By Winter Patriot on 7/8/2005, 5:05pm PT  

Guest Blogged by David Cobb.

INTRODUCTION {by Winter Patriot}: We are thrilled to announce that David Cobb will be with us for some live blogging on Saturday morning [late Saturday morning in the East, early Saturday morning in the West]. As most of you probably know, Mr. Cobb represented the Green Party in the 2004 Presidential 'Election'. He has indicated that he wishes to blog about two subjects, and he has sent us some very interesting links and text. So there's plenty to absorb before Mr. Cobb takes the hot seat as the first live blogger of the weekend.

Mr. Cobb's first subject:

The growing "New Voting Rights Movement" demands that we fully "democratize" US elections by implementing the Voter Bill of Rights. (This will necessarily include a discussion of the need for multi-party democracy and why the progressive movement actually *needs* the Green Party).

The "Voter Bill of Rights" figures prominently in David Cobb's testimony at the Election Assessment Hearing, which we present here as a BLOGATHON EXCLUSIVE!

Distinguished members of this Citizen's Election Assessment Hearing,

My name is David Cobb. I was the 2004 Green Party candidate for President of the United States. I am proud that my campaign demanded the recount in Ohio which helped shine a light on the outrageous voter suppression, allegations of intentional fraud, and reports of widespread voting machinery and technology failures.

I currently serve as a Fellow for Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution (www.libertytreefdr.org) and as Projects Director for Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County. (www.duhc.org).

Both of these organizations are committed to helping to realize the currently unfulfilled promise of democracy in this country.

I begin my substantive comments with a sobering observation: An increasingly high number of Americans have completely lost confidence in the integrity of elections in our country.

Indeed, many American believe either that voting is irrelevant as a tactic for pursuing genuine democratic social change, or that casting and counting ballots is the sum total of democracy. Sadly, current US elections are indeed a farce. If we are serious about creating an actual democracy (where "We the People" actually rule our own lives), voting is a necessary mechanism to ensure that people can meaningfully participate in making the decisions that affect their lives.

That is why I am proudly joining the call for a broad and deep people's movement to "democratize" elections in this country.

Such a movement must strive to fundamentally transform US elections by nurturing a powerful new voting rights movement that will implement the fundamental and systemic electoral reforms encapsulated in "The Voter's Bill of Rights." (Described in detail below).

This movement is both moral and pragmatic. It is moral because it claims these reforms as rights that are the long-sought fulfillment of the promise of democracy in the United States. And it is pragmatic because each reform is a concrete and tangible issue that can be achieved as a stand-alone measure. (And in some cases can be achieved at the local or state level before advancing to the national level).

The movement taps into and builds upon the widely held (and absolutely correct) opinion that our system of elections is currently corrupted and does not serve the interests of the people.

There are currently three views: those who are completely disaffected and typically do not vote at all; those who are outraged by the cheating evident in the last two presidential elections and want to restore elections; and those who seek deeper electoral reforms that would open up the system to broader changes.

In my view, the challenge is to create a movement that expands and deepens the notion of elections and democracy itself. The "Voter Bill of Rights" strives to do just that.

And this new voting rights movement must become the successor of the prior civil rights and racial justice movements, building on their accomplishments by bringing them to fuller fruition. So we must reach out to and make alliance with particular constituencies for whom these historical movements have special resonance, most importantly, communities of color, women, and labor. Each of these constituencies is highly disaffected with the current electoral system and important elements within them have even toyed with the idea of forming their own political party as a consequence of their frustration with elections.

1. There must be a Constitutional Amendment Confirming the Right to Vote

Be clear: The U.S. Constitution does not give every American an individual affirmative citizenship right to vote. Rather, voting in the United States is based on the constitutional principle of states' rights. Since the word "vote" appears in the Constitution only with respect to non-discrimination, the so-called right to vote is a "state right." Only a constitutional amendment would give every American the much-needed individual affirmative citizenship right to vote. In addition, more than nine million American citizens are denied the same right to vote that they would enjoy if living in another part of the country. Nationally, more than 4.7 million Americans are denied the right to vote as a result of laws that prohibit voting by felons or ex-felons. While states may have their own regulations, choosing a President is a national enterprise that should involve the full diversity of the voting public.

2. There must be Independent, Non-Partisan and Transparent Oversight in Elections

Determining who can vote, how they can vote, where they can vote and the type and number of voting machines that will be available in their precinct should not be in the hands of partisan officials that are seeking higher office or campaigning for a party or candidate at the same time. To increase voter confidence and participation, officials in charge of administering, overseeing and certifying elections Electoral commissions at all levels of government should be independently financed and free of control by any political party. They should not be party affiliated, running for another office, or publicly supporting any candidates. They must simultaneously work to increasing citizen participation thru education efforts and be scrupulous in resolving all disputes in a way that is even handed and resists partisanship. Moreover, to ensure a fair election, they must work to eliminate voter suppression and intimidation thru collaboration with civic organizations and when a voter's rights have been violated, they must work to ensure all offenders are prosecuted.

