Election Reform Goals

Updated Mar 3rd, 2024

Goals for Voters, Candidates, and Elected Representatives

Based in part on our methods which you should read first.
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.
The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.
The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.
  • Elected representatives often need support from others to fulfill their campaign promises.
  • Representatives may believe they have a mandate from their voters to achieve a specific goal but need to work with others who have a mandate to do the opposite.
  • Representatives may have been elected by a certain group of voters but represent many others. They should be willing to listen and understand the needs and concerns of all.
  • Representatives may make decisions affecting many who cannot vote for them.

Candidates should demonstrate communication, problem-solving, and conflict-resolution skills consistent with our methods. Voters are hiring them and can select for these skills.

Lowering the cost of winning is a secondary goal.

Let Candidates Prove They Can Play Nice

A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus
Martin Luther King Jr.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.
Robert Ingersoll
Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; an argument an exchange of ignorance.
Robert Quillen

The goal of encouraging strong communication/problem-solving/conflict resolution skills is potentially very challenging and very rewarding. Candidates’ skills should be a significant issue during campaigns. This requires joint efforts by voters, candidates and journalists. Candidates should demonstrate their abilities to work things out with those who may disagree. Candidates should also demonstrate their ability to present common ground and differences to voters in a clear, respectful way. If candidates can’t deal effectively with differences during a campaign, they’re not likely to deal effectively with differences on budgets, health care, retirement benefits or other divisive issues after they’re elected. The same is true for candidates’ abilities to clearly and respectfully communicate to voters their common ground and differences on divisive issues.

The process, inspired by Fair Elections, is quite simple: All candidates for the same office demonstrate their ability to collaborate by preparing a joint campaign statement of common ground and differences, fact-checking each other. Candidates can present differences in any way that all candidates agree honestly and fairly presents their positions. These statements would be printed and distributed at little or no cost to the candidates. Costs could be covered by donations, public funding, or whoever runs the election. Voters get comprehensive, reliable information about all candidates in one place. New joint statements may be issued as information changes.

Any distributor of these joint statements should have no editorial control. Once all candidates agree that all positions are fairly represented, no additional screening should be needed. If the document is poorly worded, confusing, or contradictory, voters may consider that as they evaluate the candidates. Candidates are free to seek editorial or facilitation assistance if they wish.

Candidates may still spend their own money on whatever they want, and voters can decide how much they want to be influenced by independent ads.

Example Joint Candidate Statement to Deal with Homelessness

  • Pat Pomegranate wants to create a civilian service corps anyone can join. The corps will provide basic needs and training, and expect appropriate work from all who join.
  • Sandy Squash wants tax cuts for business owners and corporations, believing this will encourage hiring, resulting in more jobs and higher incomes.
  • Terry Tomato wants each person to get a guaranteed minimum $30,000 annual income paid for by eliminating tax deductions for corporations.
This is a short, hypothetical example based on our methods. An actual joint statement would cover multiple topics, background, experience and qualifications of each candidate, and more. As the joint statement gets longer, the candidates might explore charts, graphs, or other ways to summarize positions that are especially important to voters. If they keep talking, they might take elements of these and other proposals to deal with homelessness and find a solution they would all support.

All three candidates gather for a private discussion. During this private discussion, candidates Tomato and Pomegranate want to pounce on candidate Squash’s plan, claiming candidate Squash wants to sacrifice poor people to make rich people richer. Candidate Squash insists that’s not the intention and won’t agree to that wording in the joint statement. Candidate Squash wants to claim that candidates Tomato and Pomegranate just want to perpetuate laziness and discourage people from developing a strong work ethic. Candidates Tomato and Pomegranate deny this and won’t agree to that wording in the joint statement.

All three candidates agree that
  • Money has to come from somewhere.
  • Benefits will go to some people.
  • The homeless must ultimately help themselves but some need a push to get started and ongoing help to sustain their efforts. The type of push and ongoing help needed varies among individuals.
  • Those receiving assistance should have a say in how that assistance works.
  • Some will try to take advantage of the system for personal gain.
  • Some will resist offers of help.
  • We strive for perfection, but it is a moving target. There must be a way to make adjustments along the way.
  • Any plan requires support from fellow representatives to become reality.

Candidate Pomegranate acknowledges that some may join the corps for the benefits and try to avoid work but believes that most will value the opportunity and willingly participate. Candidate Squash isn’t so sure but accepts that candidate Pomegranate believes it. Candidate Pomegranate acknowledges that candidate Squash has doubts, and that careful monitoring of this grand experiment may lead to adjustments such as limiting privileges of those who avoid work obligations or requiring an extended service period for those receiving specialized training. The corps may be able to earn money from public works projects or by providing low-cost childcare for the community. Candidate Pomegranate acknowledges that some outside funding might be needed at least at first, but this could replace other homeless and addiction-treatment programs and people from the community might donate money or time. Candidates Tomato and Squash want it known they are skeptical and want to see evidence it could work before embracing it but agree that if it works it could provide a safety net.

