We learned in the early days of the Perot movement (1990s) that the ‘sweet spot’ for change in our country is to be found in the nexus between fiscal accountability (aka “fiscal conservatism”) and political reform (opening up and cleaning up politics as usual). While the two parties have everyone fighting about social issues, or even now on the very fiscal sanity and soundness of the country, special interests are stealing the country, state, counties and cities blind. Example: in the midst of massive cuts in education in the Texas 2011 legislative session, the legislature couldn’t get it together to stop such raids on the budget from the likes of the billionaires at Formula 1 racing. No kidding!
What do we mean by political reform? It’s not simply a myriad of election reforms needed to level the playing field between ALL the political players so as to increase political competition. Political reform is about the people being fully engaged in the political process. No matter how many election law reforms get passed, without the participation and, we pray for, the unification of the American people focused on opening up and cleaning up the game otherwise known as “politics”, nothing will ultimately change — for the better anyway.
Below are just some of the election reforms you, as a voter, need to know about. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list.
Note: After you read through these, be sure to read, “Who Will Organize the Independents” here. This will tell you much more about how fiscal and political reform are inseparable and are ‘where it’s at’ for a true small “i” independent political movement across Texas and our country — in our humble opinion!
A Citizens’ Redistricting Commission: The redistricting debacle in Texas, a private war waged by the Governor of Texas Rick Perry and other leading members of the Republican Party, including Congressman and House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay, cost Texas taxpayers at least $10 million. The good news is that this has broadened the call to disarm both parties of their redistricting weapons with a citizens’ redistricting commission. When the Democrats held power, they missed their opportunity when State Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) introduced legislation for a citizen’s redistricting commission similar to those in the states of Iowa and Arizona. Unfortunately, Sen. Wentworth’s model did not include independent representation on the commission. Independent Texans’ model is comprised of equal numbers of Democrats, Republicans and independents (3, 3 and 3), or, better yet, to establish a completely non-partisan commission using state of the art computer programs to simply draw the lines (in accordance with state and federal laws, of course!). Politicians on all sides have proven they have too far a vested interest in the outcome to draw their own district lines.
Whether we enact a Citizens’ Redistricting Commission (like they do in Arizona) or create a department within state government (like they do in Iowa), there must be a strict set of criteria followed, using a computer program, to insure fairness to all parties and to non-aligned voters. This reform, alone, would dramatically change, for the better, Texas elections, not to mention the politics in Texas.
For more information you can go here: www.fairvote.org
Campaign Finance Reform: We support full and timely disclosure of campaign contributions over the internet and prohibition of corporate funds and union dues for political campaigns. There should be criminal penalties and forfeiture of office for proven violations of campaign finance laws. They should be uniformly enforced against all parties and candidates.
Independent Texans wants to see a thoroughgoing debate on what is real campaign finance reform, which is a tricky question in our form of a democratic republic. Why? Because, until Texas voting is seriously reformed (by the other means mentioned in this Political Reform section), most of the tried methods of campaign finance reform resulted in favoring one of the two major parties and stifling political competition from outside the system.
Electronic Voting: Robert Dill, PhD, Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University testified before the Carter-Baker Commission on Election Reform, in Houston, Texas on April 18, 2005. Among other things, he said, “You don’t need a Ph.D. in computer science to understand it. Computer systems are so complex that no one really knows what goes on inside them. We don’t know how to find all the errors in a computer system; we don’t know how to make sure that a system is secure or that it hasn’t been corrupted (possibly even by its designers); and we don’t know how to ensure that the systems in use are running the software they are supposed to be running.” Professor Dill’s organization, and the leading professional organization of computer scientists in the country, Association for Computing Machinery, are calling for one of two things. The system can be made trustworthy by having the voter fill out his or her own ballot, or by allowing each voter to check the ballot filled out by the scribe. Laws in 24 states, so far, have been passed to support this.
In June of 2006 a lawsuit was filed in Texas to force the Secretary of State to address the need to secure Texas voting machines. Watch our news section for update on this and other Texas elections updates.
For more information, go to VerifiedVoting.org.
