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How U.S. Voters Can Wrest Control of Elections from Special Interests: Electing Elizabeth Warren in the 2012 Massachusetts Senat

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Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate seat vacated by Ted Kennedy in 2009 with the support of the special-interest backed Tea Party movement, and large campaign contributions from the banking and financial sector. He was also helped by disaffected working class voters. Whether Brown or another candidate supported by these players runs in 2012, mainstream Massachusetts voters will face an uphill battle trying to elect a senator who will champion their interests against special interests.

The legislative track records of major party lawmakers, especially Congressional representatives, show they are closely aligned with the interests of the corporate financial interests that finance their campaigns. While Democratic and Republican Congressional electoral candidates try to make it appear that there are major differences between them, their votes on key legislative issues tend to be quite similar in reflecting the priorities of their corporate campaign contributors. So regardless of which major party’s candidates voters elect, as hamstrung voters jockey back and forth between the two parties, voters get roughly the same special interest-favoring legislation.

Not only are the major party candidates unlikely to provide voters real alternatives in 2012, but the rumored third party presidential candidate who might emerge from the special interest-backed No Labels party, and the Americans Elect online nominating convention, is likely to run on an agenda crafted by the same conservative financial interests that are bankrolling both of these organizations, as well as the Democratic and Republican parties. Although No Labels and Americans Elect claim they are focused on the so-called “center” of American politics, comprised of the nearly 40% of voters who have defected from the ranks of registered Democrats and Republicans, both appear to be pursuing a conservative fiscal agenda articulated by financial fat cats like Peter Peterson.

While these political facts of life may make it seem impossible to imagine a scenario in which Massachusetts voters could elect a senator who would champion their interests, there is one scenario that might work. If Harvard law professor and consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren decides to enter the race, as she is being encouraged to do, she just might be able to take up the cause of mainstream Massachusetts voters and defeat these special interests to win herself the Massachusetts Senate seat if she and her supporters take advantage of two untapped political levers. The first lever is the large scale collective action power of the Internet, which has been showing increasing political muscle, and the second is the online voter mobilization potential of a unique social networking platform, the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS), now in development.

In two earlier posts in this series, I've analyzed the potential impact of IVCS on the 2012 elections in the 8th Congressional District of Virginia, and also in the coming Virginia Senate election contest that appears to be shaping up between former Senator George Allen and former Governor Tim Kaine. In this post, I'll show how Warren’s supporters can leverage both the collective action potential of the Internet and IVCS’s unique voter-mobilization tools and services to win both primary and general elections on the Democratic line in the 2012 Massachusetts Senate race. First, a brief primer on IVCS.

How It Works

IVCS enables voters to get out of a reactive mode and into the driver’s seat of U.S. elections. It is a voter-driven, political crowdsourcing platform that enables individual voters and political activists to bring virtually unlimited numbers of voters with common policy priorities into winning voting blocs and electoral coalitions that voters control. These blocs and coalitions can work within existing or new political parties to run and elect candidates to office who pledge to enact their priorities into law.

The IVCS social networking platform provides voters across the political spectrum free agenda-setting, organizing and consensus-building tools on a single website. The agenda-setting tools enable activists and voters to build personal networks with other voters who share their policy priorities. The platform’s organizing-building tools enable them to transform their networks into voting blocs and electoral coalitions hosted on the website. Its consensus-building tools enable them to build winning electoral bases of broad cross-sections of voters that run and elect candidates whom they can hold accountable for enacting their priorities into law. These electoral victories will enable U.S. voters to eliminate the ever widening gap between voters' priorities and the legislation enacted by lawmakers who follow the dictates of their special interest campaign contributors.

Most importantly, voting blocs that use IVCS tools to build voter-controlled electoral coalitions and democratize political parties, by giving their members real decision-making power to set their agendas and select their candidates, can neutralize the influence of special interest money in elections. For they can use web-based IVCS communication tools to get their message out and get their voters to the polls without special interest money. Moreover, by involving voters across the political spectrum in analyzing, weighing and debating policy priorities, they will also be able to counter the cognitive distortions in voters’ perceptions that special interests create by spreading false information and political propaganda.

