The National Initiative for Democracy


A “Plan B” when Congress doesn’t Represent

How we’re getting Better and NATIONAL Ballot Initiatives

NOTE: Sen.Gravel’s project (has stalled, but you can subscribe to our occasional news, upper right.  Gravel’s way of getting National Ballot Initiatives is still valid -and ANYONE could try it

Led by former US Senator Mike Gravel, the National Initiative empowers us to check and balance representatives, similar to ballot initiatives in 24 States, but at all levels from local to national and with major improvements. It gives us a “Plan B” whenever representatives don’t represent us. (Do perpetual wars and debt, domestic spying and bailouts for criminals represent you??) Direct democracy like this is both a strategy and a goal of the Occupy Wall Street and Everywhere Movement.

People tried to get this power from Congress, both in 1907 and 1977, with no success. Gravel adopted the Founders’ solution: rather than beg the existing 13 Legislatures to ratify the Constitution, the Founders had delegates of The People ratify the Constitution at the Constitutional Conventions. James Madison said “The people were in fact, the fountain of all power, and by resorting to them, all difficulties were got over.”(His 2nd response in the 1787 Debate)

Gravel now resorts to you to read and vote to ratify the National Initiative, to make real the promise of “government by the people.” The National Initiative consists of the brief Democracy Amendment and the more detailed Democracy Act.

Real Leaders Agree

  • The Founders would agree! George Washington said “The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government.” More Founders’ quotes.
  • America’s best Constitutional expert agrees. As Yale’s Akil Reed Amar says in
    Popular Sovereignty and Constitutional Amendment “We the People of the United
    States have a legal right to alter our government–to amend our Constitution–via a
    majoritarian and populist mechanism akin to a national referendum, even though that
    mechanism is not explicitly specified in Article V.”
  • Superlative people agree: Patch Adams to Howard Zinn “Participation, that’s what’s going to save the human race.” -Pete Seeger
  • The Economist Magazine agrees: in 17articles!

This vote is no poll. It’s as legal as the conventions which ratified the Constitution. Senator Gravel keeps your email, registered address, etc., with your vote so it can be verified, but will share this data ONLY with the government when ratification is complete: when more than half the people who voted in the previous Presidential election vote for the Initiative. You can change your vote at any time until then. This will take several years.

Why ballot initiatives?

  • Initiatives put the people in the drivers seat. Responsibility brings more responsible people: more people vote in States with initiatives. In Switzerland, national initiatives since 1891 result in the highest newspaper readership in the world. The mental health benefits are incalculable.
  • Initiatives are competition for legislators. The National Initiative will break the monopoly Congress has on national legislative power.
  • People are less swayed by money than representatives are. This study and book show that people favor “grassroots” initiatives over “big money” initiatives while the Associated Press shows Congress usually votes the way big money wants. Buying Congress is the world’s best investment, paying off at 1000 to 1 or more. See what jailed lobbyist/bribesman Jack Abramoff says in this Washington Post article (3rd paragraph).
  • “No one misunderstands the public as much as its representatives.” See this study from the U. of Maryland
  • When legislators make mistakes they cover them up –to protect their careers. Citizens lack the coverup incentive but have incentive to fix mistakes: regular people suffer more than the privileged. Thomas Jefferson said “The will of the majority is the natural law of every society and the only sure guardian of the rights of man; though this may err, yet its errors are honest, solitary and short-lived.”
  • Large, diverse groups of independent people make better decisions. The award-winning book The Wisdom of Crowds shows how and why.
  • Even animals practice democracy! NY Times article


The National Initiative makes these improvements over state ballot initiatives
based on a century of state initiatives and 160 years of Swiss initiatives:

  • More deliberation: Randomly-selected “Deliberative Committees” would hold hearings, take expert testimony, and negotiate amendments. Their reports would be disseminated by all media. Oregon is now using the similar Citizen Initiative Review
  • Easier: Initiatives could qualify by poll, as well as by petition: if a majority polled want to vote on an initiative, they get to.
  • Less influence of money, by allowing only individual contributions to initiative campaigns. No corporate or union donations. The Deliberative Committee reports seen everywhere would make big-money ad campaigns much less important.
“We want saints and gurus and leaders and heroes because we are lazy. We think they have done all the work, and all that we have to do is just to follow them. You know, when you follow somebody, you’re not only destroying yourself, but the other whom you follow.” -Krishnamurti
Who really likes democracy? A tale of 4 Udalls -our Senator from Colorado, his brothers and late mother.

Why has’s founder, previously happy-go-lucky entertainer Evan from Heaven, spent 20 years promoting better and national ballot initiatives? See here.

to help take the “mock” out of democracy!

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Evan Ravitz, founder Evan’s Freelance Editing Gates of Paradise hot springs backpacking trips More info is at Senator Gravel’s web site.

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Dr. Robert McFarland’s and my experience with the JonBenet Ramsey murder case and District Attorney Alex Hunter’s grand secrecy

Dr. Robert McFarland’s and my experience with the JonBenet Ramsey murder case and District Attorney Alex Hunter’s “grand secrecy”

by Evan Ravitz

Note the year 2000 developments below. We tried to tell the Grand Jury about these things!

“Boulder is the incest capital of the world.”

– Anne Wilson Schaef , in response to a question at her 1989 “Process” workshop in Boulder

  1. October 15, 1999: My letter to Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar, with time line summary of events.
  2. September 7, 1999: Dr. McFarland’s request to testify to the grand jury
  3. September 20, 1999: My request to testify to the grand jury, to prosecuting attorney Michael Kane.
  4. September 20, 1999: Mr. Kane and Alex Hunter’s denial of my request.
  5. September 27, 1999: My appeal of the denial to Judge Roxanne Bailin
  6. September 27, 1999: My motion to vacate Judge Daniel Hale’s no-contact (with the grand jury) order, with the support of the Colorado ACLU
  7. October 7, 1999: Judge Bailin’s denial of my appeal.
  8. Spring, 1999: Chapters 10 & 20 of Stephen Singular’s book Presumed Guilty: An Investigation into the JonBenet Ramsey Case, the Media, and the Culture of Pornography, available from These were the chapters that we sent to the grand jurors at their homes after the grand jury foreman told us he never received the book we sent him in care of the District Attorney. For this we were threatened with contempt of court, in spite of Colorado law. We were the main sources for the chapters.
  9. February 2, 1999: Transcript of Dr. McFarland’s radio interview with Donald Freed, author of Killing Time, (about the OJ Simpson case) and screenwriter for the movie “Executive Action” about the JFK assassination.
  10. Spring, 1994: Dr. McFarland’s article on The Children of God cult, published in The Journal of Psychohistory. A former trainer for the cult recently returned his “Parent of the Year” award when his association was disclosed.
  11. The case of Lauriane, “the JonBenet of France”
  12. FEBRUARY 25, 2000: Boulder Daily Camera: “DA pursues new Ramsey lead: Hunter asks police to investigate woman’s story of sex abuse”
  13. FEBRUARY 26, 2000: Boulder Daily Camera: “Therapist backs sex-ring claim; Bienkowski: Client gave Boulder police names of people who are witnesses in JonBenet’s death.”
  14. MARCH 5, 2000: Boulder Daily Camera: “Ramsey Detectives off to California” (to interview the therapist of the woman claiming knowledge of the Ramsey case due to her family’s closeness with Ramsey ex-friend Fleet White)
  15. MARCH 9, 2000: Boulder Daily Camera “Boulder police interview therapist”
  16. April 29, 2000: Boulder Daily Camera guest editorial by Evan Ravitz: “‘Nothing what it seems’ in Ramsey case.” Here’s the paragraph the Camera DIDN’T publish (it was to be 3rd to last):

“Det. Tom Wickman made another curious comment to Dr. McFarland and I, and independently to Stephen Singular, author of “Presumed Guilty: An Investigation into the JonBenet Ramsey Case, the Media, and the Culture of Pornography” (on page 217). Tom said that once he was “getting close” to arresting a Boulder City Council member, but had been told to “back off.” Since Tom was legally prohibited from giving us any clues about the Ramsey investigation, I feel he was repeatedly drawing an analogy, by way of saying that he’d heard the pedophile-coverup story before and had been told to back off from investigating that.”

