebuttal
from each. Corporations, organizations and indeed, any individual could then submit their argument for or
against to the Commission for inclusion. Some rules would be needed here to enhance the quality of the
argument over the quantity without being exclusive. Some suggestions are:
*Clear for and against arguments
*Length guidelines with flexibility for added space for those corporations or organizations with an interest in
a particular bill.
An informed, and honest
The Ratifier would read through these arguments, see which made the most sense to him or which he trusted
the most, and vote accordingly. Some organizations such as perhaps the League of Women Voters, the
Heritage Foundation, Common Cause, or even one of the political parties could, through well researched,
honest and clear argument, earn the trust of the people and with it, great power.
Not a bill formulator
Another thing that makes it much easier for our factory worker or housewife is that they don't have to
formulate the bill in the first place, or put in careful amendments to get it through. Their decision is a simple
"Yes" or ""No".
PEOPLE ARE COMPUTER ILLITERATE, SO HOW CAN
THIS SYSTEM FUNCTION?
The Ratifying system needs computers, for information and voting, but aren't most people still computer illiterate?
An easy to use, accessible system for everyone
While the exact number of computer illiterates is debatable, a significant number still are.
The terminal that Ratifiers would use is not envisaged
as a powerful do-everything, web-surfing, bells &
whistles machine, but as a simple limited-use terminal. As difficult to use as the TV, but not as difficult as
programming the VCR.
Button # 1 connects you to the information bank at
the Ratifiers' Commission, and a mouse does the
Button # 2 connects you to the voting section and you vote using the mouse.
Button # 3 is the communication button. It connects
you to a human in the Ratifiers' Commission who is
there to help you, explain the workings to you, research additional information for you, handle Ratifier
security and any other problem you might have relating to your function.
That's it. No more buttons. No keyboard. No programs
Everyone would, after being selected as a Ratifier, make an appointment with the equipment office at the
Commission, for their home visit installation and personal one-to-one tutorial session, to make sure each
Ratifier could understand the system and operate the workstation
COULDN'T RATS BE BOUGHT?
If our elected representatives can be bought, why couldn't some poor, low-paid worker be bought, too? He could really
use some extra money.
He could be bought, but not very easily. There would be, built in, a number of protections.
A) It would be illegal to solicit
or harass a Ratifier in his duties. It would be a criminal offense with
mandatory jail sentence for anyone who offered an inducement to a Ratifier or for a Ratifier who accepted
such inducement. The Security Section of the Commission would investigate, on receiving complaints from
Ratifiers or other information regarding this activity, and file charges as need be.
B)A major safeguard
is in the large number of Ratifiers (at least 1000) and their short rolling
Let's say you're the somewhat special interest group,
"Money, Inc.".You've always been able to deal
efficiently with government by cultivating and nurturing legislators. Once you've bought a legislator, you have
him for at least two years, and probably for as long as he manages to stay in office. You only need to buy
comparatively few, so your investment in "capital expenditure" and "running costs", so to speak, is often
With a Ratifier, if you buy him, he is only yours
for one short term, and he can never serve as a Ratifier
again. There are many more Ratifiers than legislators, so to swing your bill across, you would have to buy a
large number. The bottom line? Investing in Ratifiers is "just not cost effective!"
C) A legislator's vote is out there for all
to see (as it should be), but the Ratifier's vote is private, so the only
way you can be sure he is truly bought is to stand over him while he votes in his own home - a risky and
inefficient business, to say the least.
With their protection from solicitation, high numbers, short term, and their secret vote, the Ratifiers would be, to all intents and purposes, incorruptible.
WOULDN'T THIS COST A LOT?
Wouldn't this cost a fortune with
a) All the computer equipment that would have to be bought.
b) Necessitate a whole new giant bureaucracy that we would have to pay for?
