Election Reform Methods

Updated Jan 23rd, 2024

Fundamental Campaign Reform Takes a Village

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.
Henry Ford
The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.
Albert Einstein
It’s been said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. I assume you’re reading this because you want different results. Perhaps you make decisions based on the same types of debates, the same types of campaign literature and the same types of analysis. Perhaps you vote for candidates who promise change or a quick fix. Perhaps you’re wondering when you’ll see the different results you want.

What follows may be quite different from what you’re used to. Set aside your expectations, take your time, and enjoy the ride.

Can you think of a time when someone made inaccurate claims, perhaps out of ignorance, to shift blame, or to win an argument or election?

Can you think of a time when someone didn’t seem to care about your concerns before making a decision you didn’t like? Perhaps this person listened briefly before interrupting to lecture you, or tell you that you’re wrong, or how you should or shouldn’t feel. Perhaps this person misunderstood your concerns or didn’t want to understand. Perhaps your concerns were dismissed as not important enough to change the decision. Were you expected to just accept that it’s over and there’s nothing you can do?

If the above situations seem familiar, is there anything you’d like to change?

It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native criminal class except Congress.
Mark Twain
I’ve worked with groups of 15-20 maximum-security prisoners consisting of different races, cultures, education levels and economic backgrounds. After learning some fundamental communication, problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills, the groups learned to have respectful, constructive discussions and make unanimous decisions.

Mark Twain’s quip about criminals and congress aside, I believe that politicians and voters can also learn these fundamental skills . One difference is motivation. Many prisoners realize they need to make significant changes to turn their lives around. Politicians often get re-elected by doing the same things over and over, which includes making promises they think will please voters. As potential motivators, voters should also learn about these skills, or at least understand that change is possible.

People learned to be careful about what they put in their stomachs by considering nutritional value as well as taste. They can learn to be at least as careful about what they put in their minds by considering facts and reason as well as emotional satisfaction or fear.

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.
In keeping with the spirit of Confucius’ adage, I encourage you to "do" this website. When you come to a question or incomplete statement, think about it. Whether you share your answer with anyone is up to you. If no answer comes to mind, share your goals and concerns rather than giving up or asking someone for an answer. Exploring possibilities with others may help you clarify your thoughts, ask different questions, and discover your own answers.

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.

If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Any road also works if your destination is "not here". How will I know I’m there if I don’t know where "there" is? Before I jump on a bandwagon, I like to know where it’s going, who’s driving, and how bumpy the ride could be. Before considering potential solutions, I like to have a clear understanding of what I hope to accomplish. This helps me choose an appropriate solution and helps me check for possible unintended consequences.

When choosing a doctor, lawyer or auto mechanic, you probably look for certain qualities and assume that the person you choose has certain knowledge and skills. What knowledge or skills do you look for in an elected representative? Below are some things to consider while developing your own goals for election reform. I’ll wait for you in the next section.

  • The type of person I want making decisions on my behalf is ...
  • To make an informed decision, I need ...
  • I am most satisfied with my voting choices when ...
  • An elected representative should handle differences with others by ...
  • To be considered a "serious contender" or "electable", a candidate should be ...
  • Deciding factors in elections should be ...
  • The role of money in elections should be ...
  • Winning an election should cost ...
  • While campaigning, a candidate should ...
  • The role of journalists in elections should be ...
  • Your questions or concerns here

Take some extra time to review your answers and imagine what might change if you get everything you asked for.

If you responded to anything in the negative, such as listing things you don’t want, think of everything in the world that isn’t that. If you tell a 2-year-old not to hit, does that mean biting or kicking is OK?

If you’re not sure how to express what you want but think you’ll know it if you see it:

  • What if you don’t see anything you like?
  • What if an election run your way doesn’t turn out the way you expect?
  • What if an election run a different way does meet your goals?
  • How many successful elections would you need to see to be confident that the next election will also meet your goals?

Feel free to make any needed adjustments. If your needs are met by the current system, thanks for stopping by. If not, please keep reading.

Let it begin with me.

Think back to the opening questions about your own past experiences and what you want to be different next time.

I can offer anyone options such as considering the needs of others before acting on beliefs or emotions, or exploring and re-considering beliefs that lead to harmful actions, but the person I can influence the most is myself. I have a few guidelines that I adjust for each situation. This is a journey toward a goal. There may be some bumps, detours, and mishaps along the way but the important thing is to learn from any problems, make appropriate corrections, and resume the journey.

