Quality Control for Elections · Political Corrections

The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.
Albert Einstein

Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; an argument an exchange of ignorance.
Robert Quillen

Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.
Mark Twain

Your representative owes you, not only his industry, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
Edmund Burke

Word Counts

  • Ten Commandments: 179 words.
  • Mayflower Compact: 198 words.
  • Declaration of Independence: 1,300 words.
  • US Government regulations on cheese: 37,172 words.

liberty logo Attack of the Mudslingers

Mudslingers might try to justify their attacks by claiming they just want voters to know the truth about the other candidate. Unfortunately, truth is often the first casualty in negative campaigns. If a candidate believes that critical questions weren’t asked by the voters or the press, or a question wasn’t fully answered by an opposing candidate, try asking more questions. Candidates should direct questions to their opponents, the voters and the press. These new questions can then be asked of all candidates, with follow-up questions if the answer seems vague or misleading. Candidates without convincing answers may harm themselves more than a layer of slime from the opposition could ever do.

These questions should be as broad as possible, and relevant to the duties of the winner. Rather than asking about a specific past speech or behavior, a question might involve general beliefs now, and how those beliefs might affect the candidate’s actions and decisions if elected. If there’s a discrepancy between the candidate’s answer and past behavior or stated beliefs, follow up questions should explore what changed and why.

Remember the story of the junior executive who made a serious blunder which cost the company millions, but wasn’t fired because the CEO just spent millions educating him and needed his experience. If the mistake is recognized and fully understood, it can be a valuable learning experience. If the mistake is denied, blamed on others or simply ignored, there’s a danger it will happen again under similar circumstances.

If you’re targeted by a slime-slinger, take the high ground and hope at least some of the slime oozes back downhill toward the perpetrator. It’s not your responsibility to disprove a vague accusation. Your accuser should offer credible evidence supporting any claims. Rather than respond defensively, you can say something like, "I assume my opponent is concerned about how I would handle a situation like ..." Propose and answer the types of questions your opponent should be asking rather than seeking refuge in a mudhole.

liberty logo Do Two Rants Make a Right?

Two wrongs don’t make a right.

The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.
Proverbs 18:17
What if two people make different cases and nobody questions either one?

Each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong.
John Godfrey Saxe: The Blind Men and Elephant
If six different cases aren’t enough, how many cases must we hear before we can be confident we have the whole story?

A Camel is a Horse Designed by a Committee
If we combine the descriptions of the six blind men who "saw" the elephant, split the difference, or take a vote, will we have an accurate description of an elephant?

liberty logoFacilitated Discussions

The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.
Albert Einstein

Outside of science, facts rarely determine anything. Context determines everything, and it changes.
Connie Rice

The person who frames the issue wins the debate.

We get what we ask for, not what we want.

Many elected officeholders must resolve disputes as part of their job. This is an opportunity for candidates to show voters how they frame issues and handle disagreements.

Traditional political debates sometimes become smear-fests with one candidate making accusations , and another responding with counter-accusations. Simply broadcasting an unedited live debate that limits responses to a specific format might leave out important information or make all the candidates look like squabbling children. Instead, a facilitator acceptable to all candidates could lead one or more extended preparatory sessions prior to the public session. Another option could be recorded sessions with an additional "just the facts" edited summary for those who don’t want to watch the whole thing. Visit the links page for resources on facilitating and getting along without giving in.

Topics could be chose by the facilitor, other parties, or the candidates themselves. The facilitator would encourage candidates to ask questions in a neutral, non-judgmental way, or rephrase questions appropriately. Accusations would be rephrased as questions. Anything not covered in the answer would be clarified by follow-up questions from candidates or the facilitator.

If one candidate refers to a printed quote attributed to another candidate, the facilitator might ask the candidate to either reaffirm the quote, explain why it’s inaccurate, or why the candidate’s current position is different now, perhaps with a follow up question about what changed and why.

If candidates provide conflicting information, the facilitator might ask if there’s an independent source everyone could accept as "close enough". If sources don’t agree, the facilitator might ask how the candidates might change their position as information becomes more certain. The facilitator might even do some additional research before the final presentation.