We suggest letters to US Attorney General Janet Reno. Ask her to investigate why the FBI never took charge of the Ramsey case -an apparent kidnapping case- as required by the “Lindbergh law.” Ask her to review this web site ( Her address:

Attorney General Janet Reno, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Ave NW Washington DC 20530-0001
email: You can call her at 202-616-2777 or fax: 202-514-5331

You can also email Colorado Governor Owens, Attorney General Salazar, and their advisors.

Grand Juries in Colorado, both State and Federal, are being manipulated in various ways. The Ramsey Grand Jury was kept in the dark about many people’s evidence. Read the leaked 1993 Rocky Flats Grand Jury Uncensored Report. Rocky Flats, between Denver and Boulder, made the A-bomb “triggers” for US H-bombs from 1954 till closed by the FBI in 1989. The Grand Jurors wanted to indict Department of Energy officials and private contractors for continuing crimes, but the prosecutor struck a deal, and silenced the jurors.

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Voting by Phone Foundation

formerly Government by the People
originally the Voting by Phone FoundationYou deserve a vote “not just a voice- on the laws you live under!

Let’s govern ourselves! The Swiss Do! Soon, voters in Ontario, Canada! Perhaps soon, voters in Mexico!

In the U.S. we already have the basic tools to share the power, if we use them together:

  1. Initiative laws (which allow citizens to propose and vote on legislation) now in effect in 24 U.S. states and
  2. voting by telephone (internet’is great too)- successfully tested by our associate Dr. Vincent Campbell for the National Science Foundation in 1974. Inventor Buckminster Fuller, who first proposed “voting by telephone on all prominent questions before Congress” in his 194 0 book No More Secondhand God, coined the term for such combining of ideas: “synergy”.


  1. Legalize voting by phone (or Internet) in regular elections, at our option. Most of us will soon prefer it because it’s:
    1. More Secure than existing voting systems- which use computers poorly.
    2. Cheaper -10 or more times- than current systems.
    3. Easier! Saves you time and hassle, driving and waiting.
    4. Far more environmentally sound than existing systems.
  2. Encourage more citizen-initiated legislation by requiring fewer signatures to get Initiatives on the ballot and/or by allowing petitioning by phone or internet. [The Initiative and Referendum Institute is working to get Initiative laws passed for the other 26 states and federally.]
  3. Schedule voting quarterly as the Swiss do, to accommodate the increase in citizen Initiatives. A freer market of ideas. A more level playing field. At a cost savings.

In states and municipalities with existing Initiative laws, people can empower themselves by petitioning to put these three reforms onto the ballot. We were first in the world to put step 1 to the voters for the 1993 election in Boulder, Colorado as the Voting by Phone ballot initiative founded by your webmaster Evan Ravitz.


Everyone agrees we must reform government: Idealistic Democrats want campaign finance reform. Idealistic Republicans want term limits. But representatives of both parties aren’t really doing these things: the foxes won’t turn over the henhouse keys. St rong campaign finance reform ($100-limit) has been passed only by initiative: in Oregon, Montana and Missouri. Same for public campaign financing. The 20 states with term limits for state legislators all instituted them by initiative. Columnist Molly Ivins says:

“We keep making the mistake in this country of thinking about politics as a spectrum that runs from right to left. It’s not. It’s a scale that runs from top to bottom. And the only real questions are: Who’s getting screwed and who’s doing the screw ing?”

The Dalai Lama of Tibet is calling for a referendum on Tibet’s future. Nelson Mandela has called for a referendum on white homelands in South Africa. And the Zapatista rebels in Chiapas, Me xico have made all their major decisions by referendum, resulting in the “women’s laws,” etc. and culminating in a “intercontinental” referendum in September 1995 and again in March 1999. Self-government is the wave of the future! (For a great analysis of the Zapatistas’ use of the internet, see Zapatistas in Cyberspace.)

Self-government also cuts government pork and logrolling.


Our representatives will still be voting on legislation, but they’d better carry out the details of what we want, or improve on our ideas, or we’ll stop them. We say let their ideas compete with ours, and let them facilitate.

There will still be a Bill of Rights to protect the minority from the “tyranny of the majority,” just as it often protects us from majorities of representatives. Example: The US Supreme Court ruled 5/20/96 that Colorado’s 1992 citizen- initiated Amendment Two unconstitutionally discriminates against gays; it never went into effect.

When the people make the decisions, they must live with them, so when mistakes are made there is a built-in incentive to fix them. Politicians, with careers on the line, have an incentive to cover up their mistakes.


WAYS YOU CAN HELP – Democracy is not a spectator sport!

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WAYS YOU CAN HELP “Sentiment without action is the ruination of the soul.” -Edward Abbey

“But if direct democracy is not tried now, future generations will again champion it and there will be world civil wars until it receives adequate trial.” – Buckminster Fuller, 1940

AVANT/GARDE magazine January 1970

by Dr. Vincent Campbell. Leading Social Psychologist Tells How our Republic Can Finally Become a Democracy.

Reading the newspaper over his morning coffee, an ordinary citizen scans the weekly list of legislation up for public vote. The first item he is interested in is a bill on smog control. The paper’s brief summary of the bill–plus the yellowish haze out side the window–persuade him to vote Yes. He picks up the telephone and dials a special voting “area code,” followed by his voter-identification number. He speaks into the telephone, a computer verifies his identity, and he hears a tone indicating that h e can proceed to vote. He dials the code number of the smog-control bill, then a “1”- indicating a Yes vote. In a moment he hears a beep, which signals that his vote has been recorded. He votes on a few other issues, then hangs up the phone.

The scene described above is science fiction today, but in a few years it could well be the way the typical American citizen takes part in direct democracy. The mass media, the telephone, and the computer could put the important decisions of government di rectly into the hands of the electorate. From their own homes [actually from any phone -editor], voters could help set policy and legislate, as well as elect leaders. They could dial a vote at any time, at their own convenience, and without having to leav e the house. For all the mechanical parts for converting our republic into a modern democracy have been manufactured. They need only be assembled.

We also have the means to quickly inform any citizen of political issues. On the back page of the newspaper, for example, each public issue up for vote might be listed–along with its dialing code number, and a brief summary of the pros and cons of the issue (written by elected representatives). After the summary, there would be a notation telling the voter where he could get more detailed information on the issue–perhaps a phone number to dial, a TV program, magazine or newspaper articles.

By dialing a different telephone number, a voter could officially register his vote. Such “televotes” would be recorded and counted by computer, then the total votes “for” and “against” reported by the news media. The public televote on a minor issue migh t be limited to one week, but an enduring issue of major interest, such as Vietnam, could be voted on all year around. In this case, a voter would not be restricted to a single vote; the computer would allow everyone to cast a new vote each month, say, so that televotes would reflect current public feeling. The mechanics of televoting would probably be understood readily by the average citizen. Without any pretense of scientific accuracy, television stations now conduct daily polls similar to televoting.

