Voters Bill of Rights

The chaos of Election 2000 created a nationwide demand for election reform. In response, a coalition of 50 political, environmental, and social justice groups calling themselves the Pro-Democracy Campaign hammered out a Voters’ Bill of Rights petition, which has been signed by 89 organizations — such diverse groups as the Greens/GPUSA, the National Lawyers Guild, Rainforest Action Network, and the Center for Constitutional Rights. For the full text of the petition, see

Strict enforcement and extension of the Voting Rights Act

As the vote in Florida and many other states demonstrated, the intimidation and disenfranchisement of communities of color still goes on. The Justice Department must investigate and prosecute those who act in this way. The Voting Rights Act, some provisions of which are scheduled to expire in 2007, should be extended.

Abolishment of the Electoral College and its replacement with a majority rule election

The President should be elected by direct, popular vote and must receive a majority of the votes to take office. If no candidate receives 50 percent plus one of the votes cast, a runoff must be held. A system called instant runoff voting (see below) will allow this to happen without the need of a second election and eliminate the “spoiler” factor.

Clean money elections

A ban on “soft-money” contributions is needed immediately, along with full public financing of public campaigns and public information services for voters. As a license requirement, broadcasters must carry debates and provide free time for all candidates and parties. Clean election laws like those in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Arizona should be expanded to other states and taken to the federal level.

Instant runoff voting

By allowing voters to rank candidates in order of preference (first, second, third choice, etc.), if no candidate gets a majority of first choices, a runoff count can be conducted without the need for a second election. As in a traditional second-election runoff, the majority choice can be determined, while also allowing voters the opportunity to vote for those candidates they like the most without worrying that their vote will help candidates they like least. Instant runoff voting also promotes positive campaigning and coalitions, since winners may need the second choices from opponents' supporters.

Proportional representation

“Winner-take-all” is a very undemocratic way to choose representatives. Most democracies in the world use some form of proportional representation. If one quarter of the voters support a particular party, they should be able to elect roughly a quarter of the seats in a city council or legislature. The majority of voters will elect the majority of seats, but minorities will get their fair share of representation; it's common sense!

Voting rights for former prisoners

Why should ex-felons not be able to vote? They've “paid their debt to society.” Over four million American citizens are in this category, particularly African Americans, who are incarcerated at a disproportionately high rate. Lifetime voting prohibition laws violate citizens' constitutional voting rights and must be repealed.

Make voting easier and more reliable

Citizens should be able to register to vote up to and on voting day itself, with appropriate protections against voter fraud. Students should be able to register and vote in the locality where they are going to school. To maximize voter participation, voting could be conducted by mail, or voting day could be a national holiday or on the weekend. Old and unreliable voting machines, found disproportionately in communities of color, should be replaced, funded by the federal government, with reliable means of voting and vote-counting.

Easier access to the ballot, the media, and debates for candidates

In our two-party system, third or fourth parties face a host of institutional barriers, from getting on the ballot to being included in debates to broadcasting their views. Alternative voices help enliven the political debate that is at the heart of any healthy democracy. Prohibitive ballot access requirements should be altered, debates should be open to all ballot-qualified candidates, and all such candidates should receive free air time.

Create independent and nonpartisan election administration bodies

As the controversy in Florida has proved, the partisan or bipartisan control of electoral institutions can cast a cloud of illegitimacy across what should be the simple act of vote counting. Electoral commissions at all levels of government should be free of control by any political party. Many countries, including Canada and Mexico, already have such bodies. We need to emulate those kinds of truly impartial systems.

Statehood for the District of Columbia

The District of Columbia has more citizens than several other states, yet it has no voting representation in Congress. This is manifestly undemocratic. There is no good reason why all of our citizens should not have an opportunity to choose voting representatives to Congress.

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