"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson


We as Americans all remember being taught when we were young about our nation's founders, the patriots who stood up to the tyranny of the crown of England, the drafters of the declaration of independence, the constitution, and the bill of rights, the documents that became the framework for a system of governance that they believed would maintain a balance of power within a truly representative government, that would preserve the basic rights and liberties of the people, let their voice be heard, and provide to them a government, as Lincoln later put it, "of the people, by the people, and for the people."

What we may not be so quick to recall, however, is that there was much debate between the founding fathers as to what model our system of government should follow. Those such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Patrick Henry on one side favored a pure and direct democracy with the legislative power vested in the very hands of the people, while others such as James Madison, John Adams and George Washington held that a representative democracy would better serve the people than a true democracy because they believed it would protect the individual liberties of the minority from the will of the majority. Alexander Hamilton even went so far as to support the creation of a monarchy. In the end, those favoring representative democracy won the day and that is the system they put in place in the hopes of creating a "more perfect union."

Now we must ask ourselves, what would the founding fathers think if they were resurrected today to see what has become of their vision? One can only assume that they would begin to search for modern day patriots to meet them once again at the liberty tree in order to plan a new struggle for freedom and self governance. Although we continue to praise and honor those who founded our nation and sought to create a truly just form of government for it, do we really stop to reflect on whether we as a nation have in fact succeeded in preserving what they fought so hard to create?

Today, in contrast to our revolutionary ancestors, we as citizens of the United States generally observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. Over the decades and centuries we have allowed the erosion of the ideals of the founding fathers and the corruption of the principles which they enshrined in those so carefully conceived documents. We have been left with essentially no real power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. We may write an occasional letter to our senator or representative that generates a form letter in response and a statistical data entry that may or may not be weighed against the influence of some powerful corporate lobby. We may be permitted to participate in a march or demonstration of thousands or even millions, something our patriots of old would have marvelled at, only to be dismissed as a 'focus group' with no bearing on policy decisions.

How then is the government held accountable to the voice of the people? Are the people meant to speak only at the polls when given a choice between a select few candidates that may be equally corrupt? No, as Jefferson and his allies rightly believed, the people should be heard much more than that.

In spite of their good intentions, the system of representative democracy that the founding fathers opted for has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

We have become so accustomed to this failed system of representative democracy that it may not occur to us that there are other alternative forms of democracy. In various places around the world participatory or direct democracy has been instituted both in concert with representative democracy, and as a replacement for it. It is a form of democracy that is designed to take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and to politically empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the concept of participatory democracy and how this grass-roots based form of governance could help bring us back in line with the principles this country was founded upon if it were allowed to take root here. In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…



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Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Doing away with the electoral college and electing a president based on the national popular vote would be a more directly democratic means of choosing the people's highest representative. It would mean that every citizen's vote would have equal weight regardless of the state that they reside in, and that is obviously more in line with basic democratic principles. There is already a movement that is gaining ground in bypassing the electoral college at the state level, thereby effectively eliminating it without the need for a constitutional amendment. For more on the NPV movement see our previous post on the subject (CLICK HERE) and visit the NPV website. - Editor

Should the U.S. do away with the electoral college to elect the president?

Yes: A direct popular vote would serve the will of the majority

By: Matthew Spearman , Duluth News Tribune
Published October 20 2008

I do not want to tear up the Constitution of the United States of America — just the part about the electoral college.

Yes, the time has come for the electoral college to go. The will of the majority should be served in a majority-rule system. I cast my vote for who I want to be president, and the candidate with the most votes should become president. That’s democracy. Technically, that’s direct democracy. And that is what we need.

I believe the electoral college should be scrapped and replaced by direct popular vote for picking the president. I believe this for three reasons: It would ensure we do not face another Constitutional crisis as in 2000. It would allow my vote to be counted toward the person I voted for. And it would increase national voter participation.

Although in most elections, the candidate with the most votes also wins the most electoral votes, this is not always the case. This was not the case in the 2000 election in which Al Gore won 500,000 more votes than George W. Bush. The majority did not rule. Not only did the majority of the people not decide who became president, the electoral college did not adequately provide this function, either. Rather, the Supreme Court, a body that should never be involved in electoral politics, essentially decided the election. In 2000, we in the U.S. witnessed the failure of the electoral college — a Constitutional crisis.

One may say that the result in 2000 was the exception rather than the rule set forth by the founders in 1787. After all, the process has been stable for more than 200 years. However, in a democracy as important as ours, we should never have to face such a Constitutional crisis.

The more clearly we understand what the electoral college is and how it works, the farther away our votes travel from the candidates for whom we voted. The U.S. electoral college is a group of people (electors) who are designated to cast a vote for a certain candidate, dictated by the winner of the popular vote of a certain state. For example, Minnesota has 10 electoral votes and 10 electors. So when I cast my vote for president, I am actually voting for a set of 10 representatives or electors. If my candidate wins the state, those electors will vote for my candidate. If not, the winner’s set of electors will vote. In short, electors get to vote for the candidate, not me. And not you.

Direct democracy demands that every vote cast for a candidate count — and not count only toward a state’s electors. It allows my vote to count directly for the person for whom I voted.

One main argument for needing the electoral college is the protection of small states which otherwise could be ignored in a national campaign. This argument carried more weight in years past. Now, the electoral college does not protect small states. It protects swing states. There are solid blue states and solid red states, and then there are a number of swing states that have been the deciding factor in the past several elections.

Ironically, the elimination of the electoral college may protect the smaller states because candidates from either party would not write off red or blue states and would spend more time in those states because there are voters there. In each state, regardless of how it generally leans — red or blue — there are undecided voters, independent voters and intermittent voters. There also are those who often do not vote, but would if they believed it would make a difference. Blue voters in solid red states, or the reverse, would be more likely to vote if their vote counted directly toward the candidate.

The brilliance of our system, as put forward by the founders of our nation, is in its adaptability — and in our ability as a people to change that which no longer works in government. It’s time for that change to occur regarding the electoral college. It’s time to tear up that section of the Constitution and replace it with the direct popular vote of our highest official.

Matthew Spearman of Duluth is a special education teacher at the North Shore Community School.

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