Televoting would be as simple as using most voting machines, and considerably more versatile. Instead of always voting Yes or No, voters could choose among many alternatives. Suppose a televoter were given a chance to help set policy on the war in Vietnam. The official alternatives offered him in the newspaper might be:

  1. Escalate the war.
  2. Continue policy of gradual withdrawal and negotiation.
  3. Withdraw immediately.
  4. (Other).

He could dial a 1, 2, or 3 to record his position. Or he could dial 4 and propose a new option by spelling it out, letter by letter, on the dial. Thus, after dialing 4 he might spell out “United Nations” on the dial–suggesting that the U.N. play a strong er role in ending the war. The computer would classify such suggestions by key words and tally the number of voters mentioning each key word.

But who would decide which policy issues are put before the public? Certainly the President and Congress, to guide their own actions, should be able to solicit a public vote on any issue. If the initiative were left entirely to our leaders, however , they might choose to avoid controversy by not submitting an issue for public vote; so, as a safeguard, there would be a requirement that any issue called to the government’s attention by a certain number of citizens must be submitted to a public vote. ( To bring up new issues, citizens could simply dial an “open issue” number.)

There are thousands of pressing problem that deserve immediate government action, but since the government can act on only a fraction of them, determining priorities is probably the most critical function of government. Yet no process is more closed from public view than establishing priorities. And what televoting could do is provide an objective public record of the priorities of the people.

The public vote on the final version of any bill could be legally binding, or it could simply inform Congress and the President of public opinion. Shifting the power to approve legislation from Congress to the public would give the responsibility for gove rnment action to those who bear the consequences of it–the people. It would also give legislators more time to construct good alternative plans and policies for public vote, and more time to communicate their views to the public.

At the same time, there are practical reasons for letting legislators keep at least part of their voting power. First, those Congressmen who would have to amend the Constitution to provide for televoting [just for the national level -editor] might be less reluctant to give up some of their voting power than all of it. Second, legislation by elected representatives is such a hallowed American tradition that even the voting public might hesitate to part with it–after 50 years of televoting the publi c might, but not now. Finally, although legislators are often unduly influenced by pressure groups, they sometimes vote in the public interest on bills that draw very little public attention. The number of televotes on a bill to protect some obscure wilde rness area, for example, might be so small that manufacturers who wanted to exploit the area could succeed by persuading a few thousand of their employees and investors to call in votes. Public-spirited legislators could block this maneuver even if the el ectorate were asleep. A sensible way to divide the legislative vote between the public and the politician might be to give each legislator a number of votes equal to 10 per cent (or some other fixed proportion) of the registered voters in his constituency .

Through televoting, we could also upgrade the process of electing leaders. Televoting could in one fell swoop replace our archaic procedures with direct national primaries and elections by popular vote. The selection of candidates within a party is a process over which the ordinary citizen now has little control–he is typically given a one-shot choice very late in the game. How easy it would be to give televoters a choice among a wide variety of potential candidates, then gradually narrow the fiel d in successive weeks on the basis of the voters’ preferences! If this procedure had been used in 1968, both Republicans and Democrats would quite likely have produced different candidates for President.

The thought of telephone networks and computers linked together on a grand scale may conjure up the image of Big Brother peering over the voter’s shoulder. But safeguards of secrecy and inviolability could easily be built into the televoting system. A per son’s identity can now be verified more accurately by computer analysis of his voice than by any inspection of his signature. An even simpler way to handle security would be to give each voter a secret identification number at the time he registers, a num ber which he would dial each time he voted by telephone. It is an understatement to say that any system of direct democracy such as televoting would be difficult to put into effect. Serious resistance could be expected from powerful economic and political groups that exert covert influence on government officials. Lobbies, after all, would find it much harder to control the votes of a million citizens than to swing the votes of a few key legislators.

In deference to skeptics and opponents, and to give the country time to work out the bugs in the system, it might be wise for the first few years to let televotes be informative rather than official and binding. But any elected leader who acted contrary t o the majority vote would surely be under strong pressure to justify his stand. As it is now, public sentiment often is a matter for speculation, and Congressional voting records are so poorly disseminated that a Congressman’s stand on a given issue is un likely to cause him trouble whatever he does. The University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center once asked American voters a long series of questions and found “not more than a chemical trace” of detailed information about the policy stands of the candi dates. For generations the myth has prevailed in this nation that we already have democracy here. But being able to control government policies only by electing leaders, who may not act in accordance with our wishes, is a very low order of democracy. Even if an elected leader keeps his campaign promises, a large number of voters remain dissatisfied–because he is likely to disagree on some issues even with those who voted for him.

Another part of the myth of American democracy is that good citizens participate fully in democracy–by writing to their representatives, attending meetings of governing bodies, circulating petitions, and so on. There is also the implication that if you d on’t do these things you are a civic slob and deserve whatever bad government you are getting. No mention is made of the fact that if we really believed that our government should consult the people, we could make such consultations a thousand times easie r for the citizen simply by using modern methods of communication.

Of course, many political and social scientists think it would be a mistake to make government more responsive to the masses. In the tradition of Plato and Edmund Burke, they think that leaders should represent the interest, not the will, of the majority. They believe that most people are not fit to govern, and that a well-chosen elite can manage the body politic better than it can manage itself. They contend that the masses are uninterested, uninformed, and easily duped, or that they are too emotional to govern with stability and reasoned deliberation.

These may be relevant human weaknesses, but it is not at all clear that the governors are less subject to them than the governed. Even if such traits are more characteristic of the common people, the reason may have more to do with their conditions of life than with their innate capacities. People who are scorned and poverty-stricken in a land of plenty understandably find it difficult to be patient and unemotional about it all. Nor can the fact that most poor people are not active in politics be h eld as evidence of their unfitness to participate: Like the rest of us, they place survival before politics. And even this is rapidly changing as disadvantaged groups learn that political power can put bread on the table. Unfortunately, lawful government has not served them well, and they have achieved their most striking political gains through protest, threat, and violence. A televoting system that gave everyone direct access to important government decisions might stay the mounting tide of disorder< /b> by distributing political power more evenly. It is the poor, usually, who don’t have the time or means to travel to polling places. And a poor man’s televote would count as much as a rich man’s.

The main role of the citizen in a direct democracy would be to pass judgment. Let the politicians and their experts outline a plan to put a man on Mars, or a plan to achieve peace on Earth. But let the people decide whether they want to put the pla n into effect or not, and which goal has priority. For, when the people decide, we will be far closer to the ideal of having government of the people, for the people, and by the people.

Televote’ May Be Expanded – SAN JOSE MERCURY

SAN JOSE MERCURY, 7/19/74 pg. 18

A proposal to enlarge San Jose Unified School District’s “Televote” system, the first computer- telephone communication program in the nation, has been announced.

Dr. Vincent N. Campbell of American Institutes for Research (AIR) of Palo Alto said discussions are under way to include several county and city governmental agencies in the system to broaden its scope to govern- mental as well as school issues.

AIR will seek an additional grant from the National Science Foundation for two more years of operation and improvement of the system, Campbell said in a progress report to board of education.

He said a partial or total funding by local agencies would be proposed if outside funds are reduced or become unavailable.

Campbell said, “It is clear that we still have a great deal to learn about effective participation of citizens through telecommunications. A workable system has been demonstrated, nevertheless, and has been evaluated favorably by most people at all levels of involvement in school decisions,”

More than 5,000 citizens voluntarily registered to become televoters during the first half of the demonstration, Campbell said.