A state with, say 4 million residents, would have about 1 million active voters, and at a rate of .1%, that
would equal 1000 Ratifiers who would need 1000 terminals. The terminals would need to be robust, but
only have the computing power of a moderately capable modern telephone. They would need to be
custom-made (off -the- shelf computers would not be robust, would need someone to be computer literate,
and would be much more powerful than needed). A production run of 1000, while not large, is not
insignificant for a product that is, when you come down to it, a sturdy box with a few off-the-shelf items
connected inside. Also needed is a mouse and a security palm scanner, both proprietary items.
At the Ratifiers' Commission, an ordinary PC could
handle the information bank while another could handle
the voting. A greater expense would be the palm print verifier, and other security equipment to ensure that
voting cannot be tampered with.
Ratifiers' Commission needs
The Commission would be headed by the elected Commissioner. Under him there would be maybe half a
dozen people to help Ratifiers with their problems, to update the Information Bank, and to do additional
research as requested (there would of course be more staff at first, while everybody was settling in and
ironing out the bugs). A further two or three specialists would be necessary for both internal and external
security, and for investigation of situations such as Ratifiers' complaints of harassment and solicitation.
This security staff would deal with the police and court matters as necessary.
The installers would have to collect a terminal from
store or the home of a Ratifier whose term had expired,
and take it to the home of a new Ratifier. There he would install it, test it, and give the new Ratifier a course
on how the system in general and the terminal in particular works. Let's say there are a thousand terminals to
install in a year; if an installer averages only slightly more than one per working day, he will do 250 per year.
This means 4 installers (obviously more in the inception, when all have to be installed in a comparatively
short period of time).
From this we can see that the Commission need involve perhaps slightly more than a dozen people. The
cost is relatively small.
YET ANOTHER BUREAUCRACY TO FURTHER REMOVE PEOPLE'S
Doesn't this set up a whole new bureaucracy that would, in the nature of bureaucracies, take away more power from us
or our elected representatives?
As we saw earlier, this is a small Commission directly controlled by a Commissioner who is elected by the
voters. He has few discretionary and regulatory powers, and is in office largely to serve and facilitate the
Ratifiers. It would be surprising if the Ratifiers were at all tardy in advising the rest of the public of what they
perceived as the Commissioner's failings or virtues.
HOW IMPEACHMENT WOULD HAVE GONE WITH THE RATIFIERS INSTITUTED FEDERALLY
December 19, 1998, the House passed 2 out of 4 articles of impeachment,
so the Ratifiers would also vote
on the 2 articles passed:
Article I (Perjury before a Grand Jury) Passed 228 to 226 (52.5% to 47.5%)
Article III (Obstruction of Justice related to the Jones case) Passed 221 to 212 (51% to 49%)
of the urgency and seriousness of the case, Ratifiers would have a reduced
period of time (say one
week) to either ratify or reject the impeachment.They would not be judging the President, but, like the House,
voting if they want him tried by the Senate or not.
Let's take article I for our example (the perjury charge) passed 52.5% to 47.5%):
more than 52.5% of the Ratifiers reject it (as could have been predicted
by both the overwhelming rejection
of impeachment in the polls, and the American people's vociferous lobbying of Congress), then that is the end
of it. Strike one against impeachment; and in this game, with 2 articles, there's only two strikes, and
impeachment would be out. Rejected.
more than 50%, but less than 52.5% reject the charge, then the proposition
would go back to the House for
their re-vote, with the knowledge that the majority officially rejects impeachment. If they again vote to
impeach, then it goes to the Senate.
course, if less than 50% of the Ratifiers reject the perjury charge, then
the House vote on article I would
be ratified. If the same result happened in the Ratifiers' vote on article II, the House vote then be ratified and
impeachment would proceed.