Fair Ballot Access: Independents and third parties must gather 30 times more signatures to get on the ballot for President than Democrats and Republicans. There are 50 different sets of rules for access to the ballot for federal office in the 50 states! Federal election ballot access should be fair and uniform. A bill has languished in Congress since the early 1980s. The Fair Elections Bill, most recently introduced by Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas), establishing uniform standards for ballot access in all 50 states, is long overdue.
In the battle for Governor of Texas in 2006, with no less than two independents seeking access to the ballot (Carole Keeton Strayhorn, aka One Tough Grandma and Kinky Friedman), an avalanche of Texas politics articles ran in daily and weekly press calling for political reform of our ballot access laws. Join Independent Texans to add your voice for fair ballot access — and we predict we’ll need your voice for the 2007 legislative session where we expect much more traction to open up the Texas ballot for the independent voters of Texas.
For more www.ballot-access.org.
In the 2005 state legislative session in Texas, leading members of the Libertarian Party of Texas helped write a bill that was introduced to simply eliminate the onerous requirement in Texas (one of only two states in the country that does so) that voters who cast a vote in either major party primary cannot sign an independent candidate or new party petition. This, in itself, would be a major reform of the ballot access law in Texas. For now, Texas is in the top three most difficult states for a statewide independent candidate or new party to get on the ballot. Why? They must gather somewhere between 45,000-65,000 valid signatures from folks who did not vote in the primary in 57 to 75 days!
Fair & Open Debates: The Commission on Presidential Debates, which currently receives tax exemption, is controlled by the two parties and has historically excluded independent and third party candidates from the presidential debates. Polls have shown that the American people want the debates open to candidates of all ballot qualified parties and candidates. A truly non-partisan body should be established and fair and clear criteria established for inclusion of all ballot qualified candidates and parties in the national debates. We support the same for Texas election debates.
For more info opendebates.org.
Initiative, Referendum and Recall: The mother of all reforms is the citizens’ right to statewide initiative and referendum. 24 states have enjoyed the citizens’ right to petition to place initiatives and referenda on the statewide ballot since the early 1900s. Unfortunately, Texas is not one of them, although we do enjoy I&R (including the right to recall) at the municipal level. Women’s suffrage, labor rights, social security and many more reforms were won through the citizens initiative process in our country. In recent times it seems the only way to enact any real political reforms — like term limits, campaign finance reform, redistricting reform, fair ballot access reform, is through the I&R petition process. We strongly support Texans right to initiative, referendum and recall at all levels of elections. What’s more, I,R & R are, likely, our only hope for stopping special interest deals that have many Texans up in arms right now — such as the mega-boondoggle of the century, The Trans Texas Corridor, and the “double-tax” toll road plan being pushed by Gov. Perry, et al. Texas Governor Rick Perry, et al..
Texas politics today will be forever changed (for the better) by Texans, at last, winning the right to statewide I&R.
Furthermore, in an extraordinary move by State Comptroller and independent running for Texas Governor, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, has called upon all candidates in all state races in ‘06 to declare their support for giving Texans the right to statewide I&R. (Note: If the “tough Grandma” wins this election, she’s going to need I&R to get around a special interest driven Texas legislature. Hats off to her for her tough love of Texas!)
Learn all about I&R nationally and in Texas at InitiativeforTexas.org.
Instant Runoff Voting/Approval Voting: There are several different ways that votes can be cast and counted to promote more political competition. Instant runoff voting and approval voting are two possible methods. Under IRV, a voter ranks the candidates in order of the voter’s preference. Approval Voting allows voters to vote for as many candidates in a race as they like, the one with the most votes wins. IRV and approval voting eliminate costly runoff elections. They also eliminate the “spoiler” factor by candidates who appear to have less of a chance of winning. They both also add to a more positive debate by encouraging candidates to appeal to supporters of their opponents. And, neither require a constitutional amendment to eliminate the provision that candidates receive a simple majority to win an election.