According to preliminary estimates, one- half of those who registered actually participated in one or more televotes. An average of 700 people participated in the experiment.

In a recent televote, Campbell said, 41 per cent of the voters indicated they would pay $1 a year to support a public televote system in San Jose. About 16 per cent said they would pay 25 cents annually- – the amount necessary to maintain a minimum program.

It would take about 50,000 a year to support a minimal televote system and about $100,000 for a more comprehensive program that could include educational, municipal and national issues.

Televote utilizes a computer and telephone to compile results, Campbell said. A voter picks up his phone and dials a Televote number, then a code number that is assigned to him, then a series of numbers corresponding to the answers he wishes to record. The responses are recorded on magnetic tape and a centralized computer compiles the results.

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To Collect the Wisest Sentiments

Representative Government and Direct Democracy

This discussion guide is one in a series on constitutional reform issues developed by The Jefferson Foundation as part of The Jefferson Meeting on the Constitution project.
Written by W. Richard Merriman, Jr.
Copyright 1986 by The Jefferson Foundation
The Jefferson Foundation is a strictly non-partisan, non-advocacy organization which takes no position on any of the reform issues it studies.
1529 18th St. NW, Washington, DC 20036 (202)234-3688


“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives. — Art. I, sec. 1

The opening words of the Declaration of Independence announce the “self- evident” truths “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Declaration lists further truths:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

These ideas were not new in 1776. The great English philosopher John Locke had made similar claims almost a century before. What was unique about the American situation at the time of the Revolution was the readiness and ability of Americans to translate these philosophical truths into practical action. The history of Massachusetts provides a good example of how seriously Americans took the claim that governments were their creations, and that the authority of such governments was derived from the consent of the governed. After the declaration of Independence was signed, the Massachusetts House of Representatives adopted a resolution announcing its interest in drafting a new state constitution to replace the colonial frame of government, and asked that town meetings be called so that citizens could consider whether such a course of action would be acceptable.

Concord’s meeting resolved that a sitting legislature was “by no means a Body proper to form & Establish a Constitution.” Governments were not to be created by governments, but by the people. Concord resolved that “it appears to this Town highly necessary & Expedient that a Convention, or Congress be immediately Chosen, to form & establish a Constitution, by the Inhabitants of the Respective Towns in this State,…” The town meeting of Boston asserted that in making such an important public decision pains must be taken to consult not only the legislature of Massachusetts but all the people in order to “collect the wisest Sentiments” on the subject of a new constitution. Attleborough’s town meeting objected to granting the government the right to draft a new form of government because “the right of the Inhabitants of the Said State to negative the Said form, or any Article in it when drawn is expressly acknowledged….”

Undeterred, the state government of Massachusetts drafted the Constitution of 1778. The proposed frame of government was sent to town meetings where approval by two-thirds of votes cast was necessary for adoption. A gathering of citizens in Essex County found much in the proposed constitution that was objectionable. In particular, the assembled citizens asserted [t]hat a bill of rights, clearly ascertai ning and defining the rights of conscience, and that security of person and property, which every member of the State hath a right to expect from the supreme power hereof, ought to be settled and established, previous to any ratification of any constituti on for the state. (Pole 1970, 446)

Other meetings found other aspects of the proposed constitution that were worrisome or objectionable, and it failed to gain the necessary votes for adoption.

In June of 1779 the state government of Massachusetts responded to this defeat by calling for a constitutional convention. This convention, whose delegates were chosen specifically for the task of framing a new state government, drafted a new constitution, the first part of which was a declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Once again, the town meetings debated, voted, and eventually approved the new constitution. The voters of Massachusetts, acting twice through a popular vote on a proposed course of public action, had exercised their fundamental right to create a government that satisfied them.

The Initiative and Referendum

Even with the establishment of settled representative state governments, Americans have continued to exercise their right to govern themselves directly through the processes of initiative and referendum. The initiative is a process by which citizens may propose laws and constitutional amendments and enact them by a popular vote without the involvement of state legislatures or governors. A constitutional initiative allows voters to propose and adopt amendments to their state constitution. Statutory initiatives allow voters to enact or mend a law. Initiative measures in states are placed on the ballot for a popular vote when a specified percentage of registered voters has signed a petition calling for such a vote.

The initiative allows popular initiation of constitutional amendments and laws; a referendum gives voters an opportunity to express their approval or disapproval of acts taken by their governments. In essence, a referendum allows citizens to approve or repeal an adopted state statute (statutory referendum) or approve or reject a legislatively approved change in their state’s constitution (constitutional referendum). Referenda in various states may be called by the state legislature or by popular petition, or may simply be required before undertaking certain measures.

In every state except Delaware proposed amendments to state constitutions that have been approved by the state legislature must be submitted to a constitutional referendum of the people. In sixteen states citizens may use the constitutional initiative process to propose and adopt amendments to their state constitutions. In over twenty states citizens may use the statutory initiative to bring proposed statutes to popular vote. Some states require statutory referenda in certain cases and allow the state legislature to call for a referendum on legislation it has approved. In addition, thousands of local referenda re held each year.

Given the role that initiatives and referenda have played in state and local governance, it is remarkable that there has never been a national initiative or referendum. The reason for this is simple: the Constitution of the United States does not provide for direct citizen initiation of, or direct popular vote on, either statutes or constitutional amendments. Americans do not make national law directly through their votes. Instead they choose representatives who determine national policy.

A discussion of why there is no provision in the Constitution for national processes of initiative and referendum and whether there should be such a provision leads inevitably to a discussion of democracy and representation. Does the United States have a representative system of government only because it is impossible for the people to gather to conduct public business (an obstacle that initiatives and referenda seek to eliminate)? Or do we expect that our representatives and our representative form of government will produce better and wiser policies than the people themselves could produce? Are the people of the United States sufficiently well-informed to make wise decisions about public policy issues? Do they have enough regard for the rights and interests of those with minority points of view to avoid damaging those rights and interests? Should th e people have the power, ultimately, to make policy directly when they are dissatisfied with the actions, or inaction, of their elected officials?

Democracy and Representation: The Formative Debate

Concerns About Popular Government

In Federalist No. 10 James Madison described a “pure Democracy” as “a Society, consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer Government in person.” One argument against creating such a democracy in America was simply that it was impossible to do so given the large territory and widely dispersed population of the United States. But Madison claimed that there were other reasons for avoiding pure democracy: “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives, as they have been violent in their deaths.” The reason democracies resented such a sad spectacle, Madison wrote, was that a “common passion or interest” could easily animate a majority of citizens who would find it easy to work together to violate the rights of the “weaker party or an obnoxious individual.”

That men were capable of invading the rights of their fellow citizens was an axiom of Anglo-American political thought in the eighteenth century. It was widely assumed that the human appetite for power threatened all political systems, however noble their origins and intentions, with degeneration into tyranny. The men who gathered in Philadelphia were history-minded, and their study of ancient governments and of contemporary European systems taught them that monarchies tended to degenerate into tyrannies of one over all others, that aristocracies degenerated into oligarchies in which a few oppressed the many, and that democracies degenerated in to mob rule and anarchy.

Most Americans had no intention of fastening a monarchy on themselves after struggling so hard to cast one off. There existed no formal aristocracy in the United States and Americans were not interested in seeing one created. But the only remaining alternative–a strongly democratic government–was not one that the framers of the Constitution were anxious to establish. Between 1776 and 1787, a number of states had experimented with systems of government in which popularly elected legi slatures had dominated weak state executives and judiciaries. The results were alarming to many of the framers.

The democratic nature of various new state constitutions had brought a new kind of man–often a small farmer or person of modest economic background–into government. Many of these men found themselves crushed by debt and taxes in the years following the American War of Independence. To counter this burden, many states issued paper money. In Rhode Island this was accomplished by the adoption of a state law giving landowners loans of new paper money, with their land as security. When this paper money was made legal tender for payment of debts the usual relationship between creditors and debtors was reversed: debtors pursued creditors who wished to void being paid with what they regarded as worthless money. In response to this evasion the legislature of Rhode Island made it an offense to refuse paper money and allowed debtors to come to court, declare their debts, and pay them with paper money. Creditors were then informed that the debt had been discharged. Andrew McLaughlin wryly notes that “… seven states entered on the difficult task of legislating their people into financial blessedness by the simple means of making money…” (McLaughlin 1962, 106-107).

Paper money as issued in Massachusetts as well, but continuing economic distress led to calls for yet more relief. When none was forthcoming, a group of armed men attempted to close the courts and disrupt the processes by which mortgage foreclosures and debt collections were carried out. A ragtag army of these hard-pressed and angry men gathered in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1786, hoping to generate enough pressure on public authorities to receive some relief. Under the “command” of Daniel Shays, they moved against the federal arsenal in Springfield. Ho wever, they were met by a force of 4,400 men gathered under the authority of the state of Massachusetts. These troops scattered Shays’ men and ended what is now known as Shays’ rebellion.

The Philadelphia Convention

Such events cast a long shadow over the experiment with popularly elected representative state governments and caused great concern among the men who wrote the Constitution. Americans became convinced during the escalation of their conflict with England that they were especially well-suited for republican government, the aim of which was to pursue the “public good” rather than the private interests of any person or group. The design of most state governments reflected this commitment to the public good and the belief that it would be pursued when the public played a role in selecting its representatives.

The framers of the Constitution shared this commitment to government by representation, but disagreed on how representatives were to be chosen and to whom they should be accountable. Should a theory of actual representation be translated into a system in which representatives were popularly elected and charged with the task of pursuing the interests of their constituents? Or should a theory of virtual representation be translated into a system in which representatives, insulated from public opinion and popular pressure, would seek to identify and pursue broader “public good”?

Madison’s Notes record the belief of Roger Sherman that “the people… immediately should have as little to do as may be about the Government. They [lack] information and are constantly liable to be misled.” Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, no doubt with the memory of Shay’s Rebellion still fresh in his mind, joined Sherman by stating that the evils we experience flow from an excess of democracy. The people do not [lack] virtue, but are the dupes of pretended patriots.”

To these doubts about the character and capability of the people were added the concerns of those, like Charles Pinckney of South Carolina, who wished to maximize the influence of state governments in the work of the national government. Pinckney proposed that each state’s legislature choose its representatives to the House of Representatives. Otherwise, Pinckney worried, the state governments will “lose their agency” and “S. Carolina & other States would have but a small share of the benefits of Govt.” John Dickinson of Delaware shared these concerns, comparing “the proposed National System to the Solar system, in which the States were the planets, and ought to left to move freely in their proper orbits.” James Wilson replied that while he was not in favor of extinguishing these planets, “neither did he on the other hand, believe that they would warm or enlighten the Sun.” Wilson added that selection of members of the house of representatives by state legislatures was undesirable because state legislatures have “an official sentiment” opposed to the aims and sentiments of a national government “and perhaps to that of people themselves.” Wilson was joined in this view by Alexander Hamilton and other nationalists.

But unlike Hamilton, Wilson opposed state legislative selection of representatives not only because he wanted to avoid undue state influence in the national government but also because he wanted to maximize the influence in the Congress of the people. He urged the popular election of members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Wilson invoked the theory of actual representation in arguing that “representation is made necessary only because it is impossible for the people to act collectively.” If all citizens could not be gathered to make decisions, then a representative government should possess “not only 1st the force, but secondly the mind or sense of the people at large. The Legislature ought to be the most exact transcript of the whole society.”

The Convention eventually settled on a plan to have members of the House popularly elected and members of the Senate chosen by state legislatures. As was so often the case during that summer in Philadelphia, opposing views found a compromise. The national legislature was thus subject to both popular influence (in the House) and state influence (in the Senate). This system of election reflected the belief that the people must have some direct influence on government while still allowing for reservations about the people’s ability to properly participate in their own governance. In addition to mixing state and popular influence in the national legislature, the constitution provided for actual representation in the House and virtual representation in the Senate.

But had the Constitution really provided for the actual representation of popular opinion? Was the democratically elected branch of Congress to be easily subject to public opinion?

The Ratification Debate

In describing and defending the Constitution’s plan for representative government, Madison harkened back to the problems that arose in the governments of the states, citing complaints that these

…governments are too unstable; that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties; and that measures are too often decided not according to the rules of justice, and the rights of the minor party; but by the superior force of an interested and over-bearing majority. (Federalist No. 10)

A prime advantage of the proposed constitution’s representative form of government, Madison asserted, was that a great number of citizens from a large extent of territory would be brought together in an extended republic. This republic would contain a variety of groups and interests. The principle of majority rule in the legislature, however, would curb the pursuit of narrow interests by minority factions. And the multiplicity and geographic distance of interest groups from one another would discourage the effective operation of a majority faction that might threaten the rights of the numerical minority.

The Constitution’s plan for representation had, Madison wrote, an additional advantage: because members of the House of Representatives would be chosen in large districts with large constituencies,

…it will be more difficult for unworthy candidates to practise with success the vicious arts, by which elections are too often carried; and the suffrages of the people being more free, will be more likely to centre on men who possess the most attractive merit, and the most diffusive and established characters. (Federalist No. 10)

Madison believed that the popular election of members of the House of representatives would bring to office men of considerable prominence. These men would “refine” the views of the public and pursue policies that showed a proper regard for the public good and a proper disdain for the political projects of special interests.

To all of these checks against “factious” influence in the House, the framers of the constitution added additional checks against the threat of popular actions in the national government. A Senate, not chosen by popular election, had to approve any legislation passed by the House before it could go to the president; the president, also not chosen by popular election, had the power to veto it; and the Supreme Court, chosen by the president with the consent of the Senate, would judge the constitutionality of legislation.

Not surprisingly, some of the most cogent complaints raised against the proposed Constitution focused on the alleged absence of democratic processes and on its overall aristocratic tendency.” Melancton Smith of New York, speaking to the New York ratifying convention about the Constitution’s system of representation, expressed this view:

The idea that naturally suggests itself to our minds, when we speak of representatives, is, that they resemble those they represent. They should be a true picture of the people, possess a knowledge of their circumstances and their wants, sympathize in all their distresses, and be disposed to seek their true interests. The knowledge necessary for the representative of a free people not only comprehends extensive political and commercial information, such as is acquired by men of refined education, who have leisure to attain to high degrees of improvement, but it should also comprehend that kind of acquaintance with the common concerns and occupations of the people, which men of the middling class of life are, in general, more competent to than those of a superior class. (Kenyon 1966, 382)

Smith wanted representatives to be attentive to the special concerns of their constituents. He also believed that a large number of representatives should be chosen in smaller districts: “…the number of representatives should be so large, as that, while it embraces the men of the first class, it should admit those of the middling class of life.”