THE ADVENTURES OF CITIZEN INITIATIVES IN AMERICA
The most successful form of direct democracy was
set up in the at the turn of the century and early 1900's
and is still with us. When the western states were established, they were populated by independent-minded
pioneers who had seen the shenanigans of eastern politics or much worse in their home countries of Europe,
and weren't sure they completely trusted any politician. What to do? They all had farms to tend and couldn't
go camp out in the capital to run things themselves. They introduced Citizen Initiatives, first in South Dakota
While leaving most of the legislation and all of
the day to day running in the hands of the representatives,
initiatives gave the citizens the ability, by gathering signatures and then voting on the issue at the next
election, to pass legislation that the legislators politically either could not or would not pass.
After an initial flurry this form of direct democracy
fell into almost disuse until the last few decades when the
citizen has once again (not always with the most noble of intentions) wanted to take a more direct role in
This increase in the use of initiatives has highlighted
some shortcomings that need to be addressed if it is to
be a useful tool in improving government. Direct democracy without a corresponding increase in the
quality of government is no improvement.
PROBLEMS WITH CITIZEN INITIATIVES
Many people, particularly in those states that see the greatest use of
initiatives, are starting to feel
"bombed out" with the dozens of sometimes quite complex issues they have to vote on at each election, and
the hundreds of would-be initiatives looking for signatures on every Main Street and in every shopping mall.
From a legal point of view, the quality, of many initiatives is often not
as good as it should be. Many
times they may either accidentally or deliberately impact on existing law (collateral damage) or appear to say
one thing but be found legally (and therefore, legislatively), to say something else. If passed, an initiative may
then suffer the fate of many recent initiatives, being challenged in the courts, declared unconstitutional, and
so thwart the intended will of the People.
3) The voters do not have the ability, as does a legislature, to debate and perhaps amend an initiative.
The vote of the whole People on an initiative is so "hard" and "final"
that legislatures have difficulty
repealing or amending such legislation as needed when times change.
Another often quoted problem that is fortunately groundless, is that the
"extreme right" or the "radical
left", or "big business" will "take over" the initiative process and "push through" their legislation. Statistically,
in none of the countries or states that have initiative lawmaking, has that proved to be the case. Non
public-interest initiatives lose more times than they win, and the more extreme or self-serving the proposal,
the more likely it is to fail. Money spent sometimes appears to win, but other times when even more is
spent, it fails.
There can however, be a miscarriage of democracy
if voter fatigue and hence a very low turnout coincides
with an organized and moneyed group pushing their initiative.
How Citizen Initiatives and the Ratifiers could work together for better government
Citizens wishing to introduce
an Initiative would first register and pay a fee. This fee would go towards
cost of a mandatory consultation with a constitutional lawyer appointed by and accountable to the state's
supreme court. His purpose would not be to dictate what was allowed but to point out constitutional or legal
problems and suggest ways or wordings to overcome them. The final decision would be with the Initiator
but the legal opinion would be attached to the Initiative.
After gathering the required
number of signatures, the Initiative is presented to the Ratifiers. They
be asked to pass the Initiative into law but rather: Do they want the legislature to look at the issue covered
by the Initiative or not? If not, then that's the end of it, although, of course the legislature can look at any
issue it wants to whenever it wants to. This screening of the legislature by the Ratifiers from initiatives that
are frivolous or don't have broad voter support could allow easing in the difficulty of introducing an initiative,
by reducing significantly the number of signatures required.
If the majority of Ratifiers
want the legislature to look at the issue covered by the Initiative, then
legislature has a statutory period, of perhaps six months, to do so, during which time they may:
Endorse the Initiative, which would then go to the Ratifiers, to be passed
into law if an
inverse proportion of Ratifiers voted in favor.
against the Initiative, which could only pass if an inverse proportion
majority") of Ratifiers were subsequently in favor.
3) Pass their own bill on the issue,
in which case the Ratifiers would have a choice in
preference from one to three:
1) The original Initiative
2) The Legislature's Bill
The choice with the least support would be eliminated, and the votes for
two are counted. Because of the inverse proportion, (a minority of Ratifiers in
favor could pass legislation previously passed by the legislature), it is possible for
both final choices to pass. If this happens, the whole matter would go back to the
legislature for a further statutory period for reconsideration and voting.