Significantly, IVCS-enabled voting blocs, coalitions and political parties can prevent the fragmentation of the U.S. electorate into losing splinter groups and parties too small to win elections, and neutralize the impact of three special interest-backed parties, assuming the rumored third major party materializes and runs candidates in the 2012 presidential election. They can use IVCS consensus-building tools to wean away mainstream voters from these special interest-backed parties by giving them decision-making influence over policy agenda setting across the board and candidate selection that none of these parties is inclined to do.

These consensus-building tools enable voting blocs to create broad-based coalitions among large cross-sections of voters around transpartisan policy agendas. They can involve virtually unlimited numbers of voters in making decisions and resolving disagreements by using the IVCS Voting Utility to vote on their agendas, which candidates to run, contested issues and proposed political alliances and coalitions.

Since problem solving in the system will be web-based and distributed, rather than centralized, blocs and bloc-run coalitions will be able to quickly increase their voting strength by using the social networking capabilities of the Internet, coupled with IVCS organizing and consensus-building tools to reach out to other voters online. Moreover, they will adapt to their political environments more quickly and effectively than formally-organized political parties organized around rigid platforms. They will spontaneously merge into a nationwide yet decentralized Internet-based web of voter-controlled political organizations. Their members will be able to interact with each other at the speed of light through the networking capabilities of the IVCS website and rapidly supersede legacy parties and special interests as the driving forces in the American political system. (For more information about IVCS, click here.)

How Warren Supporters Can Use IVCS to Elect Warren in the 2012 Massachusetts Senate Race

Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren is a nationally-known and highly-respected consumer advocate who served as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel appointed to monitor the implementation of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), which bailed out insolvent banking and financial institutions during the 2008 – 2009 financial crisis. Although Warren was widely heralded as the most able person to take the reins of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) created by Congress after the crisis to protect consumers from predatory banks and financial institutions, Congressional opposition from Republican lawmakers has prevented her from being appointed to head up the new agency, which she originally proposed.

President Obama yielded to the opposition and appointed her only to oversee the development of the bureau as his Assistant. Since the bureau will be housed in the Treasury Department, she was also named Special Advisor to Treasury Secretary Geithner, despite the fact that they are reportedly at odds on numerous fronts. Even after assuming these positions, Warren has continued to be relentlessly attacked in the corporate media, vilified by right-wing lawmakers, and castigated by banking and financial interests – at the same time that she has become an heroic figure to supporters of financial reform. In light of increasing indications that effective financial reform is on-hold in the 112th Congress, and Warren’s appointment as head of the bureau is unlikely, support is gathering behind a Warren candidacy for the 2012 Massachusetts Senate race.

If she runs, the economic and political facts of life in that state in 2012 are unlikely to have changed very much since the 2009 election of Republican Scott Brown. If anything, they have worsened. Unemployment and underemployment will still be very high; the banksters and fraudsters will remain unpunished; taxes for the wealthy will remain low and may get lower; austerity will evidently still be the order of the day; at this writing, there's a good chance that Social Security expenditures will be cut before the Spring is out; a new wave of unemployment will be coming from state and local level austerity policies, and from a new round of foreclosures unless the state courts put a stop to them; health care costs and insurance prices will continue to rise; nothing will have been done about the unpopular “health care reform bill”; credit card interest rates will continue to be oppressive; the wars abroad are likely to continue; the “shared pain” of the trumped up fiscal crisis will not be shared by the well-off; and mainstream Americans will be somewhat, but not very much, concerned about public deficits and debts. During yet another election cycle, the economic and financial distress of working Americans will be given short shrift by politicians resorting to culture war issues to avoid talking about the real problems voters are facing. The views of a majority of voters regarding job creation, the distribution of the tax burden, and single payer health care will be ignored, or merely paid lip-service, by candidates whose real agendas reflect the wishes of their corporate campaign financiers.