Many opponents of the Constitution concluded, like Smith, that a small number of representatives serving large constituencies would prevent the common American from being elected to the House of representatives. This would preclude a desirable resemblance between the representative and the represented. The likely effect of this system, said opponents of the Constitution, would be diminished power of the people within the only part of government they directly selected. This “aristocratic” bias in the House was intolerable given what opponents of the Constitution regarded as the flatly undemocratic character of the remainder of the government.

Opponents of the Constitution argued for the establishment of an advisory council to limit the power of the president, shorter terms and/or rotation of office for both senators and the president, a provision allowing states to recall senators, and a bill of rights to safeguard the rights of the individual. The Constitution was eventually ratified as written, though only after its supporters agreed to propose amendments forming a bill of rights once the government was in operation.

The Democratic Impulse

Under the original Constitution, the power of voters only reached directly as far as the House of Representatives. But as the national government increasingly asserted its supremacy over state governments and began to make policies on taxes, banking, international commerce, transportation, the opening and settlement of western lands, and a variety of other issues that directly affected the welfare of millions of citizens, Americans began to demand a larger voice.

Manhood Suffrage

One of the changes demanded in the early 1800s was an expansion of the electorate by the removal of property qualifications for voting. “Manhood suffrage”–voting by free white men–was common in the new states of the west, and by 1850 Virginia and North Carolina had joined the other original thirteen states in adopting it. Article I, section 2 of the Constitution specifies that a state’s members of the U.S. House of Representatives are to be designated by the electorate that chooses the most numerous branch of that state’s legislature; thus manhood suffrage in the states brought manhood suffrage to the elections to the House of Representatives.

Choosing the President

By the time John Adams was elected to the presidency in 1796, serious conflicts over national government policies had divided the nation’s leaders into groups that would eventually become political parties. As these parties sought to attract popular support they democratized the presidential selection process. By 1832 party conventions had replaced congressional caucuses as the mechanism for nominating presidential candidates. These conventions, at least in theory, gave the parties’ rank and file membership a greater voice in choosing candidates.

As parties became more prominent in nominating residential candidates they transformed the operation of the electoral college. Candidates for selection to the electoral college were frequently pledged to a particular party and its presidential nominee. By 1832 every state but South Carolina had shifted the selection of these electoral college electors from state legislators to voters. The popular election of pledged electors retained the form of the electoral college’s mediation between voters and presidential candidates, but the discretion of electors was substantially reduced in favor of greater public influence in the selection of a president.

The Expanding Electorate

The demand for broader public participation in government has led to a significant expansion of the electorate. The Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870, forbade denying the vote on “account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” In 1848 he Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, echoed the Declaration of Independence in asserting that “all men and women are created equal” and that the history of mankind “is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.” Seventy years of pressure for women’s suffrage eventually led to the ratification in 1920 of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the vote in national elections. The Twenty-third Amendment, ratified in 1961, brought the voters of the District of Columbia into the presidential electorate; in 1964 the Twenty- fourth Amendment banned the poll tax, which had been used to deprive many blacks of their votes; and the Twenty-sixth Amendment, ratified in 1971, extended the right to vote to eighteen year-olds.

Populists and Progressives

From 1890 to 1916 a strong upsurge of public pressure to democratize reform in American politics occurred. The rapid development of American industry during and after the Civil War had brought into existence large and powerful corporations whose activities were not regulated to any great extent by government. Many Americans were economically powerless against these large organizations and complained that government was increasingly dominated by them. The 1892 platform of the New Populist Party dramatically voiced the complaints of its members against the domination of American society by business interests:

The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced, business prostrated, homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists …The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of these, in turn, despise the Republic and endanger liberty. From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes–tramps and millionaires. (Levy 1982, 293)

These economic wrongs would not be righted by the Democratic or Republican parties, the Populists argued, because both were servants of business interests:

We have witnessed for more than a quarter of a century the struggles of the two great political parties for power and plunder, while grievous wrongs have been inflicted upon suffering people. We charge that the controlling influences dominating both th ese parties have permitted the existing dreadful conditions to develop without serious effort to prevent or restrain them….They propose to sacrifice our homes, lives, and children on the altar of mammon; to destroy the multitude in order to secure corru ption funds from the millionaires. (Levy 1982, 293)

The Populists claimed that the answer to this political problem was more democracy. They favored the secret ballot, which would shield voters from intimidation; direct popular election of senators; and the use of he initiative and referendum.

While the economic analyses and rhetoric of the Populists received a cold reception from most Americans, their complaints about the domination of political processes by special interests and corrupt parties found a large and responsive audience. The Progressive Movement, which succeeded the Populists, pursued a number of the Populists’ reforms. Its greatest achievement at the national level was the adoption of the Seventeenth amendment, which provided for popular election of senators. Progressives successfully pressed for use of secret ballots, regulation of political parties, and use of nonpartisan elections at the local level. They also led the fight for direct democracy in the states, urging state adoption of the initiative and referendum processes.

The Progressive Movement was extremely diverse, claiming both Democratic and Republican adherents. But the Progressive Movement’s greatest concern was over the growth of large and powerful organizations–corporations, organized labor, and party political machines–and influence on American society and politics. Progressives feared such organizations undermined the role of the “unorganized individual” in American life and American politics. Against the power of these groups, which wielded money, votes, and patronage to pursue special political aims, the Progressives hoped to muster the power the votes of the average citizen.

Progressives and the Case for Initiative Referendum

Progressives viewed the processes of initiative and referendum as ways of reinstating the political power of the average American who was not part of an organized interest group. The Progressives’ argument made several key claims. First, through the processes of initiative and referendum any issue of real concern to voters could be discussed and voted on. While both interest groups and political parties might wish to keep certain issues off the political agenda, the people would have the opportunity to place key issues squarely before the voters. Second, the initiative and referendum would bring public decisions close to the people instead of leaving them to be shaped by the interests of parties, legislators, and lobbyists. Third, they would ensure public decisions were made publicly instead of in smoke-filled rooms. Fourth, initiatives and referenda would accurately reflect the public will without the distorting influence of parties, legislators, and interest groups. Fifth, they would diminish citizen apathy and reverse alienation that had increased with the domination of governments by interest groups, legislators, and boss-controlled parties. Finally, the Progressives asserted that the true public interest could best be perceived pursued by the average “Man of Good Will” who participated in initiatives and referenda (Butler and Ranney 1978, 24-33).

Between 1898 and 1914 the push for direct democracy won the amendment of state constitutions following initiatives and referenda in South Dakota, Utah, Oregon, Montana, Oklahoma, Maine, Missouri, Arkansas, Colorado, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Washington. The pioneering spirit of many relatively new states reflected in their early adoption of the initiative and referendum.

National Initiative and Referendum

Americans have made changes in their political system at both the state and national levels that would, no doubt, astound the framers of the Constitution. In the national government only the federal judiciary has not been made substantially more dependent on the will of the people. Limits on political participation based on property, race, sex, and age have all been eliminated. In the states the initiative and referendum have greatly extended the power of Americans to act directly to make and repeal laws and to change their state constitutions. Americans, apparently, have become more confident of their ability to participate in government and more assertive, often in the face of considerable resistance, in their demand to be allowed his participation.

Some Americans believe that amending the constitution to allow direct popular votes on statutory and constitutional issues is the logical and desirable next step in the ongoing process by which our national government has been democratized. Others think such amendments would be a fundamental and ill- advised departure from the principle and practice of a democratically elected but nevertheless representative government.