3. There must be an auditable, voter-verifiable paper record for all electronic and electronically tabulated voting systems

It's simple: For voters to have confidence that their vote is being counted --- correctly --- we must guarantee that all voters will see and confirm their vote from an auditable, paper record. For the accuracy, integrity and security of the electoral process, it's essential that every touch-screen voting machine in the U.S. be equipped to produce and store an auditable, voter-verified paper record of every vote cast which is the official ballot for purposes of recounts and audits. In addition, each machine must be equipped with open source coding to allow system transparency. Corporations, and their employees, that manufacture voting machines and count the votes should refrain from political involvement.

4. There must be Election Day registration for all Americans and uniform standards for voter registration

Primarily historically disenfranchised voters, such as new citizens, people of color, young people, and low-income individuals, face the most challenges before, and on, Election Day. To promote more participation while reducing hurdles and eliminating arbitrary deadlines, six states have incorporated Election Day Registration (EDR), which makes it possible for citizens to register, and vote, on Election Day. Consequently, these states lead the country in voter participation and highlight a basic solution to promote a more robust democracy. For a more participatory, and fully functional democracy, we must not only establish uniform standards for voter identification policies and universal voter registration procedures and deadlines, we must establish Election Day as a National Holiday. Working people should not be forced to choose between standing in a long line to vote and being to work on time. We should join dozens of countries around the world and promote democracy by celebrating it!

5. There must be uniform standards to ensure all voters have equal voting systems, number of machines and wait times for voting

There is no single voting system in the United States. Rather, over 13,000 independent voting districts patch federal, state and local laws to execute elections. Consequently, there are separate and unequal laws that help to disenfranchise millions of voters each election. From setting minimum standards for the number of voting systems, poll workers and election resources to standards for ballot design and purging voters from the rolls, Congress should set minimum standards to ensure optimal voter participation. Without uniform standards to address these issues, and many more, we will continue to live in a fragmented democracy where millions of voters continue to be sidelined --- and silenced.

6. There must be publicly financed elections and equal airtime for all candidates on the public airwaves

In a system where the amount a candidate spends is directly related to the likelihood of success, it is not surprising that voters think politicians are more concerned with big campaign contributors than with individual voters. We need to establish full public financing of campaigns and free access to public airwaves. Broadcasters must carry debates and provide free time for all candidates and parties as a license requirement to use our public airwaves.

7. There must be Instant Runoff Voting and Proportional Representation

In one visit to the polls, instant runoff voting (IRV) ensures a winning candidate will receive a majority of votes rather than a simple plurality --- as in most U.S. elections. IRV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference (first, second, third choice and so on). If no candidate gets a majority of first choices, a runoff count can be conducted without the need for a second election. In the wake of citizen frustration with "spoiler" candidacies and non-majority winners, efforts to replace plurality election laws with this more democratic alternative have made significant progress in various states because voters are not only provided the opportunity to vote for those candidates they like the most without worrying that their vote will help candidates they like least, IRV also saves taxpayers money and increases voter participation. Each runoff elections drains financial resources in our communities --- a runoff election costs taxpayers upwards of two million dollars in San Francisco, for example. Money saved can be used to purchase more machines, staff more polling places and help to increase voter education and participation. IRV is a time-tested, successful voting method that has been used around the world: Ireland uses IRV to elect its president, Australia to elect its House of Representatives, and San Francisco to elect its mayor and other major city offices. Literally hundreds of jurisdictions, universities, organizations and corporations use IRV to elect its leaders. "Winner-take-all" is a very undemocratic way to choose representatives to government. Why should 49% of voters in a legislative district get 0% representation? Most democracies in the world use some form of proportional representation to choose legislatures. If one quarter of the voters support a particular party, they should be able to elect roughly a quarter of the seats in a city council or legislature. The majority of voters will elect the majority of seats but minorities will get their fair share of representation; it's common sense!

8. There must be systems in place to ensure all candidates, regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof, have equal access to the ballot and debates

In our two-party system, third parties and independents face a host of institutional barriers --- from getting on the ballot to being included in debates to broadcasting their views. This discourages people from voting because alternative voices help enliven the political debate that is at the heart of any healthy democracy. Prohibitive ballot access requirements should be dropped and debates should be open to all ballot-qualified candidates --- and should be organized independently of the political parties themselves. These necessary reforms will help to increase the diversity of voices of candidates while increasing voter participation.

9. There must be districting policies that are more competitive and representative of the electorate.

The current partisan system for districting allows and, in fact, encourages the current party in power to reshape districts in a manner that maintains and solidifies its power. When elected officials design the districts they are in; consequently, they're deciding whom they would like to represent. This is inherently undemocratic. For the sake of our democracy, it is imperative we strive to create legislative and congressional districts that are representative of the population and districting plans that result in more competitive congressional and legislative elections. We must work to take the redistricting process out of the hands of partisan politicians to establish fair criteria in order to prevent both malapportionment and gerrymandering.