Candidate Squash believes that creating jobs is the best way to reduce homelessness and only businesses create jobs. Candidates Pomegranate and Tomato are concerned that businesses might just use a windfall for executive bonuses, stock buybacks, or shareholder dividends. Candidate Squash acknowledges that once businesses have the money, the businesses decide how to spend it, and each business should have the flexibility to use the money in a way that is best for that business. Candidate Squash is open to refining how tax cuts might work, perhaps reserving the biggest cuts for businesses that offer job training, apprenticeships, healthcare, or relocation expenses for new employees. Candidates Pomegranate and Tomato like the idea of everyone being able to find a job and accept that candidate Squash believes tax cuts will solve the problem. Candidate Squash accepts that candidates Pomegranate and Tomato are skeptical and want to see how the poorest citizens benefit before agreeing to support tax cuts for businesses.

Candidate Tomato believes that most people will use the $30,000 responsibly to pay for housing while between jobs, to relocate to find work elsewhere, to get training needed to find work, or even start a small business. Candidates Pomegranate and Squash are concerned the money might enable those with addictions. Candidate Tomato acknowledges that it could happen, and some additional safeguards might be needed such as finding a guardian to receive the money and use it to pay for treatment. Candidates Pomegranate and Squash agree that candidate Tomato believes it will work, and candidate Tomato acknowledges that the concerns expressed by candidates Pomegranate and Squash need to be addressed. Candidate Tomato is willing to be flexible on the source of funding as a total elimination of all corporate deductions could have unintended consequences. Candidate Tomato believes this minimum-income program will eliminate the need for some other programs and gives people the flexibility to meet their own needs in their own way. Candidates Pomegranate and Squash like the concept of people having some control over their own destiny, but want it known they are skeptical and want to see evidence it can work before providing money from any source.

They all sign the agreement and post it on their websites. Local newspapers agree to print it as a public service instead of individual interviews with each candidate. The local jurisdiction agrees to include the signed agreement with mailed ballots instead of individual candidate statements. Some local non-profit groups agree to share the cost of mailing a postcard to all registered voters. The postcard says that all candidates posted the signed agreement on their websites, explains the purpose, and encourages voters to read it. The candidates agree to meet again to review the agreement, which also becomes the basis for discussions at candidate forums.

So far, none of the candidates have spent any money on publicity.
What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.
Attributed to various humorists

During follow-up discussions, the candidates want to bolster their cases and look for evidence of previous efforts involving their preferred method of dealing with the homeless. One candidate asks another "How can I independently verify your claim?". The discussion turns to which sources are reliable. If they cannot all agree on a source, they will need to find a way to present why each candidate accepts or rejects a particular source of information.

It Takes a Village to Raise a Politician

A new candidate, Drew Date, enters the race. Candidate Date is wealthy and distributes weekly campaign ads denouncing the plans of candidates Pomegranate, Squash, and Tomato as stupid and irresponsible. Candidate Date demands that the joint statement be revised but refuses to approve any mention of the plans of the other candidates. A journalist asks candidate Date about this refusal. Candidate Date says that any mention of such "stupid and irresponsible plans" will just confuse voters. Candidate Date has not yet proposed a solution to homelessness but says details are coming soon and claims to be the only candidate who can solve the problem. The journalist prints candidate Date’s statements along with the joint statement of the other candidates. Some voters return candidate Date’s campaign mailings with a note stating "You have the right to say what you want, and I have the right to ignore you. I will vote for a candidate who demonstrates the ability to collaborate as it will be necessary to work with other elected representatives to pass any plan." Someone starts a petition asking candidate Date to work constructively with the other candidates. Candidate Date denounces these efforts as undemocratic and intended to prevent candidates from speaking freely.

Reducing the Influence of Money on Elections

Distributing campaign statements at no cost to candidates reduces a large part of the campaign budget to $0. There are no attacks or one-sided statements requiring a response since all statements are approved in advance by all candidates. If candidates can win with less money, they don’t need to raise as much and voters will have more money to spend on other things.

It Takes a Village to Raise a Politician

A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus
Martin Luther King Jr.
Better to light a small candle than curse the darkness.

We get what we ask for, not what we want. If our request is unclear or incomplete, others may give us what they want us to have. It is easy to request a representative who promises ____. What if the person elected lacks the skills to collaborate effectively with other representatives and inspire those other representatives to help make it happen? Should that be part of the request?

The links page has more potential reforms, some of which depend on legislation. This is something we can start now while we wait for that legislation.

We recognize that reform is a moving target and we need to constantly reevaluate our own goals and solutions. The solutions involve a long-term effort with a grass-roots movement pushing from the bottom, candidates pulling from the top, and journalists squeezing on the sides. Voter, candidate and journalist education is an important part of any change as people are more likely to support options they understand.

Reforms, like politicians, often start at the local level and work up to state and federal governments.

Contact us if you’d like to participate.