2012: The Game Changing Implications of the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS)
Tom Atlee recently described the game changing potential of the Interactive Voter Choice System in the following terms:
"The participatory social-networking capacity of the Interactive Voter Choice System shifts voters' allegiance and attention from parties, ideologies, and political categories to the actual policies they want to see implemented. The system then helps them ally with others who want to see those policies implemented, regardless of their diverse political beliefs or reasons for favoring those policies. In the process, IVCS gives rise to an empowering, collectively intelligent, evolving, self-organizing political ecosystem which can enable citizens to do the following:
- clarify and push for policies they want, creating their own personal "platforms"
- network with others to form coalitions or ad hoc lobbying groups to push preferred policies
- field candidates outside of the party system to promote the policies they want
- create new political parties
- work within existing parties to shape their platforms and performance
- hold elected representatives accountable for their performance on favored policies
- create parallel "shadow government" structures and policies
- take over political parties and dissolve them and, through all of the above, to
- ultimately move our politics beyond party politics and ideologies altogether.
"Imagine a politics where one hardly ever hears 'liberal' or 'conservative' or even 'transpartisan', but only discussion of the issues. Imagine a politics where grassroots organizing is finally on a level playing field -- or even favorable playing field -- with the big money players. Imagine the already-surveyed popular preferences -- like single payer health care and ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- readily becoming the official policy of our government.
"I honestly think IVCS is one of the most important emerging forms of political leverage we have available. Of course it can only do its job if it is well-funded for software development, viral promotion, and political strategizing so it can launch with strong popular appeal, participation, and well-thought-out security safeguards to prevent its marginalization, subversion or co-optation. If that happens soon enough, the chances are extremely high that it will have a decisive positive impact on the critical watershed 2012 election and every election after that. It could be a total game-changer."
When I read Tom's article, my immediate reaction was that he had explained IVCS and its game changing potential in the most compelling terms that have been written on the subject. So I shared the article with a number of people who have expressed interest in IVCS. Their enthusiastic response was that they got the big picture, but were still unclear about how IVCS actually works. They asked for a clear explanation of how it enables voters, not political parties or special interests, to determine the outcomes of elections. How can voters use the system to run and elect their own candidates? I have written this post to answer these questions.
Sheer frustration caused the idea for IVCS to pop into my head in 2004 during a campaign event for Howard Dean during his presidential primary bid. While milling around with his supporters waiting for Dean to start a nationwide conference call, I realized that his campaign slogan "You have the power" didn't jibe with the powerless role supporters like myself were relegated to playing at the event.
The way it was structured made it impossible for me to do what I came to do, which was to pressure Dean to remain true to his initial opposition to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, an issue I felt he had begun to waffle on. I also wanted to see if I could get other supporters to join me in pressing Dean not to renege on his opposition to the war.
The absence of any way for me to press my concern, and rally other anti-war supporters, hit home to me a political fact that I had not fully appreciated before. It is that in U.S. politics, electoral candidates conduct their campaigns on a "take it or leave it" basis. I had been coming to this conclusion gradually over time, but attending Dean's event and seeing how much he and his modus operandi had changed since the first rally I had attended in the summer of 2003 brought it home in a very forceful and depressing way.
The main goal of most campaigning candidates, to my way of thinking, is not to find out what their prospective constituents want them to do if they are elected, but to get them to embrace the agendas the candidates think will get them the most votes. Although they often conduct opinion polls, their objective is to use the results to figure out how to frame their targeted mixed messages to re-interpret reality for voters, and cajole disparate voting blocs into voting for them for different reasons. Campaigns are about defining and interpreting reality for voters, and "imaging" the candidates so that they appear to represent the best solution to the problematic versions of "reality" the campaigns create.
This systemic duplicity is basically a reversal of the democratic theory that elected officials should represent the people. Candidates do not seek or run on mandates from their constituents. Instead, they get voters to vote for them by manipulating their perceptions of reality and their images of the candidates themselves. Once these disingenuous candidates get into office, they can turn democratic theory upside down and claim that the voters who voted for them gave them a mandate to enact the candidates' agendas!
While I didn't think that Dean was disingenuous in any way, and I was impressed by the wonderfully innovative ways his campaign staff had created to use the Internet to keep his supporters close to the campaign, I could see from what was going on at the event that his campaign was beginning to resemble traditional campaigns. Even though I had initially thought that Dean and I were on the same page about the Iraq war, he was moving in the direction of turning that page, and there seemed to be nothing I could do about it at the event.
What waiting for Dean to start the pre-scheduled conference call that would connect dozens of campaign events around the country, I tried without success to initiate issue-oriented conversations. I thought that if I could find other supporters who shared my concern about his weakening position on the war, we might be able to make common cause and pressure Dean to reinforce his opposition to the war.
But I quickly realized that the meeting was not designed to enable us to influence Dean's agenda, or even engage in a substantive cross-fertilization of policy ideas among ourselves. Just like similar campaign events that were being organizing by other candidates around the country through Meetup.com, it had different goals. The first, I thought, was to give us the impression that we were part of a nationwide campaign (albeit as passive spectators, in my book) that was gaining momentum. The second was to get us to make financial contributions to Dean's campaign, which most of us had already started doing, online and offline.