So, voters will still be really angry at the Democrats for their poor performance in the last Congress, and absolutely livid at the Republicans for their performance in the present one, and their failure to do anything about any of the above -- especially their failure to keep their promises about jobs. In this environment people will be angry at Scott Brown, and they'll be none too happy with Massachusetts's ten House Democrats. All in all, 2012 won't be a good year for incumbents, for candidates of either of the two legacy parties, or for voters, who will be faced with choosing among a traditional Democratic or Republican candidate, or a rumored third party candidate running on a No Labels platform largely inspired by special interest fat cats like Peter Peterson.

The unique contribution of IVCS to this race (and any race, for that matter) is that it enables voters to join forces to set their own policy agendas, support announced candidates or put their own candidates on the ballot who will honor their agendas, and build electoral bases large enough to elect them to office.

We know from polls that a majority of Americans are fed up with both major parties and would like to replace most elected representatives in Congress. Any voter or political activist in Massachusetts can get the ball rolling to create a voting bloc to draft Warren by using the IVCS Policy Options Database on the IVCS website to set their individual policy agendas, and create their own personal home page on the IVCS website (which they can make public or keep private). This voter can query the IVCS Policy Priorities Database to see how many other Massachusetts voters have already selected priorities similar to theirs, contact them and invite them to the bloc.

These voters can form the nucleus of an ever expanding voting bloc hosted on the IVCS website, with its own home page, internal email and messaging tools. The organizers and members set their own rules for running the voting bloc. They can incrementally increase the size of their bloc by reaching out through their own personal online social networks to friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and members of like-minded groups of all stripes. They can invite them to join their bloc by accessing the website to set their agendas, compare them with those of the bloc as a whole, and decide to join the bloc if their priorities converge.

They should have no trouble ramping up the size of their bloc to attain decisive electoral strength, given polls showing that 60% - 80% of Americans are so dissatisfied with the Democratic and Republican parties that they want to see most incumbents in Congress defeated. They will be able to grow their bloc by leaps and bounds if they make systematic efforts to recruit new members by getting the word out that all of its members will be able to play an active role in setting the bloc’s agenda and formulating its electoral strategy. They can hold face-to-face and online “town meetings” to discuss the track record of Scott Brown, and collectively decide whether to get behind Warren and urge her to make a primary bid on the Democratic line. Assuming the bloc decides to do so, it can contact her directly to open negotiations to set a common agenda and address key strategic and logistical questions. Of course, the bloc will have to demonstrate its ability to gain the electoral strength it will need to get her elected in a primary and a general election

Needless to say, the Democratic primary for the Massachusetts Senate seat held by Scott Brown, as well as the general election, are likely to feature highly competitive races driven by the same divisive ideological and emotional issues that major candidates always use to gin up a winning electoral base on the part of supporters dispirited by their unsatisfactory legislative track records. IVCS can play a decisive role for a candidate like Warren entering the electoral fray by helping her forge a winning transpartisan electoral base that unites rather than divides the electorate.

A voting bloc that is large enough to win a primary election and possibly swing a close general election, but has an agenda that is likely to prove controversial to general election voters, could actually cost Warren votes if she committed to it. But a voting bloc that works with her to involve a broad cross-section of voters in setting a popular agenda can gain many votes for her, if she commits to the process and the agenda that emerges from it. Not only will the bloc’s members support her in getting out the vote needed to win the primary; but they can subsequently reach out across party lines, especially the lines of the unpopular Democratic and Republican parties, to involve large numbers of disaffected voters, especially those who have defected from the parties to register as Independents, in using IVCS agenda-setting, organizing and consensus-building tools. Such a unique, grassroots, pro-active involvement of voters can grow the voting bloc into a broad-based electoral coalition well beyond the ideological confines of the narrowing electoral bases of the Democratic and Republican parties.

One thing to keep in mind is that IVCS is likely to generate not just one voting bloc in the Massachusetts 2012 Senate race, but several. These blocs and coalitions can decide to run their own candidates or negotiate with candidates who have announced electoral bids. In exchange for the bloc’s support in mobilizing voters on their behalf, blocs can ask candidates to commit to bloc agendas that have already been set or to collaborate with them in creating a joint agenda. If, after these negotiations, candidates win with bloc support, the blocs will be able to hold them accountable in future elections for implementing mutually agreed upon agendas after they take office.