Check out IRV at fairvote.org
Same Day Voter Registration: Same Day Voter Registration will permit citizens to register and vote on Election Day. States with SDVR enjoy 5%to 25% higher voter turnout rates. Turnout in Texas in the last election was even lower than the national average, at only 48%, and in single digits among youth. SDVR has proven to increase youth participation. It can be a boost to independent candidates (and therefore, independent voters), in particular, who tend to attract younger and newer voters. Many voters don’t get interested in the elections until the last month of the campaign, after registration rolls are closed. SDVR will allow these voters to participate. What is more, it forces incumbents to campaign beyond their small number of “prime voters.” To protect against fraud, individuals would be required to show one or more proofs of identification with their address on it and also sign an affidavit.
Term Limits: George Washington himself turned down a third term because he believed our elected leaders should not enjoy permanent incumbency. Term limits is a powerful tool against the Democrat/Republican incumbency protection racket. We support term limits as proposed by U.S. Terms Limits (www.termlimits.org) limiting the terms of Senators and members of Congress to between 6 and 8 years. We also need to eliminate the loopholes that exist in some term limits laws that were passed over the last decade. For example, we already have term limits of 6 years on the Austin City Council. However, council incumbents can merely switch seats or gather signatures to circumvent Austin’s local term limits law!
Term limits bring an end to life-long career politicians, and allows for citizen-run rather than special interest-run legislatures. Public opinion polls in Texas showed that support for term limits was strong among rank and file Republicans, Democrats and independents. While Texans have overwhelmingly supported term limits at the municipal level and in the polls (75%), the state legislature has refused to enact legislation that would place term limits upon itself. Our only alternative, therefore, is to force our legislature to place a Constitutional Amendment on the ballot in 2007, which would allow the people of Texas to enact Initiative and Referendum. Then citizens can petition to place term limits, and other efforts to reform Texas elections mentioned in this section, on the ballot for a vote of the people.
Non-Partisan Municipal Elections: We support the efforts across the country to enact non-partisan city elections.Texas municipal elections are already non-partisan. Taking parties out of local elections allows for a less partisan debate and breaks down the control of parties over local elections allowing more grassroots candidates and campaigns can more easily compete.
The rules for petitions should be simplified. A petition is supposed to demonstrate that the candidate has enough public support to be listed on the ballot. The information necessary to make this showing of public support consists of signatures and addresses of people who are qualified to vote for the office in question. Many states require only this information on candidate petitions.
The Texas petition requirements for parties and statewide candidates are too high. Prior to 1967, parties in Texas needed only to hold conventions in 20 counties and a statewide convention to nominate candidates for the ballot. However in 1967 the Texas legislature passed a requirement that parties gather petition signatures equal to 1% of the voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election (which usually amounted about 45,000 signatures), from those who did not vote in the most recent primary, and in only 75 days! Statewide independent candidates had even less time, only 60 days. Since 1992, bills to reduce the signatures to about 10,000 and to expand the petition period to 6 months have died in committee. We support such efforts to ease ballot access petition requirements.
Voters should be permitted to sign as many petitions as they want. Only Texas and a few other states prohibit voters from signing more than one petition for the same office. Only Texas and three other states (Nebraska, New York and West Virginia) prohibit people who voted in the primary from signing petitions for independent candidates. This prohibition unnecessarily limits people’s First Amendment freedoms of speech and association.
For lots more on this subject (and many other election reforms) go to Rich Winger’s site: http://www.ballot-access.org/
We would need a constitutional amendment in Texas to permit proportional representation. Under our winner take all system, every vote does not count. Since only the winner gets to govern, therefore, only the votes that elected the winner truly count. Proportional Representation is a way of making sure that every vote does count.
Proportional representation is a structural political reform that changes not merely the outcome and the process, but the culture of politics itself. Proportional representation is a system in which the State House of Representatives and State Senate, and local City Councils would be established according to the proportionality of the vote. If a party or coalition fielding candidates get 15% of the vote, it gets 15% of the seats; and so on. This arrangement invites diverse constituencies to relate more directly to one another, rather than being controlled or censored by dominant blocs within whatever major party they happen to be.
To lean more about proportional representation go to: