Arcata City, CA Establishes Model Voter Confidence Resolution for Nation's Cities to Follow

By Leon Smith, Editor-In-Chief

ARCATA, Calif. â€" Voter confidence has plummeted during the past two presidential elections with corporate-owned voting machine tabulations in question from coast to coast. Several organizations have advocated changes in the voting system, but one city is taking it a step further. The City of Arcata, Calif., after months of debate and consideration, has adopted what is called the Voter Confidence Resolution.

According to Dave Berman, one of the resolution’s authors, this type of initiative, if adopted by cities throughout the country, could have a decisive impact on the confidence voters achieve by providing unquestionable election returns.

“But we must first change the national dialogue,†he said.

Berman is aggressively taking his case to the people, conducting workshops, keynoting speaking engagements, and asking cities throughout the country to seriously push this agenda.

The heart of Arcata’s resolution is an eight-point comprehensive election reform platform, including:
(1) voting processes owned and operated entirely in the public domain, and
(2) clean money laws to keep all corporate funds out of campaign financing, and
(3) a voter verified paper ballot for every vote cast and additional uniform standards determined by a nonpartisan nationally recognized commission, and
(4) declaring election day a national holiday, and
(5) counting all votes publicly and locally in the presence of citizen witnesses and credentialed members of the media, and
(6) equal time provisions to be restored by the media along with a measurable increase in local, public control of the airwaves, and
(7) presidential debates containing a minimum of three candidates, run by a nonpartisan commission comprised of representatives of publicly owned media outlets, and
(8) preferential voting and proportional representation to replace the winner-take-all system for federal elections.

In an interview with Iconoclast publisher W. Leon Smith, Berman explained the importance of the resolution:

BERMAN: We have a message that we’re trying to get out. We’re trying to change the point of view of the people in this country and are actually giving them talking points to rally around so that we can all be on the same page so that there becomes critical mass. What we’re trying to do is build to a tipping point. It’s almost unbelievable that we’ve come to this point in time without having passed that tipping point already.

ICONOCLAST: Is the Voter Confidence Committee, of which you are a member, part of the City of Arcata or is it something separate and this happens to be the first city that joined it?

BERMAN: This is a citizen’s organization that is based in Humble, County, Calif. and Arcata is one community in the county and they were the first to embrace this resolution. They’ve got a long history of being really progressive in that regard.

Council member Dave Meserve has been recognized around the world as a small-town progressive leader, particularly in regard to resolutions against the Patriot Act and calling for the impeachment of the Bush Administration. Earlier this year, he spearheaded an effort to get through a resolution that contemplated making Arcada a sanctuary for contientious objectors. He’s a genuine progressive leader. We have others in this community, too.

It’s a natural for the movement behind the voter confidence resolution to come from here. There’s a lot of people in this community who unabashedly called for revolution, and I’m one of them. I don’t mean to say revolution, because I don’t say that word unless I say “peaceful’ revolution. This is a very peaceful community.

ICONOCLAST: But you’re wanting to go nationwide with the voter confidence resolution?

BERMAN: Right. What I think needs to happen is we need to see community after community building the unity that is necessary for the city council in each particular town to register that there’s sufficient support to warrant them representing the views of their constituents by passing this statement.

We have a couple of things that emerge as a result of this approach. One is we’re healing the divide that has so maliciously and intentionally been created in this country. Community by community, building unity and overcoming this hurtful wedge that’s been put between us, that’s got enormous value. Doing so in a way that leads local government to see that the true representation of their people would be simply getting behind this statement, now that’s got value, too, because when we have a whole line-up of communities across the country who are all saying the same thing, now we’re talking about the actual mechanics of how to build to a tipping point.

I said a little while ago about how we haven’t reached the tipping point yet. Well, tipping points do come after time when there’s been a gradual build-up of things. This is the nature of the tipping point. It’s about how little things can make a big difference. You can either just observe and study tipping points from the past and note how this pattern of how it always builds gradually, or you can take a lesson from your efforts for social planning for change and start to amend your strategizing if you are a social leader or an aspiring one and plan to develop that gradual swell which is the approach we’re taking with this resolution.

What I see is an opportunity to call into question the legitimacy of the U.S. government. I think we’re going to have to go through this gradual process of awakening people to realizing this, to questioning it, and ultimately the value comes in when we’ve got more and more people registering that same question and over and over again.. That question is, “Has the consent of the governed been withdrawn, yet?†Because this assumes the answer.

ICONOCLAST: Let’s dissect the election reform platform. For instance, number one, you have “The voting process is owned and operated entirely in the public domain,†that meaning, I am assuming, that voting machines would be owned by the public trusts?

BERMAN: It’s interesting that you would jump to the assumption there would be voting machines. There is nothing in that provision of the resolution that says we have to have voting machines.

ICONOCLAST: Paper ballots would be acceptable?

BERMAN: Yes. This community has been collaborating on finding just the right wording for this resolution for 16 months. From the time that I first presented it until it passed there were 16 months that went by, countless revisions, compromises about which provisions are really essential in order for us to accomplish the two main goals which are: number one, ensure conclusive outcomes, and number two, create a new basis for confidence where none exists. So we have lots of different points of view on this and that’s totally reasonable and respectable, and it’s going to be the same way across the country.

What we tried to do is wind up with language that would make consensus. That’s what I mean by healing the divides. We need to build consensus community by community in order to eventually build consensus nationwide.

ICONOCLAST: Does the resolution extend itself to other forms of local government, like school districts and counties, or is this just a city target?

BERMAN: Arcata does tend to stand alone at times. The county of Humble is progressive, I would say, overall as well, although they may not be as quick to stick their neck out as Arcata. The very direct answer is that the county board of supervisors has not taken an interest in moving this resolution forward. Right now, it’s just Arcata.

ICONOCLAST: If you go to number two, “clean money laws to keep all corporate funds out of campaign financing,†that would pertain, according to this resolution, just to the city government. What you are trying to do is start a ground-swell to where other forms of government would latch onto this and it might eventually become something that might even pertain to presidential elections?â€

BERMAN: Oh, yeah. These are principles more than anything. The resolution is not meant to necessarily be a platform that the city has to now commit itself in every waking hour to attempt to implement. Although I will say to the credit of some of the council members in Arcata, the discussion has now become, “Okay, let’s have a meeting at the elections department and let’s go through this platform, point by point, and see how the city can actually take action behind its words.†We’ve now passed this. It is a statement reflecting the thinking of our community and we need to figure out how we can act to support these statements. We haven’t quite gotten there yet, but that’s the next step. It’s where we are beginning to go.

I don’t expect that we are going to see the city council of Arcata completely overhaul local elections following the points in the resolution. That was never really the point. The point was to put out there a template that reflects the consensus view of our community about what minimal criteria need to be in place to ensure conclusive election results and to create a basis for confidence. We expect as other communities pass this resolution their reform platform section of their resolution may differ somewhat and that’s okay, because the tipping point notion that we’re trying to build to relies on consent of the governed question and asking it over and over again, has the consent been withdrawn yet?

Well, clearly nobody thinks so yet, just because Arcata’s passed it. Say Berkeley’s next, or Brooklyn, or wherever. The answer’s still going to be no. So we ask it over and over again as each community comes on board with this. At some point it goes from no, no, no, to yes, yes, yes, and then we’ve hit the tipping point because we understand its nature and we’ve manufactured a path to get there.

ICONOCLAST: Regarding the path, there are two elements on this resolution. Number four and number eight. Number four is declaring election day a national holiday. Number eight is preferential voting and proportional representation to replace the winner-take-all system for federal elections. Both of these tend to make one think that a national scenario would be in play.

BERMAN: That is the ultimate goal.

ICONOCLAST: But a city cannot pass a national holiday, can it? The reason for having a holiday on election day would be, I assume, to get people out to vote?

BERMAN: I know that there’ve been people calling for making election day a holiday for a long time. The primary motivation is to increase voter turnout.

ICONOCLAST: On number eight, preferential voting and proportional representation; can you explain that a little?

BERMAN: Consent of the governed as the micro-frame that we’re using to promote this. That speaks to whether or not constituents are really being represented by the people installed into office. Proportional representation is a way to ensure that when a community is not 100 percent behind one candidate or one party that the people who come out on the losing side don’t end up with no representation. If you’ve got a divided community like so many seem to be these days, why should 49 percent of the people end up with nobody representing their views if they lost the election?

ICONOCLAST: Say, in a city’s mayoral election you have three candidates and one candidate gets 51 percent of the vote and the other two get smaller percentages, are you saying there would be co-mayors?

BERMAN: No, no, no. Proportional representation applies to multi-seat races, so you might have a congressional district with ten seats and three parties and the result being you get five representatives from one party and three from another and two from another as a result from proportional representation.

That emerges typically from a form of voting that in its umbrella term is called preferential voting.

There are a lot of different ways to implement preferential voting. The most common one that you are probably familiar with is called instant runoff voting.

In a nutshell, the voter on the ballot ranks the candidates in order of preference. That’s why it’s called preferential voting.

So your top choice, you put a one next to it. Your next choice you put number two next to it and so on. And you don’t have to pick more than one candidate. You can pick just one or you can pick as many as you want up to the number of candidates there and a potential write-in.

So what happens is, first of all, the nature of preferential voting requires a majority to win. And that’s in contrast to requiring a plurality to win. That’s major, because if you can no longer win with less than 50 percent, part of our voting system guarantees majority rules. That’s a fundamental notion of democracy.

But how do we get there? We’re not there right now. Preferential voting will help get us there, because it will ensure that in order to win, you’ve got to have a majority, and how to get a majority if you’ve got more and more candidates diluting the pool, spreading out the vote among more candidates, less likelihood of anyone getting 50 percent. This is why you rank the candidates.

What would happen is if nobody gets 50 percent or more after the votes are tallied, the candidate who’s got the least number of first-place votes would be eliminated and everybody who voted for that candidate as their first choice will have their vote redistributed to the person that they picked second, and this happens automatically in an instant runoff.