So, let’s assume that by late fall of 2011, IVCS is accelerating the formation of voting blocs and the mobilization of voters throughout the state. The whole roster of candidates for elective office in Massachusetts will find themselves in an unprecedentedly fluid, voter-driven political environment comprised of alternately diverging and converging IVCS-based voting blocs and electoral coalitions committed to enacting specific policy agendas set by their members. They will be rapidly growing in size. Once they have negotiated common agendas, endorsed candidates, and created coalitions and political alliances, they will be capable of mobilizing many hundreds of thousands of voters in Massachusetts and tipping the forthcoming elections in favor of the candidates they decided to support. Voters, not special interests, will be in the driver’s seat of the election.

The ability of IVCS-enabled voting blocs and coalitions to gain traction within the constellation of candidates in the Massachusetts 2012 primary election will depend on the present and anticipated size of specific blocs, the perceived degree of competitiveness of the races being run, the degree to which candidates and blocs can agree on common agendas, the blocs’ and candidates’ capacity to build electoral coalitions that mobilize other voters, as well as the degree to which candidates may be so beholden to special interests that they refuse to commit to enacting bloc formulated agendas.

So, assuming a pro-Warren voting bloc is formed with an agenda likely to be popular among Massachusetts voters, how large would its electoral base have to be in Massachusetts in order for her and the bloc to view the bloc as an effective organizational engine to get her on the ballot for the primary election, such that she would be induced to commit to its agenda?

Answer: if the bloc were the only organization working to put Warren on the ballot of the Democratic Party, bloc members would have to collect approximately 15,000 signatures from registered Democrats in order to be fairly certain of obtaining the minimum 10,000 valid signatures required by state law. Clearly, getting her on the primary ballot would not present an insurmountable hurdle for the voting bloc to overcome, assuming it has implemented a systematic voter recruitment and mobilization strategy that taps into the collective action power of the Internet and the social networking capabilities of IVCS.

For the next hurdle, the number of votes needed to win the primary election itself is quite a bit higher. In 2008, in a primary that wasn't hotly contested, Democratic Senate candidate John Kerry won the election with 335,923 votes out of 487,396 total votes cast. By comparison, in the 2009 special election, Democratic Senate candidate Martha Coakley received 310,227 votes out of 664,195 total votes cast in the Democratic primary.

The ultimately victorious Republican candidate, Scott Brown, won the Republican primary with only 145,465 votes out of 162,706 votes cast. (Once he got on the general election ballot, the donations and voter mobilization assistance he received from Tea Party funders and supporters, combined with the financial contributions he received from banks and financial institutions, enabled him to garner 1,168,178 votes, against 1,060,861 votes cast for his Democratic opponent Coakley in a state that has long been a traditional Democratic strong-hold.)

In view of the 2009 primary results in the Brown-Coakley race, in order for the voting bloc to persuade Warren to get behind the bloc’s agenda, or create a joint agenda, it would have to provide convincing evidence that it could mobilize upwards of 350,000 votes in a 2012 primary, or an average of 35,000 per Congressional District. (If more candidates enter the race, the number of votes the voting bloc needs drops, but it will still have to surpass the total garnered by any other candidate.) This 350,000 figure looks realistic considering that there'll probably be at least 3 or 4 candidates in the Democratic race. Announced, potential, and declined candidates include Martha Coakley, the 2010 Democratic candidate, who appears disinclined to run, with likely contenders including Mike Capuano, Joseph Patrick Kennedy III, Stephen Lynch, and Ed Markey. Three of them are in Congress now and are all very well-known. But the question remains whether an IVCS-enabled voting bloc could deliver 350,000 Democratic primary votes, and whether a candidate like Warren would be sufficiently convinced that it can deliver to commit to a voting bloc's policy agenda and run on it.

This is where a new, emerging political constituency, comprised of young Millennial voters, combined with the collective action power of the Internet, and the political crowdsourcing capabilities of IVCS, can create decisive levers for an insurgent candidate like Warren running an uphill race against major party regulars. Research on the 2008 presidential election demonstrates the margin of victory that Millennials can provide in a tightly divided race, and the effectiveness of web-based social networks in mobilizing them to become actively involved in these races.

