Binding Polls

The "Congressional report cards" currently available on the internet often cover only one issue, or just a few, for a single legislator, and may appear biased or have a hidden agenda.

I believe there would be wide interest in similar reports from a nonpartisan organization (such as yours) that compare all legislators' votes to available polls, including a score card for the poll itself, regarding how representative it was, how it was or was not biased, what is known about the parties funding the poll, and what their interests and any hidden agenda might be. This could be accomplished prior to (or without) passage of legislation.

I have two concerns about legally binding legislators to vote according to poll results, or bypass them entirely and create laws directly by referendum: First, some legislation that might be considered the highlights of American democracy probably would not have been enacted on the basis of public opinion polls. I understand that the term "republic" does not mean "representative", but we do rely on our representatives to occasionally make progress at a greater pace or that is more far-sighted than can be expected from the public at large. Second, certain organizations, such as the religious right, have already established systems to "get out the vote", and inundate legislators (and TV sponsors) with ostensibly "spontaneous" calls, mailings, and emails from their members. A binding referendum system would put us in peril of having our lives run by such people.

It would not require a binding system, let alone a Constitutional Amendment, to make representatives more responsive to public opinion. Current internet public opinion polls could be expanded to provide detailed explanations and rebuttals on any issue. I suggest "accountability" legislation that would require legislators to timely provide a public explanation when their vote in Congress contradicts representative poll results from their constituents. Sufficient improvement might be seen to make the specter of a binding system moot. (Even an "accountability" system could ultimately lead to dictatorship by the well-organized, but I believe this is a risk worth taking. It will be up to the rest of us to be better organized.)

The legislation would include criteria for qualifying such polls as "representative", that is, that the poll constitutes an accurate and meaningful representation of public opinion.

The criteria for accuracy would be statistical: a sufficient number of respondents from a representative cross-section of the constituency, and full accounting of discarded responses. Since some citizens cannot or will not respond via the means available (the internet), obtaining responses from a fully representative cross-section is not feasible; therefore, the hard part of establishing the accuracy criteria will be developing a nonpartisan protocol for correcting the results to account for such citizens.

The explanations and rebuttals would be prepared by the Congressional committee drafting the legislation. Those currently provided by state and local governments can be a confusing jumble of factual disputes and opinions. The criteria for meaningfulness should at least include a requirement that the explanations and rebuttals include one section for "statements of fact", and a separate section for discussions of conclusions drawn from those "facts". Finally, the criteria should include a requirement that the verbiage be vetted for understandability through review by "outsiders".

For privately funded polls, voters' concerns about hidden agenda should be mitigated by full identification of all contributors financing the poll, the amounts contributed by each, and identification of contributors' relevant interests and related agenda, with opponents' rebuttals. For congressional polls, the same information should be provided by the legislator about all of his or her financial supporters.

Any legislator should be able to call for a national poll on specified types of legislation, with a relatively small number of supporting votes required for initiation of the poll. If approval of only a quarter of the legislators were required to initiate a poll, and two-thirds to make it binding, the dominance of the majority party would be reduced, and more issues would be polled.

When key legislation, such as the budget, gets held up by special interest and pork barrel amendments, the poll process could be used to require that such amendments be converted to separate legislation.

I would like to see the first use of a binding poll to be on whether all future surpluses should be used to pay down the national debt. (I believe that most Americans can be convinced of the long-term financial benefits of paying down the debt, instead of giving the surplus to the rich when the Republicans are in the majority, or throwing it away on ill-conceived social programs when the Democrats are in the majority.)

Other polls I would like to see:

Should we spend $50 billion on upgrading our energy transmission infrastructure, or a fraction of that in developing local storage devices, which would make complex transmission less critical? (The availability of an affordable battery system, fuel cell, or other device that could power a home for an extended period, would dramatically reduce the impact of a large scale disaster.)

Corollary: Should a portion of the energy transmission upgrade funding be allocated to development of alternative energy sources? Much to the disdain of the oil interests, cold fusion may not be that far off; perhaps all we need is further improvement in laser technology (article).

Government-issued "Anonymous ID" cards which can: Track criminals while protecting citizen privacy. Allow distribution of sales taxes to areas with below-average retail businesses. Eliminate the need for personal income tax. Please see details at:

Allow use of "tainted" evidence in prosecution of violent criminals. Please see details at:

Treat drug abuse as a medical rather than criminal problem. Please see more at:

I will be following your organization's progress with interest. If you know of any organizations that might be interested in conducting any of the above polls, I would appreciate your letting me know about them.

My primary concern is that avoiding domination of the process by organized special interest groups will require a higher level of consistent participation by the full spectrum of the constituency than can be reasonably expected.

It's not enough just to raise the money required to inform voters of the issues; you also have to actually get them to vote. The special interests, particularly religious organizations, will always have the unfortunate advantage of ideological motivation, in addition to funding.

The difficulty in achieving the required level of participation by the general populace is evident from the disastrous consequences of school boards nationwide being taken over by the Christian right, which they achieved by proselytizing their members to get out and vote in elections which traditionally have very light turnouts. Their organizations control enough voters that they cannot be considered margin influences, even in national elections.

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