So we don’t need to go to the expense of another election day and continue campaigning. Invariably, turnout for runoff elections is always lower, so this is also a way to keep the voter turnout essentially the same as it was for the original election because everyone who was at the original election participated in the runoff, instantly.

And so, we would continue through this process if, after the first instant runoff we still didn’t have a majority winner, the person then in last place would be eliminated and the votes transferred according to next preferences and this would repeat over and over as long as necessary until we assured that the winner has the support of the majority of the voters.

ICONOCLAST: So the reason for the resolution is to move things in that direction?

BERMAN: That’s right. There’s definitely a multi-path forward. Number one, let’s look at what we can do here locally to improve our election systems according to these ideals that we have espoused. It may not be possible to do them all, but we recognize that these are better ways and let’s see what we can do to implement them.

And then the bigger picture, which is thinking globally, acting locally…so the global part is pushing this platform into the national debate, encouraging other communities to pass their own resolution, patterned after this. We aren’t trying to force anybody to accept our platform verbatim, in fact we expect it will be different in other places. What we hope will be the same and the value of having a series of these resolutions passed, as I said about building to the tipping point, is commonality of framing the matter.

It’s framing it around the fact that there is no basis for confidence currently, but these changes would create a basis for confidence and there is currently a guarantee of uncertainty of election results. We’re never going to have unanimous agreement about the outcome of an election under these conditions. Just that alone would be a hugely power frame. If we were able to influence the national debate about the legitimacy of our government and our ability to determine who is an appropriate and worthwhile representative of the people, that’s a significant contribution to the country if we’re influencing the national debate in that way, and, ultimately, that can happen even if subsequent resolutions pattern on this one, pass in other communities without being identical.

What ultimately needs to happen if we are to have a peaceful revolution is the network of communities that have gotten behind this will then need to be communicating with each other to resolve the differences in the various similar versions of the resolution. We start with consensus in Arcata, consensus there, consensus there, consensus there, and then we bring all the communities together who have gotten behind these concepts and we say, “Okay, now let’s build an even higher order of consensus that resolves the minor differences that have emerged in the different versions of the resolution.†That’s kind of the big picture, grand plan.

ICONOCLAST: What is the next step?

BERMAN: I’m doing it. I’m talking to you. I’m trying to get the word out in other parts of the country and I have submitted the resolution in a letter to every city council member in each of about a dozen cities that were targeted for their progressive nature. We’ve made all those decision-makers aware of what we’ve done and we’ve asked them to consider joining us and are trying to encourage people who live in these places to go and lobby their local officials. We’re saying go look what we’ve done.

We’ve gotten lots of ‘atta-boys. That’s cool, but what we really need now is to see you in Berkeley, Calif., or in Portland, Ore., start calling your city council members and follow up on the fact that I just put my foot in the door for you.

I just made them aware of something that is a truly progressive and revolutionary approach to improving elections and re-instituting democracy where we clearly do not have democracy anymore. And what you locally in any of these cities need to do is let your city council members know that you are aware of this approach, you think it makes sense, you are willing to work to help build the consensus in your community that it would take for the city council there to act with confidence that they would be enacting a resolution that reflects the will of their community.

ICONOCLAST: Have you found any organizations that are doing the same thing you are?

BERMAN: I don’t think anybody is doing the same thing already, but some people are starting to get behind me.

Bev Harris from Blackbox Voting, she just endorsed the resolution, Velvet Revolution recently endorsed the resolution, David Cobb who was the 2004 Green Party Presidential candidate, he’s endorsed the resolution.

In June in Houston, you might recall there was a meeting of the Baker-Carter election reform committee, and a host of other long-time administration stooges pretending to look at the problems with elections and this was their second and final meeting to discuss problems with the 2004 election.

It was a complete sham.

As a result of that meeting being called, election reform advocates from around the country convened a counter-hearing held the day before. It was June 29 and June 30. The purpose of the counter-hearing which was called the “election assessment hearing†was to hear testimony and receive evidence from experts who have studied what occurred last November and to discuss ways to improve and repair our election systems.

At that hearing, David Cobb submitted into testimony the voter confidence resolution. This was before it had been passed. This was somewhat of a symbolic thing. He submitted it into evidence and all of the documents that were submitted into evidence, as well as transcripts of the testimony given that day, were compiled into a single record from the event that was presented to the Baker-Carter commission. It was duly recognized. It wasn’t like so many other times when the voice of the people is just completely marginal and set aside maybe with lip service being paid. I believe the record was also submitted to Congress.

Coming up Sept. 30, and Oct. 1 and 2, in Portland, Ore., there is going to be another national election reform conference, called†the summit to save our elections.†This one I am going to go to personally. I will be doing a workshop about the resolution. The point for me in doing this is to, like, train the trainers. There will be election reform leaders from all over the country there. My intention is to lead them in a workshop that will show them how they can conduct a workshop when they go back to their communities.

The workshop that they’ll do will accomplish the things that I’ve been telling you about, build consensus on a local level, address the wording of the resolution with the template as a starting point, and find what’s comfortable for your community to adopt.

See the article on Lone Star Iconoclast (Texas) website

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