If the final presentation will be live, candidates and the facilitator might agree in advance how to present disputed facts, or other potential problems. If the actual presentation is to be recorded with an additional edited summary, candidates could either trust the facilitator to edit the final presentation or schedule additional meetings to approve the editing, perhaps with a prior agreement about what to do if a candidate doesn’t want a particular portion included.

liberty logo "Values" as a Campaign Issue

Before candidates claim they share voters’ values, they should "walk the talk" and declare any values or lessons to be learned from their own speeches and the way they conduct their campaigns. If voters get a different message, candidates should rethink their approaches and take corrective measures or find a better way to communicate their intentions.

liberty logo Responding to Criticism

Some criticism is just mean-spirited, but when confronted with thoughtful criticism, does the person just dismiss it as irrelevant, make excuses, or carefully consider the possibility that something got overlooked and reevaluate the situation?

liberty logoWhich Came First, the Opinion or the Fact?

Are opinions based on all relevant and verifiable information, or did the person first form a pleasing opinion and then go looking for "facts" which might be interpreted in a way that appears to support the opinion while ignoring any facts that are inconvenient?

liberty logo Winning - the Only Thing?

  • Do the candidates put winning above serving their constituents?
  • Do they try to cover up mistakes rather than provide accurate information to best serve constituents?
  • Do they provide all needed information, or just their own preferences?

Candidates might claim that if they don’t get elected, they can’t make changes. If they sacrifice their ideals to get elected, how will they reclaim their ideals after the election when they’re pressured to keep things unchanged?

liberty logo Half a Loaf or None?

Before settling for half a loaf, consider if it’s really enough to be worthwhile:
  • Will the matter be considered closed after getting only half a loaf?
  • Is the other half attainable in the foreseeable future?
  • At what point must the current system be scrapped and entirely replaced?
  • Will it create a false sense of security that might reduce future development?
  • Would the money be better spent elsewhere?
  • Is there an urgent need that can’t be met any other way?

liberty logoFull Disclosure

We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts .... For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth ... is a nation that is afraid of its people.
John F. Kennedy
The same might be said of candidates. If they won’t agree to full disclosure before the election, will they suddenly start telling the whole truth after they’re elected? If a candidate can’t make a case without withholding information or resorting to distortions and innuendo, how will citizen’s interests be served if this candidate gets elected?

liberty logo Comprehensive Campaign Reform

The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.
Albert Einstein

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
Buckminster Fuller

We get what we ask for, not what we want. If we don’t ask for anything, someone else will give us what they want us to have.

Consider Your Goals

  • The type of person I want making decisions on my behalf is ...
  • As a voter trying to make an informed decision, I need ...
  • The role of journalists in elections should be ...
  • Deciding factors in elections should be ...
  • I am most satisfied with my voting options when ...
  • To get on the ballot, a potential candidate should ...
  • Winning an election should cost ...
  • To be considered a "serious contender", a candidate should be ...
  • An elected representative should handle differences with others by ...

Some Possible Ways to Achieve Your Goals

  • Reduce the cost of campaigning for candidates and ballot measures
  • Reduce the influence of campaign spending by corporations, PACs and special interests
  • Place all candidates on an equal footing
  • Provide voters with concise, quality information about all candidates and issues
  • Reduce negative campaigning
  • Encourage honest, constructive discussion of common ground and differences
  • Encourage candidates to demonstrate how they collaborate, and handle differences
  • Promote consensus among our elected representatives
  • Discourage ballot initiatives by special interests
  • The changes themselves should be achievable as a grassroots effort, within existing legislation, at minimual cost.

Making It Happen

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The 2nd best time is now.

It’s been said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. We can’t keep working within the same political system and expect significant changes. We need a new system and a new way of thinking. The solution should be simple, low cost, and protect everyone’s rights. One possible system relies on voluntary compliance subject to the will of voters, long-term voter education and a bit of public funding. Political ads often end with a statement such as "I’m ___ and I approve this message". Ads could also voluntarily contain a statement from opponents certifying that everything is true. Candidates can say "my opponent supports single-payer health care and I support mandatory private health insurance" if it’s true. A candidate could not say "My opponent wants government death panels" and still get an opponent’s certification. Then it’s up to voters to decide the importance of certification by opponents.