My realization that the organizers and issue-oriented supporters like myself were at odds on the purpose of the meeting heightened my frustration. It increased my determination to figure out how to transform the event into one that would deliver on Dean's "You have the power" exhortation by enabling me and possibly other supporters to influence his agenda.
The idea I came up with was that each attendee could jot down on a piece of paper a list of the policies he or she wanted to see Dean implement, if he were elected. Then we could combine all the policies in one list. These policies would constitute OUR AGENDA, which we could email to Dean's headquarters. If he wanted our votes, Dean would have to show us that he had incorporated the priorities contained in our agenda into HIS AGENDA.
As I thought about the details of how such a process could work, I realized that most of the people attending the event did not know each other, and that they probably held fairly diverse preferences and priorities. It was also likely that the depth and breadth of their understanding of the policy options open to them would vary considerably.
Since I could also imagine them differing over what they each meant by the policies they were supporting or opposing, and how they defined these options, I decided that instead of writing down their priorities in their own words, the best way to get the process of agenda setting started, and possibly segue into a dialogue, would be to provide each attendee a pre-set list of recognizable policy options from which they could choose those they were most concerned about. This modus operandi would have the added benefit of exposing participants to a whole spectrum of options they might not have ever thought about before.
In a leap of imagination, I decided that one fairly easy and inviting way to present these options would be to give each person a deck of playing cards with the name of a policy option written on the front of each card, like withdrawal from Iraq, with details regarding the option written on the back of the card, e.g., timing, etc. If people didn't find options they were looking for, they could use the wild cards in the deck to create and write down their own options.
Initially, attendees could individually could go through their card decks and select the cards with the issues they cared most about. Then they could prioritize their preferences by putting the card with the option that was their top priority at the top of their selection of cards, and then continue on down to the card they least preferred of all those they had selected.
After this step was completed, I thought that participants in this political card game that I would later call Citizens' Winning Hands would be interested in comparing their choices with those of other people, and the group as a whole. This could be done by having one person take a new deck and hold up each card to see how many people had selected that policy. Then everyone could see what were the priorities of the group as a whole, in rank order.
I thought that this tallying exercise could spark a discussion of the various policy preferences people had chosen. It would let those who felt strongly about certain policies argue on behalf of their priorities, and try to convince other people to embrace them as well. I, of course, would argue that withdrawal from Iraq should be the most important, but I knew that I would have to defend that choice to attendees who had chosen a policy option opposing withdrawal.
To me, this agenda-setting exercise would have transformed what I thought was a rather meaningless campaign event into something worthwhile because it would get to the heart of what democratic decision-making is all about. It would bring voters together to express their needs and wants of a political nature, and help them develop a consensus on what they want government and their elected representatives to do to meet their collective needs and wants.
In the context of Dean's campaign event, we would be actively participating in setting our own individual agendas as well as a collective agenda for the group as a whole, and then using both to try to influence Dean's agenda. Once we had set our individual and collective agendas, we could exercise the power that Dean's campaign slogan said we had, by transmitting them to Dean's campaign headquarters via the Internet. There, they could be tallied with those of other groups like ours, and integrated into Dean's agenda -- assuming of course that he wanted the votes of us agenda-setters who had sent them in. I liked the idea of transmitting our agenda electronically because it meant that the millions of voters who were climbing onto Dean's bandwagon could really take a stand and collectively make their individual stands count.
Having run for elective office myself, I also thought that Dean's campaign staff would be interested in knowing which supporters in various parts of the country were advocating which policy priorities. I even imagined that his staff might be interested in getting together groups of supporters who shared the same priorities and tasking them with fleshing out these priorities so the campaign would know exactly what they wanted. This would provide direct grassroots input into Dean's platform and transform his supporters into active players in determining the direction of his campaign.
IVCS Matures and Migrates to the web
After the event and Dean's defeat in the primary, I kept the original idea of IVCS percolating in the back of my mind for several years until after the 2006 elections. Although the new Congress brought in a new Democratic majority in the Senate, Congress did not move to end the war in Iraq, contrary to public opinion polls showing that a majority of Americans favored ending it.
This tragic disconnect between the people and the nation's lawmakers forced me to finally admit to myself that the U.S. system of government is so far from being democratic that even a majority of voters are unable to get their elected representatives to end a five year war that most people think the U.S. should never have started in the first place. With the untapped potential of my agenda setting mechanism uppermost in my mind, I decided the time had come for me to figure out how to use it to empower voters to replace this failed system with a democratically elected government controlled by the people. My intuition told me that the capabilities of the mechanism could be expanded to empower them to do this.
As I mulled over the possibilities, it became obvious to me that not only could IVCS enable voters to influence the agendas of electoral candidates and elected officials, but, even more importantly, it could connect like-minded voters with common policy preferences to each other so they could join forces to actually run and elect their own candidates who would enact their common agendas into law.