4) The legislature can also table the
Initiative and "lose" it (an already common fate for bills without
powerful sponsors, or issues that are too sticky, like initiatives!), in which case, when the legislature's
allotted time for consideration has elapsed, the Initiative would automatically go to the Ratifiers, for them to
pass into law or reject, by a simple majority.
THOUGHTS ON HOW-TO'S
Politicians probably won't be falling over each other to instigate Ratifying
Reform. So it's up to us, the people, to use the
tools of participatory democracy to establish the Ratifiers in the system.
Ratifying reform would involve constitutional change, and there are
various mechanisms that make this an easier task than
you might think.
On a local level (city or county), the ways government is structured
and the methods available for change are too
idiosyncratic and numerous for us to go into here. Local public interest groups are your best bet for tools for change.
These include initiatives similar to those described below for states, and other citizen-initiated avenues.
The state level is easier for us to tackle here, as there are broad
similarities that we can talk about.
A popular method of making constitutional change now is the constitutional initiative, which empowers citizens to
obtain a required number of signatures by petition, and then to propose amendments directly to the electorate. About one
third of the states have constitutional initiatives available, all with different rules as to the limits permitted for change with
States where the constitution can be amended by Direct Initiative:
States where the constitution can be amended by Indirect Initiative:
The principle of the indirect initiative is that, after the petition
succeeds in obtaining enough signatures, the question goes
first to the Legislature who has a chance to dither, propose changes or alternative measures, but the original question
eventually still goes to the people. Two states have this method for constitutional amendment.
(There are quite a few complications to petitioning and putting measures
on the ballot, but the upshot is that
even if the Legislature finds the measure repugnant, and proposes its own version of the question, or even a
countermeasure, the original amendment as proposed must eventually be placed on the ballot in its original form.)
being submitted to the voters for ratification, initiative measures must
be approved by at least
two sessions of a successively elected legislature by not less than one-fourth of all members elected, sitting in joint
Source: All above details are from the 1994-1995 Book of The States
published by the Council of State
Rhode Island: A State in Transition, for years!!!
In the November, 1996 General Election, Rhode Island passed a question
posed by the Governor (Voter initiative
advisory referendum "Question 8").
"Should Rhode Island adopt direct voter initiative,
which would allow voters to amend the State
Constitution and enact State statutes without the approval of the General Assembly? "
In January 1997, in hasty session, legislators quickly passed a resolution to consider only an INDIRECT initiative.
As of the end of June, 2000 (!), the initiative
is STILL not an option in Rhode Island, with bill after bill languishing,
but check in for yourself at http://www.state.ri.us/billtext/00H6933.htm
Other methods of constitutional change:
Legislative proposals. That's when politicians put the question on the ballot. 'Nuff sed?
convention. The oldest method for extensively
revising, and the way many states put all the big questions
into one big pot, to be stirred up every so many years. Major changes have been accomplished, but often the number of
stirrers can be frustratingly limited.
up with seasoned reformers. For every level of
government, there are groups who have successfully
accomplished change in the way government works. They know the avenues available, and the easiest way to accomplish
people will say you're crazy to think this can work. Not so long ago, the
was a laughing issue. Other good laughs before their time was ripe:
bathing more than once in your life, a round earth, the American Revolution, "inalienable rights".
"...the great task before us...
government of the people, by the people, for the people"
-Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
Over a hundred years later, are these words STILL too radical?
"A self-governing society that gives up on government
is essentially giving up on itself. The answer is to
change government and make it a partner in keeping with our quality of life...It is not something government
can do for us. It is something we must do for ourselves by making government a tool with which to build the
future we want." - Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber
Democracy is a muscle
that needs to be exercised to develop,
and needs regular flexion to stay strong and healthy.
We invite your comments.democsay at ratifiers for democracy dot net
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