Post-election surveys show that upwards of 125,000,000 Americans conducted their political activities during the 2008 presidential election over the Internet -- almost as many people as voted in the election itself. Barack Obama’s victory in that election is credited to his campaign’s ability to use the crowdsourcing capacity of web-based social networks like Facebook and MySpace to recruit young Millennial voters born between 1980 and the early 2000s. He used his campaign’s Facebook and MySpace pages to increase his “fan” base, and then migrate his fans to his campaign website, where his political organizers had built a huge database of voter files with many different kinds of information on each voter.

They used these files and the data they contained to transmit a steady stream of personally-tailored messages to each supporter. These messages were aimed at enticing them not only to volunteer to hold events in their local communities, distribute flyers, and solicit cam paign contributions, but at constantly encouraging them to use their own personal social networks to recruit their friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to Obama’s campaign website. When it came time to get out the vote, the original database had swelled to nearly 13,000,000 voters with whom the campaign could communicate instantly via email and text messages to drive his voters to the polls. The outcome was that Millennials provided Obama 80% of his popular vote margin over McCain.

With IVCS, it is voters rather than candidates who will use the political crowdsourcing potential of web-based social networks to run winning campaigns they control on behalf of agendas they set and candidates they select. Better social networking tools than Obama’s campaign used to create his margin of victory will be available to Millennial members of IVCS-enabled voting blocs hosted on the IVCS website. It is quite likely that they will not work as actively for Obama in 2012 as they did in 2008, because his policies have given them, along with most of the American middle class, the proverbial royal screw, when it comes to jobs and prospects for their futures. In 2012, they'll be looking for new, non-establishment, non-special interest-backed candidates to support. Elizabeth Warren may well be one of them.

Given the ubiquity of Millennials, the largest generation of voters in history, who will comprise 25% of the electorate in 2012 and 40% of the electorate in 2020, and their well-established sophistication using the web to build individual personal social networks comprised of hundreds of friends, family and co-workers, a voting bloc supporting Warren should have little difficulty building a winning electoral base. Once unemployed and uninsured, Millennials will join forces with disaffected mainstream voters to formulate policy agendas for bettering the condition of the middle class and providing full employment. They will use their social networking finesse to build a powerful web-based political constituency that can easily decide both the primary and general elections in Warren’s favor.

She is likely to commit to its policy agenda and to join forces with voting bloc members to win the Massachusetts primary and general elections because together, they can create a transpartisan electoral base that can outmaneuver and outflank the declining electoral bases of the two major parties. She and her supporters within the bloc, and whatever electoral coalitions they create can use IVCS tools and databases to continuously hone their policy agenda, and expand their electoral base to counter the fiscally conservative, special interest-backed agendas that the two parties (and possibly the third major party in formation) will be trying to foist off on a hapless public, which would be without recourse were it not for IVCS.

The game-changing nature of IVCS will further provide a paradigm-shifting reference point and perspective not only for a voting bloc supporting Warren in Massachusetts; but also for other voting blocs in other states running insurgents against major party regulars. As IVCS-enabled voting blocs take the place of traditional political parties as the reference point for political activists as well as mainstream voters, they will engender viewpoints among their members that defy contemporary dogmas and reject traditional political discourse presented to them by the corporate-controlled mainstream media outlets.

As participation in IVCS-enabled voting blocs and coalitions becomes habitual and sustained, political propaganda disseminated by special interests will be dissected and rejected. Corporate political advertising will be critically evaluated by voting bloc members, especially since their advertising messages are by necessity and design very simplistic, while the dialogues, debates and internal communications inside voting blocs will be richer, more layered, and more textured. Typical political mailings will be laughed at. Attempts to divide and distract voters with sensationalism will be viewed as cynical attempts to manipulate the perceptions of voting bloc members. Even the debates among major candidates will be viewed through the reality-based conceptual lenses being developed continuously within the voting blocs. Debates by talking points and disingenuous counterpoints will be recognized for the kabuki they are. And when the post-debate spinmeisters appear to claim victory for their candidates, their views will be quickly dismissed.

