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Restoring Congressional Accountability

An October 2013 telephone poll revealed only 5% of the respondents approved of the way Congress is handling its job; 83% disapproved. Another recent 2013 poll found 2/3 of Americans said the current Congress is the worst in their lifetime, with the older Americans being more negative than the younger Americans. The Supreme Court continues to lean toward no limits on federal campaign contributions, so the election process will continue to be dominated by the rich buying influence with their purchased representatives.

Our elections are the only way Americans can select their representatives, by trying to discover through the barrage of misleading campaign ads which candidate might follow the needs of his/her voters. Clearly, from the findings of many recent polls, the election process is not giving the electorate effective representation.

What is clearly missing is a mechanism of accountability outside of those periodic elections.

Some parliamentary systems of government allow a motion of no confidence; if passed the elected parliament no longer has confidence in the head of state so a new election for that head of state might be required (depends on the country). Could a similar mechanism, a vote of no confidence, be applied to the American government at different levels?

If each elected representative is required to carry a discussion with his/her voters on a periodic basis, perhaps a few times per year, then the voters could hear his/her explanation for the vote against single payer health care, a vote for tax cuts on the wealthy, a vote for private schools to get taxpayer funds, a vote for another foreign intervention while our domestic economy collapses, or a vote for an increase in military spending when America is the only superpower. After that discussion, all the voters present should be able to vote on a 'no confidence' measure. If enough express their displeasure (is half sufficient when only a higher vote count (could be less than half) is required to win an election?) then this representative should be thrown out of office and another election held, without this person involved.

This vote cannot result in just another election. Wisconsin is an example when that result is not enough. Governor Walker was subjected to a recall election in 2012 but the Democrats put up an undesirable candidate so the state got Walker again. After a representative has shown to be incapable of meeting the needs of his/her voters with this no confidence vote, he/she has demonstrated his inability to be an effective representative and so another chance should not be given.

Americans have a Congress with only a 5% approval rating so to turn that around significant changes must be implemented, even if it might be unfair to allow a simple majority from a meeting of voters to drive a decision. If the parties put up unacceptable candidates again and so another no confidence vote results with the next person, eventually the election process might be reformed involving more political parties so effective representation can be found.

Public demonstrations have been shown to be ineffective in our current political arena to bring about policy change, unlike as recent as the 60's demonstrations about civil rights or Vietnam. Not only do those in government just ignore them now, they are not above manipulating them. From anecdotal evidence, if there is any violence among the demonstrators it is often instigated by the government informant, not by the nonviolent demonstrators. Even Governor Scott Walker in a 2011 telephone call said 'we thought about that', with 'that' being 'planting some troublemakers.' Many voters are aware that during the 2000 presidential voter ballet recount drama in Florida the Republican Party put staff members on buses just so they could disrupt the recount.

Public accountability is the recommended mechanism for someone in a public office. Unfortunately, an election as the only mechanism is not working. If the representative does not have to convince the voters of his reasoning periodically then he/she does not have to bother ever voting in accordance with the voters' expectations.

With the electorate having their candidates selected by the two political parties (other parties are typically excluded from debates and are confronted by obstacles to even getting on the ballot) and then the elections dominated by money from the rich, the only remaining alternative for accountability is the proposed periodic votes of approval by the electorate, so those candidates that fail to perform as promised during the campaign can be thrown out of office. If that action is accomplished often enough, the representatives should become more cognizant of how their votes will be interpreted by their voters, with the expectation voter approval will rise.

I expect in some districts convoluted by gerrymandering the voters will continue to approve their representative who is bad for America, but at least this public meeting forces them to remain accountable to their particular slice of voters. Reform in districting would also help voters' consideration of all the representatives, not just those they vote on.

Since the latest initiative from the conservatives is the further restriction of voters (by such regulations as voter ID requirements), to reduce the number of people who might oppose their pro-business policies, limiting the attendees to only voters will confront the diminishing number of voters even as the American population increases. This practice of trying to suppress the number of voters has happened in several recent elections.

Every adult should be able to vote and the vote should be as easy and convenient as possible. Any other practice is intended to reduce the number of voters, so the candidates are not selected by all the voters he/she will represent.

These public confidence vote meetings would definitely be a challenge for the public to be convinced of their honesty.  If only those in the district or state are allowed then the attendees might be subject to ID checks - and then they might expect repercussions to follow later. If the questioner must identify himself/herself, then again there is the potential for harassment of that person during or after the meeting. To prevent the representative stacking the deck with only questions from his staff, all the questions would have to be random, so then the duration of the meeting could dictate how well the voters get to hear from their representative. The political parties are corrupt and most voters accept that already; it is difficult to envision that corruption being set aside when these meetings with the voters are conducted.

With our elections a sham (dominated by funds from the rich, with campaigns that never really tell the voters how the candidate will behave after the election) so the representatives no longer represent their voters, eventually the significant majority of the population will run out of tolerance for the misbehavior by their representatives, with the government policies that substantially hurt rather than help the well being of the voters.

Perhaps this proposal would inject some public accountability for our politicians outside of that corrupt election process.

created - Dec. 2013
last change - 12/29/2013
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