The push for direct democracy moved from the state level to the national level in 1907, when Rep. Elmer Fulton of Oklahoma introduced House Joint Resolution 44. This resolution, which was eventually unsuccessful, would have amended the Constitution to provide for national initiatives on both proposed statutes and constitutional amendments.

In the 1916 presidential campaign the supporters of President Woodrow Wilson advised voters that, while war raged in Europe:

    You are working, not fighting!
    Alive and happy, not cannon fodder!
    Wilson and peace with honor?
    Hughes with Roosevelt and war.

Many Americans were not convinced that this would long remain the case because of loan arrangements that led to the shipment of U.S. munitions to Britain. Such notable reformers as William Jennings Bryan, Robert LaFollette, and Jane Addams supported a proposal that required a national referendum on any declaration of war. After Wilson’s reelection this proposal was the subject of congressional hearings in February, 1917. By March of 1917 American merchant seamen were arming themselves against anticipated attacks by German submarines. On April 6, 1917, German attacks on American shipping prompted a U.S. declaration of war.

Disillusioned by America’s involvement in World War I and chagrined by the harsh peace that followed, Americans turned again to the war referendum proposal in the late 1930s as war menaced Europe once more. Rep. Louis Ludlow’s “Ludlow Amendment” calling for a war referendum went further in the legislative process than any national referendum proposal before or since. The proposed amendment came to the floor of the House in December, 1937. President Franklin Roosevelt lobbied for the defeat of the proposal. A House vote of 188-209 fell well short of the two-thirds vote needed for further advancement.

The most recent significant proposals for a national initiative were advanced in 1977. These proposals were in response to a perceived loss of effective popular contact with and control over national policymakers. An unpopular war in Vietnam, the resignation of a president in disgrace, and scandals in Congress all contributed to a low level of public confidence in national leadership. In December, 1977, the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary held hearings on two national initiative proposals.

In introducing Senate Joint Resolution 67, 95th Congress, 1st session, sponsored by Sen. James Abourezk and Sen. Mark Hatfield, Senator Abourezk stated that:

[t]he last few years have seen a growing dissatisfaction, and in many cases a serious distrust, of Government by the very people who are its source of power and who elect its leaders. People stay home on election day not because they are lazy or do not care but because they have decided that meaningful communication with th eir leaders is no longer possible or effective.

Echoing an earlier Progressive theme, Abourezk continued:

…much of the alienation and helplessness that citizens experience can be mitigated if avenues for constructive participation exist. The initiative procedure is one means to provide direct citizen access to our governmental decision-making process through a legal and democratic method. (Hearings on Voter Initiative Constitutional Amendment)

Among the key features of the Abourezk-Hatfield proposal were the following:

  • The people of the United States would have the power to propose and enact laws, except with respect to carrying out the powers granted Congress in clauses 11 and 15 of Article I, section 8, of the Constitution.
  • The proposal did not grant the people of the United States the power to propose amendments to the Constitution.
  • A law could be proposed by presenting to the Attorney General of the United States a petition containing the text of the proposed law and signatures, collected within the eighteen months prior to the presentation of the petition, of registered voters equal in number to three percent of the ballots cast in the last general election for president, including the signatures of registered voters in each of ten states equal in number to three percent of the ballots cast in the last general election for president in each of the ten states.
  • Within ninety days of receiving such petitions, the Attorney General would determine the validity of the signatures on the petitions through consultation with the appropriate states. Upon a determination that the petitions contain the required number of valid signatures, the petition would be certified and the proposed law would be placed on the ballot at the next general election held for choosing members of the House of Representatives occurring at least one hundred and twenty days after such certification.
  • A proposed law would be enacted upon approval by a majority of the people casting votes, and would take effect thirty days after approval.
  • Any law enacted in this way would be a law the same as any other law of the United States, and could be held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
  • A law enacted through the initiative and referendum process could be repealed by Congress by a two-thirds vote in each house.

In an interesting departure from earlier proposals that were particularly concerned with war powers, S.J. Res. 67 specifically precluded initiatives touching on the declaration of war (clause 11, Article I, section 8) and the calling of state militia (clause 15, Article I, section 8). And unlike Fulton’s 1907 proposal, S.J. Res. 67 specifically voided giving the people the power to use the initiative to propose amendments to the Constitution. Statutes initiated under S.J. Res. 67 would be liable, just as are all other statutes, to being judged unconstitutional by the national judiciary.

Also introduced during the first session of the Ninety-fifth Congress was House Joint Resolution 544, whose prime sponsor was Rep. Guy Vander Jagt. There are two key differences between this proposal and the Abourezk-Hatfield proposal. First, a successful initiative would require not a simple majority of all voters but a majority of votes cast in each of three-fourths (thirty-eight) of the states. Second, a three-fourths vote of both houses of Congress rather than a two-thirds vote would be necessary for Congress to reverse the action of the people. The same majority of votes in three-fourths of the states would be needed for the rep eal of a law or a provision of a law.

The amendments proposed in 1977 did not involve proposals for national constitutional initiative or referendum processes. A constitutional initiative process would allow voters to propose amendments and put them to a national popular vote by gathering a specified number of signatures on a petition. Such a process would supplement, or could conceivably replace, the current amending process, which requires both houses of Congress to pass a proposed amendment by a two-thirds vote before sending the proposal to the states where approval by three-fourths of the states (expressed either by state legislature or special convention) is required for ratification. A constitutional referendum process would require a popu lar vote on constitutional amendments approved by Congress.

Another option not discussed during the 1977 hearings is the statutory referendum, a process that could work in several ways. Congress and the president could be required to submit certain types of legislation to a popular vote before it could become law. Or Congress and the resident may be given the option of referring some legislation to a popular vote. Finally, a process could be established that would employ a popular petition to require that a statute approved by Congress and the president be submitted to a popular vote.

Obviously, some of these alteratives are more sweeping than others and hence would be more controversial. Statutory initiatives and referenda would be subject to repeal by Congress and invalidation by the Supreme Court. Constitutional changes enacted by popular vote would become part of the nation’s fundamental charter and could only be changed or removed by subsequent amendment. Debate about all proposals for direct democracy, though, would focus on arguments about the comparative merits of democratic and representative forms of government.

Arguments For a National Initiative and Referendum Process

  • The use of initiatives and referenda would be an exercise by the people of their sovereign power to govern themselves. This is the logical next step in democratizing American national government.
  • Initiatives and referenda actualize Americans’ First Amendment right “to petition the Government for redress of grievances” by allowing them to act for themselves when elected representatives fail to do so.
  • A national initiative/referendum process would lessen both alienation and apathy of millions of Americans by providing for more direct participation in the making of public policy.
  • A national initiative/referendum process is a natural complement to our system of representative government because it would correct that system hen it loses touch with the wishes of the majority.
  • The initiative and referendum would free our nation’s policy-making process from the undue influence of special interest groups. Initiatives and referenda would enhance the accountability of government. They can be avoided as long as representatives pursue the policy preferences of the majority. National initiatives and referenda would produce an open, educational debate about problems and issues that might otherwise be inadequately discussed or not acted upon.