10. The Electoral College must be abolished

Some 200 million eligible voters do not elect the President --- 538 electors do. This ridiculous system silences the will of the majority and undermines the fact that every vote counts. It's time to end the safe state/swing state dichotomy and make all votes equal, no matter the state of the voter. The President should be elected by direct, popular vote. Since a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College may prove infeasible, reformers first step should be to set their sites on amending their state laws to proportionally award their electors.

We could talk about all this for much longer than Mr. Cobb can spend with us, of course; but that doesn't stop us from taking on another topic as well. For David Cobb also wishes to speak with us about:

The corporate takeover of our government and what practical steps we can do to take it back.

Here's a passage from the site linked above:

For most of the 20th century, American citizens have become accustomed to challenging corporate harms and corporate abuses of authority one harm at a time - one clearcut Timber Harvest Plan at a time, one toxic spill at a time, one plant closure at a time. It wasn't always like this. From the American Revolution through the end of the 19th century, a corporation was an artificial, subordinate entity with no inherent rights of its own, and incorporation was a privilege bestowed by the sovereign people. For example, in 1834 the Pennsylvania Legislature declared:

"A corporation in law is just what the incorporation act makes it. It is the creature of the law and may be molded to any shape or for any purpose that the Legislature may deem most conducive to the common good."

Here are a few examples of how different the rules were in the US until the late 1800's:

* Corporations had to have a specific purpose written into their charter (license to do business); if they didn't fulfill it, or exceeded their authority, their charter could be revoked.

* Corporations were prohibited from owning other corporations.

* Corporate charters were granted for a specific period of time, usually 10-30 years, and ceased to exist after that time unless they were renewed.

* State legislatures set the rates which corporations could charge for their products or services.

* Corporations were prohibited from donating to political candidates or charitable organizations.

* All corporate records and documents were open to the public (or the legislature or Attorney General, depending on the state)

* Corporations could not own land beyond what was necessary for the carrying out of their chartered duties.

* Boards of directors and stockholders were held personally liable for all harms and debts. The "limited liability corporation', as we know it today, did not exist.

Sadly, as we enter the 21st century, few Americans have any idea that such a history even existed in this country. Yet this is starting to change. Beginning in the early 1990's some Americans have started to rethink how we go about challenging the harms that corporations get away with day in and day out in every city and town in America. We began to rediscover what an appropriate relationship looks like in a democracy between we the people and the fictitious subordinate creation we call the "corporation." And we began to learn how to reframe our analysis of "the problem."

Of course clearcut logging and sweatshop labor and genetically engineered "food" are big problems. Solutions to these problems exist, but are not implemented because "We the People" do not control our own government. So the much bigger problem is that we have allowed fictitious corporate "persons" to usurp our authority as citizens to make these and other critical societal decisions which affect all of us and the natural world.

If we no longer pleaded with corporate leaders to cause a little less harm, what would we do? If we no longer celebrated as victories every brief delay in the corporate devastation of our world, what would we celebrate?

Since the mid-1990's, new groups have been sprouting up across the US and Canada, and asking themselves these questions. Each group is beginning to experiment with a different attitude toward corporations and democracy --- these groups are attempting to act as sovereign citizens that define corporations and define what is acceptable and unacceptable corporate behavior. Each of these groups is seeking to educate others to grow a movement to make US democracy real!

These groups have been educating and organizing themselves and others --- no longer simply challenging individual corporate harms, but going after corporate privilege and illegitimate corporate authority. There is tremendous diversity in our goals and strategies --- just what one would expect in a fledgling new social movement.

It is still a small number of groups, but the number is beginning to grow rapidly, and there's no question that this growth represents a profound shift taking place in the consciousness of people in this country and around the world.

Our world is in terrible crisis. We need to focus on those strategies have the best chance of success, rather than those which simply postpone the destruction. Consider these examples as a guide for you and your community. Contact the organizers. Learn from their mistakes. Replicate the projects that make sense to you. There is no time to lose.

{Winter Patriot again}: Did you catch all that? There's even more; follow the links. And bring us some good questions and comments. Saturday morning starts with a bang on Blogathon Weekend. David Cobb will be with us between 8 and 10 Pacific time; that's 11AM to 1PM in the East.

Thanks again to David Cobb for his excellent contributions; we're looking forward to live-blogging with him tomorrow morning.

This item is part of the First Annual BRAD BLOGATHON, conceived and implemented by readers of The BRAD BLOG! Please help keep Brad blogging. You can click HERE to donate using PayPal or your credit card, or click HERE to donate using snail mail. Many thanks on behalf of Brad and the Bloggers behind the Blogathon!