A voluntary system preserves everyone’s rights. Possible incentives to participate are

  1. Informed voters and journalists may lose interest in candidates who decline to participate.
  2. Special mailings or websites requiring full compliance with the system would reduce campaign expenses. These could be publicly-funded or paid for by non-profit groups. A single source for comprehensive, reliable information makes it easier for voters to ignore ads from sources such as corporations, PACs and special interests. If candidates don’t have to spend time or money countering false or misleading claims, it could significantly reduce the cost of campaigning.
  3. The system is like an audition, and an opportunity for candidates to demonstrate how they will collaborate and handle differences. If candidates can’t deal constructively with differences among opponents during the election, they probably won’t deal constructively with differences among their colleagues or citizens if elected.

Reducing the cost of elections opens the process to candidates who don’t have deep pockets or wealthy backers. Special publicly-funded mailings or websites requiring certification by opposing candidates could be as simple as an extra section in the sample ballot, but ideally would include a website and an extra mailing to two before the sample ballots are mailed so voters are clear about which candidates are using the voluntary system and which are not. A single document with reliable, comprehensive information about all the candidates could lead to better informed voters.

A wealthy candidate can still do unlimited advertising, but should voluntarily submit each ad to opponents for certification. An honest presentation of differences is a bit of free advertising for opponents. If an opponent refuses certification just to be obstructive, one possibility is requesting a list of specific objections and possible alternate language. If an opponent refuses to cooperate, that refusal could be documented. A website could include an image of a letter delivered by certified mail to an opponent. The letter might say something like "This letter is to confirm our conversation of last Tuesday. We asked you for specific objections to our latest ad and possible alternate language. You responded ’We’re not giving you anything’. We offered to provide a mediator and you refused to schedule a session." The ultimate significance of this is up to the voters. Bickering can be a powerful message in itself. If candidates can’t or won’t collaborate, an enterprising journalist might investigate and help clarify the nature of the dispute. Such reporting might encourage the candidates to develop an informative joint statement.

The voluntary certification system will be difficult at first for some candidates, and they may need help agreeing on much more than "We’re running for ___". People can’t apply skills they haven’t learned yet. Many people don’t know how to deal with differences other than by intimidation, appeals to authority, trading concessions, speeches at 20 paces, "you have to be wrong so I can be right", or voting on a "compromise" that doesn’t even satisfy most supporters. Perhaps knowledgeable journalists or volunteer mediators could help candidates develop the skills they need to collaborate on comprehensive joint statements. The links page lists resources on facilitating and getting along without giving in. A possible starting point is each candidate mentioning general characteristics of a good officeholder such as flexibility, good communication skills, organizational skills or whatever is appropriate for that office. These should be general qualities, not directed at any particular candidate. Candidates might follow-up by listing their own qualities that apply to the office they seek.

Public forums would use the same principles. Candidates could meet in advance, possibly with a facilitator, to work through factual questions and refine honest statements of differences. The facilitator could be the moderator for the event and perhaps read statements prepared jointly by the candidates. Hopefully, candidates’ answers to audience questions will be consistent with the principles of this system, but if not, the facilitator might help clarify common ground and honest differences.

Journalists can help too. Rather than just report "This one said ____ and then that one said ___" a journalist should encourage candidates to jointly clarify common ground and honest differences. If candidates can’t or won’t engage each other in a constructive way, that should be part of the story. If candidates can’t deal constructively with differences among opponents during the election, they probably won’t deal constructively with differences among their colleagues or citizens if elected. If the candidates themselves agree that their positions and differences are fairly presented, that’s a good sign the reporting is fair and balanced.

The same principles could apply to ballot measures, but it should begin with collaboration on the text of the measure. The ballot measure could include a list of all groups that were involved in drafting the measure, which of those groups support the final text, and which groups requested inclusion but were denied the opportunity to participate. Voters could then decide if a ballot measure crafted by one interest group without considering the needs of others deserves serious consideration. Providing lists of participating and excluded groups isn’t much different than providing disclosures about funding.

We may never achieve perfection, but we can remove obstacles. Ultimately, any system is only as good as the voters. There may always be single-issue campaigns and single-issue voters who ignore everything but a candidate’s position on one issue. Long-term voter education, possibly starting in high school, could acquaint people with the problem-solving and collaboration skills needed to make the system work. If voters understand what’s involved, they’re more likely to incorporate that knowledge into their decision-making process as they vote.