The Blind Men and the Elephant
by John Godfrey Saxe


Each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong. How can we be certain that we know enough?

Image courtesy of Professor Tangent

I will assume that those who disagree know something I don’t

I believe that we know more than me. I will ask questions and be willing to shift my position as my understanding deepens. I will focus on the other person as they express their own motivations, goals, thoughts or emotions. If I notice myself looking for an opportunity to jump in and respond, correct, or criticize, I will recognize that my attention is drifting from the other person to myself.

I believe that assigning fault or blame to others doesn’t automatically make me right. I will offer to explore alternate solutions together in the hope that we can both be right.

I will distinguish between observations and interpretations

If I see someone waving her arms near a toad, before jumping to the conclusion that she’s a witch who just turned someone into a toad, I will remember I only observed that she’s waving her arms and there’s a toad nearby. Perhaps she’s conducting a symphony she composed for the toad. I won’t know for sure until I ask. While pursuing a specific goal, people sometimes make decisions that harm others. I could assume the intention was to harm others, or that this person doesn’t care about others. I could also ask about the problem and offer to help explore ways to achieve the goal without harming others.

I will distinguish between goals and game-plans

People share goals or needs such as food, air, water, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In order to meet their goals, people might explore various game-plans, or solutions, such as buying food or meditating. Many game-plan involve spending money. When discussing game-plans involving money, I try to remember that the money is just a game-plan. The discussion should emphasize how spending gets us to the goal, not just how much to spend.

I will look at short-term needs and long-term needs and recognize that different game-plans might apply to each. Long-term goals of a starving village might be met with seeds to grow food. Villagers also need to stay alive long enough to harvest the first crop, which requires a short-term game-plan other than eating the seeds. Will the short-term game-plan lead naturally to the long-term game-plan or make the long-term game-plan more difficult? How does each possible game-plan bring me closer to my goal?

I will speak for myself

Sometimes I have an internal response such as "that’s stupid". Before blurting out something I might later regret, I try to slow down and think about what I hope to accomplish. If others do something that I interpret as stupid, will calling them stupid make them smarter? Are the others likely to thoughtfully consider my insult, decide I’m right, and instantly change? Will finding fault with someone else make me right, or is it possible we’re both wrong? If limited options lead to slow progress and feelings of frustration, I could say that I’m experiencing frustration over the limited options and invite the other person to join me in exploring new options.

Observations, interpretations, goals and game-plans may all be jumbled together in someone’s mind. What I consider a factual evaluation of a game-plan could be interpreted as an attack on a cherished goal, leading to a defensive response and a higher wall between us. Until I understand and acknowledge the goals of others, observations about game-plans may just bounce off, increasing the frustration level in both of us. Recognizing and understanding these concepts in myself makes it easier to recognize and deal with them in others.

To thine own self be true.

O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us.
Robert Burns
Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.
Carl Jung

Inspired by Let It Begin with Me at Professor Tangent
It’s about admitting to ourselves that we have much more in common with others than we’d like to admit. For many people, this is the most difficult part of the process. There’s a game where people pass a message around a circle by whispering in the ear of the next person. By the time the message gets around the circle, it’s often changed. As a message travels from our ears to our conscious mind, it may be changed by past experiences, preconceptions, emotions, or associations with other concepts. We can explore these inner pathways by observing and understanding our own thoughts, and then ask questions that help us understand others.

Think back to the opening questions about your own past experiences and what you want to be different next time.

  • When I meet someone new, I think about ...
  • As I get to know someone, some changes in me are ...
  • Some ways I respond differently to different people are ...
  • Dissenting opinions are/are not helpful because ...
  • I respect the opinions of others when ...
  • I trust people who ...
  • When I hear a rumor about someone I don’t like, I ...
  • I accept something as true when ...
  • I know I’m getting good advice when ...
  • I’m confident I found the root of a problem when ...
  • I accept the needs of others as equal to my own needs when ...
  • When I’m "invested" in a particular game-plan, I ...
  • If I notice a flaw in someone else’s goal or game-plan , I ...
  • If someone points out a flaw in my goal or game-plan , I ...
  • When I want someone to change, I ...
  • When someone expects me to change, I ...
  • I’m ready to make a decision when ...
  • I consider a situation "good enough" when ...
  • I reconsider past decisions when ...
  • I consider a dispute resolved when ...
  • Something I would like others to know about me is ...
  • Something surprising I learned about someone else is ...

