[EM] Wilderness Wanderings

Fred Gohlke fredgohlke at verizon.net
Wed Sep 1 13:05:53 PDT 2010

Dave Ketchum wrote, "We know that Plurality has problems - and go to 
great effort to find something better."  So far, that 'great effort' has 
been futile.  I suggest it has been futile because it is examining the 
wrong question.  In my view, the question should be, "How can we make 
our electoral processes more democratic?"

If democracy is government by the people, 'by the people' must mean 'by 
the will of the people'.  Plurality makes no attempt to seek the will of 
the people.  On the contrary, it merely lets the people 'vote' on issues 
formulated by, and candidates chosen by, political elites.  Whatever the 
theory may be, the reality is that, in the United States, our government 
is not 'by the people', it is by those who control the political 
infrastructure.  That is not democracy.  It is, as was so accurately 
described by Robert Michels almost 100 years ago,[1] oligarchy.

As Daniel Ortiz points out in The Paradox of Mass Democracy[2], under 
the present system, the more we expand the vote, the less any one 
individual's vote matters.  This paradox flows from the practice of 
treating the people as an amorphous mass whose only political right is 
to approve or disapprove choices made by the oligarchy that controls the 
nation's political parties.  We must replace that structure with an 
electoral method the allows the people to participate in the electoral 
process in a meaningful way.

The problems of plurality are not solved by taking more of the poison 
that's killing us.  Adding more parties and trying to assure them a 
proportional share of the government does nothing to eliminate the 
influence of money on our political system, the corrosive effect of 
campaigning on the character of our politicians, or the reality that 
political parties are always controlled by a very small minority of the 

According to National Voter Turnout in Federal Elections[3], in 2004, 
the most recent presidential election year for which all data is 
available, 79% of the voting age population (VAP) was registered to vote 
and 55.3% of the VAP actually turned out to vote.

Using the recent numbers provided by Pew Research Center Publications[4] 
to get a very rough estimate of what this means in terms of democracy in 
the United States, 35% of registered voters in 2004 were Democrats, 33% 
were Republicans and 32% were Independents.

Thus, in the 2004 election, 55.3% of the voting age public actually 
voted, and the likely distribution of those voters was about 15.3% (79% 
* 55.3% * 35%) registered Democrats and 14.4% (79% * 55.3% * 33%) 
registered Republicans.

Since the Republicans 'won' the 2004 election, we can see that when the 
winners took office, 100% of the people were ruled by the party of 14.4% 
of the voters.  Furthermore, since the actual political decisions of any 
party are made by a small portion of the party members (Michels' 
oligarchs), the result of partisan elections in the United States is 
disgracefully undemocratic.

This situation is not improved by adding more parties, it is worsened. 
That was best described by Stafford Beer in a work Kristofer 
Munsterhjelm pointed out to me in December of 2008 (and for which I am 

Whatever one may think Beer's proposal for computer usage in politics, 
his description of the functioning of partisanship is clear and concise. 
  It shows that the only way to achieve a stable democratic government 
is to ensure that all the people are able to participate in their 
government in a meaningful way.

After about 200 years experience with partisan systems (in the U. S.), 
we should have learned that parties gain and maintain power by the most 
fundamental rule of domination - Divide and Conquer.  There are viable 

Marcus Pivato has described an excellent method of allowing public 
participation in the drafting and enactment of legislation[6].

Michael Allen, a contributor to this list, is working on an extensive 
project to improve democracy[7].  He shares ideas with other minds in 
Canada, the U. S. and Europe and is always receptive to thoughtful 
contributions that advance the project. His work is worthy of careful study.

My own thoughts for a different approach have been described in this 
list and are available on Participedia[8].  Participedia is a site that 
contains a wealth of ideas and projects devoted to public participation 
in government.

The tool of adversary democracy --- voting for one party or another --- 
perpetuates conflict, encourages mass manipulation and serves the vested 
interests that control the parties.  As we can see by the state of 
national and international politics, and as the world economy confirms, 
it is long past the time for obscure mathematical constructs that are 
beyond public understanding and perpetuate the status quo.  It is time 
to investigate, analyze and test alternatives to partisan politics that 
will yield government by the people.

Fred Gohlke

End Notes (all internet links need the standard http prefix)

[1] Robert Michels, Political Parties, 
[2] Daniel Ortiz, Rethinking The Vote, The Paradox of Mass Democracy
[3] www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0781453.html
[4] pewresearch.org/pubs/773/fewer-voters-identify-as-republicans
[5] grace.evergreen.edu/~arunc/texts/cybernetics/beer/book.pdf
[6] Pyramidal Democracy, Marcus Pivato, 
[7] t.zelea.com/project/
[8] participedia.net/wiki/Practical_Democracy

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