Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why Independents Should Demand Internet Voting

What is an "Independent"? Lots of people are asking that question these days. Are Independents conservative or liberal? Are they closet Dems or closet Repubs? Are they more focused on public finance issues than on social issues? Are they moderates, or centrists? Is there such a thing as a political center in the US?

One empirical element shared by Independent identifiers is that they don't identify with either of the two major political parties, which currently dominate US elections and government. In this sense, Independents are not only alienated from the political system, they are excluded from it. They are not just passively unrepresented in our "representative government," they are deliberately ignored by our elected representatives. That is, of course, until those elected officials need their votes in the next two-party system election.

Thanks to modern electronic technology, this need not be.

Imagine this: You are watching candidates debate online or on TV. After each debate you log on to your state's secure voting website, using your own PC, cell phone, or other electronic device. Your voter registration is checked, and then the voting window comes up. You enter your rating of each debater's performance, from 0-9.

Suppose further that entry to the debates is open to everyone who wants to be considered by the voters, and that all candidates are eliminated through a series of such debates. Qualification for candidacy can be as it is now in states like California; i.e., fulfill the signature requirements, pay a filing fee, and you are on the ballot and in the debates.

In this scenario, it is the political parties that are excluded from the candidate selection and election process. Suppose there are a dozen candidates for an office. Two one hour debates can be held per evening. In three evenings all twelve can be heard, considered, and voted on by the electorate. The next week a final debate can be held between the top two, so that the candidate is supported by a majority of the voters.

Here is an election process that can be used for all local, state, and federal offices, with only minor changes in state laws. No constitutional amendment is required. Ballot access is 100% nonpartisan – an Independent's Heaven, right here on Earth. Because no self-serving political party will control the process, the locus of power will move to where it should be in a democracy – to the center of voter preferences.

This picture can become reality by demanding that your state government, state Secretary of State, and local election officials implement an Internet voting system organized along the lines I have suggested. In consideration for their sacrifices and service, you can also demand Internet voting for your state's overseas military personnel. (For more on that, and the opposition to it, see my post on Natalie Tennant here on The Hankster, at, and cited on Rick Hasen's Election Law Blog, at Also see the new "tough love" review of my book, Internet Voting Now! at )

William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.
Face Book:
Twitter: wjkno1
Internet Voting Explained on


richardwinger said...

If California had a system as Dr. Kelleher describes, or if the whole nation had a system like that, we would be better off. But that is not the system California has. Between June and November, the peak season for interest in politics, there are only two candidates who can campaign, be in debates, and receive votes. California has used the system for 4 special elections now, and the result has been only Democrats and Republicans in the final campaign season.

wjk said...

Hey Everybody!

Did you read Richard's first sentence? Not bad, eh?

The current gap between the selection of the top two and the final election is way too big, I agree. While moving to Internet voting, this legislative oversight can be remedied.


Solomon Kleinsmith said...


You, Nancy Hanks,, CAIVN and major players in California politics were the champions of passing the Top Two Choke Point in California, and now you're trying to get it passed in Arizona. That's no legislative oversight, it was the priority of the bill - you called it TOP TWO for a reason.

It was purposefully put in there to make sure the two major parties are able to keep their stranglehold on power, while hiding it behind the banner of open primaries to make it sound like it was good for independents.

Since most people don't vote in primaries, the net effect is a FAR bigger closing of the electoral process than the gain in opening the primaries.

Open primaries is an important issue, but nowhere near as important as open elections. Putting the Top Two Choke Point into place has been proven to be bad for independents in the places it is already in place, and after we've got a few years of data showing that in California, people who are actually fighting for open elections, like Richard Winger, organizations like Fair Vote and others will make damn sure we hang it around your necks so you people can't pull anything like this again.

Nancy Hanks said...

Re: "If California had a system as Dr. Kelleher describes, or if the whole nation had a system like that, we would be better off."

I couldn't agree more! California voters instituted open primaries after a 14 year grassroots legal and legislative fight on our country's "left coast." CA has initiative and referendum and voted in an independent Gov in the last elections.

Now voters in Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and points East seem to be jumping onto the nonpartisan elections "bandwagon" where the anti-party forces are building momentum.

More and more Americans are ditching the parties to declare their independence.

I couldn't be more proud to be among the ranks of the anti-party 2nd class citizens who can't vote in party-run primaries in closed party states, but who still engage the political elite and the political elite wannabes of our times.

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

You folks really do your own cause a disservice with this cartoonish avoidance type stuff. It's worse than the crap you see on fake partisan "debates".

Please keep doing so, though. I keep posts like this in a folder, so I can show people who are fooled that you people actually care about independents what you are really like.

Nancy Hanks said...

Solomon, please keep your comments substantive.

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

Richard's points above ARE substantive, you and William dodge in this sort of cartoonish manner and YOU think *I* need to be substantive?

It is entirely substantive to point out spin doctoring like this. Calling it legislative oversight could hardly be more ridiculous, and calling you people out for avoiding debates you know you can't win on an issue you continue to push is perfectly valid.

Top Two is one of the biggest threats to independents in the country right now, and you folks are at the tip of the spear on that issue.

This is my life's work. If you think I'm going to let you people erect even more hurdles to breaking down the two party system without a fight, boy are you wrong.

DLW said...

1. No one election rule fits all elections.

2. What about the use of multi seat elections?

3. Just because folks are angry at both major parties right now, doesn't mean that it's a good idea to denude them of power. Power happens and the leadership of parties are relatively transparent places for it to be concentrated. Lots of scholars think part of the problem with our current system is that it's too entrepreneurial with inadequate intra-party discipline, which is needed to maintain party brand...

4. Given the availability of an instant runoff voting system, what is the rationale for a not-so-instant runoff system? The internet may make it technically feasible to have numerous runoffs, but it won't sustain interest in widespread participation in the many stages of elimination.

5. You gotta take responsibility for your advocacy for "top two primary". I'm not against two stage elections per se, but the use of "first two past the post" for the first stage and the use of the same rule for all elections (no multi seat elections) were definitely illiberal choices...


wjk said...

Hi Sol!

Now that we know you think
"Top Two is one of the biggest threats to independents in the country right now," what do think about Internet voting as a way to empower Independents? And, what do have to say about Richard's first sentence?

Proudly one of "you people,"

I thought that phrase went out w/ Bull Conner

DLW said...

I think it would be hard to open up debates to anyone... They'd potentially get (intentionally) clogged with yahoos, not unlike the "Rent is too damn high" fellow, who'd obscure the ability of observers to keep track of the many candidates to discern which are well qualified.

ballot access is just part of the puzzle. It's not everything and with a significant chunk of low-info voters involved in our elections and there being costs of checking out among the proliferating candidates/parties, sometimes less can be more...

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

@William - quid pro quo

"Hi Sol!"

Hi William!

Yeah! This ignoring what people actually say and then injecting a little enthusiasm for good measure thing that you do... reminds me of this kid I babysit. Silly me for not doing it because of that whole judgmental "childish" label peopple put on responses like this.

All the cool Top Two kids are doing it, it must be the 'in' thing to do.

wjk said...

Good ol' Sol! As tenacious as a Nebraska bull dog, and just as educable! Bill

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

You expect me to give a serious response after all the stupid games you play? It's like something I heard from a parent recently:

"If you don't want to be treated like a child, don't act like one."