In brief, IVCS, and the alternative social/political sphere it will create, will insulate voting bloc members from the special interest-controlled sphere of mass politics and mass political persuasion. The blocs will weaken the power and influence of special interests, and undermine the value of special interest-funded advertising and marketing activities that make it so expensive to run for office.

Remember that the reason why political advertising and marketing messages are effective now is because they are targeted at specific identity groups, and designed to divide the electorate into irreconcilable camps. But when conflict-fomenting marketing and advertising confront new political constituencies that can unite to set common transpartisan agendas and voter-controlled voting blocs with winning electoral bases not under the control of special interests, they will lose their fire power. Will the marketers and advertisers be able to adapt to this new dynamic and figure out how to manipulate it? I don't think so, because they won't be able to keep up with the speed and versatility of voting bloc learning processes, and the continuous adaptations of voting bloc agendas and strategies to emerging political realities.

In early 2012, Massachusetts Senate candidate prospect Elizabeth Warren, together with one or more IVCS-enabled voting blocs eager to support her candidacy, will have the opportunity to reach out to each other, assuming the IVCS website is fully up and running. Given the range of choices available in the IVCS Policy Options Database, and the possibility that voters and candidates can add new options to it, it is quite likely that they can negotiate a common, mutually acceptable policy agenda. Assuming that the voting bloc has put in place an effective strategy for attaining the voting strength that it will need to elect Warren in the primary election against Democratic opponents, and the general election against all other candidates, Warren and the bloc are likely to agree to jointly announce her candidacy.

At this point, the bloc can move quickly toward building the electoral base it will need to garner the approximately 35,000 votes on average it will need in each of the Massachusetts electoral districts to win the primary. Warren’s potential for success in the primary will depend, first and foremost, on what she does. If she works within the confines of the present political system, and declines to join forces with an IVCS voting bloc to use IVCS consensus-building tools to create her own constituency around collective transpartisan agenda-setting, while one of her competitors, say Mike Capuano, the Congressman from the Massachusetts 8th, decides to commit, then the primary campaign will be very hard for her to win.

Moving on to the general election, here Warren will probably need about 1.6 million votes, or an average of 160,000 per Congressional district to win the 2012 Senate race. This assumes that roughly 3 million to 3.2 million people will turn out. It is also worth bearing in mind that there may be a third party candidate running on the No Labels ticket who will be targeting so-called “centrist” voters who have defected from the Democratic and Republican parties, and who will receive substantial backing from fiscal conservatives who think that the political stalemate created by the unpopular Democratic and Republican parties is harming the nation’s ability to solve its pressing crises. In this case, the candidates running on the Republican and No Labels ticket will draw votes from a Democratic ticket led by Obama at the top.

So even if Elizabeth Warren wins the Massachusetts Democratic primary, registered Democratic party voters may continue to decline, so disaffected are they with party performance at all levels. Their defection is likely to prevent Warren from winning on the basis of Democratic voters alone. Given her track record in attempting to regulate predatory bankers and financial institutions, she will be at a great disadvantage in competing against candidates like Scott Brown who will be heavily financed by them. So she will not be able to win the general election with only Democratic votes or with traditional Democratic funders.

But she can turn this necessity into a virtue by working with the IVCS voting bloc to forge a transpartisan electoral base. Elizabeth Warren has been a champion of the middle class for some time, and a general election campaign spear-headed by an IVCS voting bloc would enable her to involve middle class voters across the political spectrum in crafting a transpartisan agenda that addresses their economic and financial distress.

Logistically, her IVCS voting bloc would go all out to use IVCS consensus-building tools to forge a winning electoral coalition and mobilize its voters to go to the polls to ensure that Warren wins the general election in 2012. Given overwhelming voter dissatisfaction with establishment incumbents candidates, which is likely to remain unchanged by election day, and the capability of IVCS to forge electoral coalitions whose members espouse the similar policy priorities, and who are motivated to work for the electoral coalition and those they support, I think it's very likely that an IVCS electoral coalition supporting Warren can deliver the 1.6 million votes that it will need to elect Warren and upset Scott Brown.

(Cross-posted at All Life Is Problem Solving and Fiscal Sustainability).

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