IVCS could use the Internet and a single social networking website to connect voters to each other horizontally, voter-to-voter, without intermediaries, instead of vertically through the intermediary of a campaign or a political party that is controlled from the top down. With social networking website Facebook showing that hundreds of millions of users can be connected to each other worldwide, a website built around IVCS could provide agenda-setting and consensus-building tools to the entire U.S. electorate of two hundred million eligible voters.
As I thought about the possibilities that would flow from migrating my idea for voter agenda-setting to the Internet, I realized that it was statistically and technically feasible to connect any number of voters with similar policy priorities to each other so they can join forces to create voting blocs that can elect representatives who will enact their priorities into law. These blocs could work inside or outside existing political parties, or create new parties.
All voters would have to do to tap into this possibility is to submit the policy options they choose from the IVCS Policy Options Database I was creating to the IVCS Policy Priorities Database. They can then query the priorities database to identify voters with statistically similar priorities, by ZIP code. They can use the website's internal email to contact these voters, as described on the homepage of the IVCS website. (Prototypes of the Policy Options Database and the website can be viewed by clicking here and here.)
Voters who identify and directly contact other voters with similar policy priorities can form initially form their own groups, just like on Facebook, and then transform their groups into voting blocs, using online organizing tools provided on the IVCS website, which can perform the same functions as political parties in terms of selecting and running candidates for office. But they don't actually have to form political parties to do this. Instead, their voting blocs can run their candidates in party primaries on the lines of existing parties instead of creating their own parties -- just as the Tea Party did in the 2010 elections when it ran its candidates on Republican lines.
However, IVCS-enabled voting blocs will differ quite significantly from traditional political parties because their voter members will be empowered to set the blocs' agendas and use their agendas to screen, select and nominate candidates who endorse their agendas and pledge to exert their best efforts to enact them into law if they are elected. Once these blocs elect their candidates to office, they can use their agendas as legislative mandates and hold their representatives accountable for their track records in implementing them.
Regardless of the stance that voting blocs take towards political parties, they will be more powerful politically and electorally than political parties because they will fundamentally change the institutional framework of electoral politics. That's because they will be able to create broad-based electoral coalitions around transpartisan policy agendas that can easily outflank and outmaneuver those of stand-alone political parties and their candidates.
IVCS-enabled voting blocs can use IVCS agenda-setting and consensus-building tools to engage voters across the political spectrum in negotiating which priorities to include and exclude from their agendas, and which candidates to include in common slates. They can continue negotiating and even voting on these issues, using the IVCS Voting Utility, until they attract the number of votes they need to elect their candidates.
In essence, IVCS provides voters across the political spectrum the leverage and the tools they need to decide who runs for office, who gets elected, and what policies are enacted into law, as I describe in 2012: How U.S. Voters Can Wrest Control of Congress from Special Interests.
The 2012 Elections: Changing the Game
Polls show that the 2010 elections were a triumph of the manipulative techniques used by disingenuous electoral candidates, political parties and special interests to influence and distort voters' perceptions of reality and the intentions of the candidates themselves. A large segment of the voting population elected representatives who advocate policies that conflict with the policies voters prefer, policies that will exacerbate the economic and financial distress that voters want lawmakers to alleviate.
One such poll shows unequivocally that voters are far more concerned about their jobs and the nation's economy than the nation's budget deficit, and want the nation's lawmakers to give top priority to spurring job-creating economic growth. They are adamant that lawmakers "'keep their hands off Social Security and Medicare' as they attempt to address the national deficit", according to one post-election .
But the newly elected representatives in Congress have joined with incumbents of both parties in announcing their intention to do just the opposite. They plan to reduce Social Security and Medicare spending as a deficit reduction measure, which will increase unemployment, and enact $100 billion in budget cuts that will stymie job creation and economic recovery.
There is only one way that the U.S. electorate can put an immediate end to this disconnect between voters and the lawmakers they vote into office -- without changing the gerrymandering, campaign finance and election laws that have been passed to create the disconnect. It is the Interactive Voter Choice System.
That's because IVCS enables grassroots voters across the political spectrum to take control of the nation's agenda-setting process, and form winning voting blocs around transpartisan agendas that can elect representatives who will enact their agendas into law. They can form winning coalitions and electoral bases around transpartisan agendas by aligning with old and new parties, labor unions and political advocacy groups, while offering them unprecedented opportunities to mobilize voters at the grassroots.
Most importantly, if these groups engage with voters throughout the country in on-going, collective efforts to create genuine agenda-setting and coalition-building processes, they can neutralize the manipulative techniques employed by special interests and their political accomplices to distort voters perceptions of reality and induce them to elect candidates who will enact policies inimical to their best interests.
Moreover, if new third parties and populist movements emerge, these blocs and coalitions can incorporate them into their alliances by using IVCS consensus-building tools to enable all their members to collectively set common agendas and run common slates of candidates. By so doing, they can prevent the fragmentation of the electorate into splinter groups and parties too small to win elections.
Most importantly, on the policy front, by using IVCS to elect a new Congress that is accountable to the American people, voters can put a stop to the continuing upward transfer of wealth that is financially ruining the middle class and working Americans, due to special interests' control of the real economy, the nation's banking and financial system, and the nation's elected representatives, via their campaign contributions.