Many people find it easier to relate to others who are similar in some way. How do you know what you might have in common with someone you just met? If there are obvious differences, could there also be something positive you both share? If you both like music but listen to different kinds of music, you might look deeper and consider:

  • When do we listen to music?
  • Do we share a reason we like our favorite music?
  • How did we first learn about the music we like now?
  • How could we help someone else understand why we like this music?
  • When we first heard this music, did we like it as much as we like it now?
  • What kind of music did we like before and what changed?
  • Do we expect to listen only to this kind of music for the rest of our lives?
  • Was there an especially meaningful moment in our lives associated with our favorite music?

Unless I’m certain that the other person enjoys answering personal questions, I might begin by briefly sharing my own thoughts as an example of the type of response I’m inviting. I try to assure others by my example that I won’t ask something I’m not willing to discuss about myself. If the other person accepts my invitation to speak, I let them know I’m listening by my body language, eye contact, and giving them time to fully express their thoughts. When they finish, I might repeat something I found interesting or meaningful. If I’m tempted to interrupt and respond, correct or criticize, I consider that a warning that I’m thinking about myself when I should be learning about someone else. As my understanding deepens, my options increase and I may shift my own position in some way.

We know more than me.

What about voting?
  • Will a vote end the controversy?
  • What if someone doesn’t like any of the choices offered?
  • If there are more than two choices, each individual choice may get less than half the total vote. How much support should the winning option have?
  • Should math students vote for their favorite solution to an equation?
  • Should 2 wolves and a lamb choose lunch by voting?
What about negotiating?
  • Will trading concessions make everyone more satisfied?
  • Will splitting the difference get people what they need?
  • If we agree to disagree, is the controversy over?
  • If everyone is equally unsatisfied, have we succeeded?
What about lectures or speeches?
  • Will manipulating opinion solve the problem once and for all?
  • How do you know if the information is correct?
  • How do you know when you’ve heard enough to make an informed decision?

If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.

Groups can find solutions acceptable to everyone in the group. When I’m satisfied with a group decision, I’m more likely to help make it work and more likely to consider the problem solved. If I’m on the losing side of a vote, or I’m limited to choosing between unpleasant options, I may look for ways to keep the controversy alive after the vote is over. Making decisions as a group may take longer than voting but could solve the problem sooner. As with voting, negotiating or debating, some people may choose not to participate in the process, perhaps because they don’t have a strong preference, or they’re confident that another participant adequately represents their position.

Think back to the opening questions about your own past experiences and what you want to be different next time.

1: Explore the Problem
Listen to everyone’s goals or needs and try to see the problem from each individual’s perspective. If I notice myself wanting to jump in and respond, correct or criticize, I consider that a warning that I’m focusing on myself when this first step is about understanding the needs of others. We could mention short-term needs and long-term needs if they are different. Focus on goals. We look at game-plans in steps 4 and 5. We could also consider the qualities or characteristics of each person’s ideal solution. Is the best election system the one that minimizes the influence of money, hires the most election workers, counts votes the fastest, favors my candidates or ... ? Are some qualities or characteristics more important than others?

2: Look for Common Goals
Think about which goals or needs everyone shares. This is our chance to release our inner 3-year-old and relentlessly ask "why?" Why do I need ___? So I can do ___. Why do I want to do ___? What will happen if I don’t do ___? If I do ___ then I ___. You may end up with a basic concept such as survival, safety, shelter, liberty, happiness, inner peace, or social interaction.

3: Identify Resources
List potential resources such as money, time, materials, paid staff and volunteers.

4: Create a Solution Smorgasbord
List potential game-plans. This is an opportunity to expand our options before making a commitment to any particular game-plan. Look for opportunities to split proposals into smaller pieces and combine the split pieces in various ways.

5: Evaluate Each Potential Game-plan
Allow each person a chance to comment on the possible game-plans. This should be the first time you consider the merits and potential problems of any particular game-plan. How well does each game-plan meet the goals stated in step 2? Keep evaluating until everyone is satisfied.

6: Decide How to Make It Work
Who, what, when, where, how? If everyone is convinced there’s no way to make the chosen solution work, review the previous steps.

Do an occasional check-in to see how the agreement is working and look for unintended consequences. Repeat previous steps as needed to make changes or corrections.