Arguments against a National Initiative and Referendum Process

  • Initiatives and referenda will not enhance citizen participation because many citizens–particularly those who are alienated and apathetic-are unlikely to make the effort needed to acquire information about ballot issues.
  • If the chance to cast one vote out of hundreds of thousands in congressional elections does not bring the apathetic voter to the polls, the chance to cast one vote out of millions on a ballot question will not do so either.
  • Initiatives and referenda complicate the ballot by adding issues that are too technical and complicated for many voters to understand. They discourage voting.
  • The process of placing initiative and referendum questions on the ballot and then winning the election is so complicated and expensive that only already mobilized and well-financed constituencies will succeed in putting their concerns before voters. Rather than decreasing the influence of special interest groups, initiatives and referenda will increase their impact.
  • A national initiative/referendum process could be used for regressive purposes and attacks on the rights and interests of minority groups. In 1964, for instance, California voters used the process to repeal that state’s fair housing law.
  • A national initiative/referendum process will have a polarizing and fragmenting effect on American society by bringing highly divisive issues to a yes or no vote. For the good of the country, such issues are better handled through a legislative process that encourages discussion, moderation, compromise, and consensus.

The truth about the likely impact of national initiative and referendum processes is less tidy than one would gather from the claims of their advocates or detractors. It is true, for instance, that the referendum process has been used in ways that damaged the interests of minority groups. But he same results have been produced by representative governments at both the state and national levels. It is true that the initiative/referendum process could heighten citizen awareness of and interest in political questions. It is also true that this heightened awareness could bring increased emotion and acrimony to political life.

Questions about the capabilities of citizen voters do not admit of pat answers. It is undeniable that many citizens lack information about public issues and do not participate widely in the nation’s political life. The question is whether widespread citizen apathy and lack of information is a normal state of affairs or whether it is a product of a representative system that leaves us to decide who decides on policy issues instead of deciding for ourselves.


Abourezk says six of the last 10 constitutional amendments “have in some way extended voting rights,” so the initiative would be just “a further step in this evolutionary process.” But the initiative would be decisively different; it would not expand the electorate, it would alter the function of the electorate. Only the 17th Amendment–popular election of senators– did that. And the initiative would do so at the expense of the principle of representation.

Advocates of the initiative say representative government is “government by elites”: the representative and the “interests” who lobby them. But any national initiative would be dominated by an intense, unelected minority using direct mail, television commercials and other techniques of mass persuasion. (George Will, Washington Post, 28 July 1977)

Will believes people should not govern or decide issues, but are supposed “to decide who will decide.” he states that public policy “is best given shape by representative institutions, which, unlike ‘the people,’ are deliberative bodies.” Those of us who favor the initiative process believe that an educated and well-informed public, operating in an atmosphere of unrestrained First Amendment rights, is fully capable of acting as a deliberative body.

Contrary to Will’s suggestion that it would undermine our representative form of government, the initiative process would provide a much-needed complement to the system. To an electorate frustrated by a Congress unwilling to act, it provides another democratic means to bring about change. To the federal government itself, the initi ative process would provide another check in our system of checks and balances, a dilution of centralized power. (James Abourezk, Washington Post, 10 August 1977)

The education value and politicization potential from a national initiative could be substantial. Thousands of people would be involved in any national initiative campaign on one side or the other. Furthermore, the public’s attention would be focused on debate and discussion of the merits or demerits of public policy issues rather than just on style, looks, image, and other similar aspects of many modern campaigns. Furthermore, the debate would be in public and in the open….The initiative process will provide one more way for the vox populi to speak and, more importantly, it will permit them to act rather than simply react to actions taken by others. Larry Berg, Testimony on Voter Initiative Constitutional Amendment, 13 and 14 December 1977)

The political arena which [the initiative process] creates will be preempted by groups that have money, that have organization, that have political skill, and that have power. (Peter Bachrach, Testimony on Voter Initiative Constitutional Amendment, 13 and 14 December 1977)

In the end, in fact, the real issue… is whether or not America believes in democracy, and believes it can afford the risks that go with democratic life. All of the objections to it are so many different ways of saying “the people are not to be trusted”–a skepticism which, it is perfectly true, can be traced back to the “realism” and cynical elitism of a significant group of constitutional fathers….If Americans sometimes seem unfit to legislate, it may be because they hav e for so long been passive observers of government. The remedy is not to continue to exclude them from governing, but to provide practical and active forms of civic education that will make them more fit than they were. Initiative and referendum proces ses are ideal instruments of civic education …. Benjamin Barber, Testimony on Voter Initiative Constitutional amendment, 13 and 14 December 1977)

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Denver Post on Voting by Phone

DENVER POST, Sunday, 8/12/90 pg. 1A
Dial- a- vote test proposed for Boulder By Bruce Finley, Denver Post Staff Writer

From Christmas shopping to sexual titillation, Americans do it by phone. Why not voting too?

Letting citizens make political choices on a touch- tone dial could help revive a political system in which as few as one in 10 citizens vote in many elections, proponents say.

A Voting by Phone movement – – led by tightrope- walking computer whiz Evan Ravitz of Boulder – – is gaining momentum.

Boulder City Council members, federal election authorities, political scientists and U.S. Senate candidate Josie Heath are among those who believe the ease of phone voting could boost voter participation.

“We’re in this because we want to live in a democracy again,” said Ravitz, 38, who has enlisted technical support from the University of Colorado in a drive to make phone voting legal.

“Voting by mail brought voting into the 20th century. Voting by phone would bring it into the information Age.”

Registered voters would receive identification numbers. They would dial a free telephone number from any touch-tone phone. A recorded voice would ask the voter to enter the number, then indicate voting preferences. A computer would check off voters electronically to prevent voting more than once.

“I don’t see any problem with trying it,” said Roy Saltman, election systems expert for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, who conducted a three- year study of automated voting. “I think it’s worth looking into.”

o CU telecommunications researchers are designing “concentrator” computer software that would serve as an electronic funnel to condense digital voting data. They want to test the technology alongside mechanical voting machines to ensure accuracy.

Provide the mix

Joe Pelton, director of CU’s graduate telecommunication program and author of “Future Talk,” envisioned government hiring universities to provide the mix of computers, software and phone switchboards for elections.

“We don’t think it’s that far- fetched. Twenty years ago people said, ‘You mean I’m going to go to a (bank) machine and entrust my money to it and not see a human being?’ This is the same process. It will take time for people to get comfortable with it.”

Yet many in the nation’s election establishment reject the concept. They raise a multitude of technical concerns ranging from the possibility of computer hackers doctoring results to who would pay for the phone calls.

Perhaps a safe system could be devised “in the very distant future,” said Penelope Bonsall, director of the Federal Election Commission’s National Clearinghouse on Election Administration. [Please see Security and Privacy]

Voting by Phone proponents are pushing for the first Phone- voting election in Boulder next year. Most exports believe this would be technically feasible. The main technical hurdles are:

*Dealing with a deluge of voting data. A sudden surge of voters making calls for several minutes each could overwhelm a city’s telephone lines. CU researchers are trying to estimate phone traffic. Three 20 megabyte personal computers would be sufficient to count votes from a city of 50,000 [voters -editor], such as Boulder, Pelton said.

*Ensuring secrecy. Opponents of phone voting say the lack of a neutral public environment and the prospect of electronic eavesdropping are drawbacks. Proponents say free election phone lines operated by the government would be as secure as any voting booth – – and ultimately cheaper than supervising polling-stations.

*Identifying voters. The Voting by Phone group proposes mailing numbers similar to credit card codes to registered voters. Eventually, voters could give voice prints when they register – – sound samples that computers could recognize. Voice- print technology has not been perfected.

*Making it easy. Voters would have to understand issues and candidates in advance. possibly by reading printed ballots sent by mail. People without phones would have to have an equal opportunity to vote.

“It’s feasible,” Saltman said. “But all of these various problems have to be considered.” Ravitz is planning a publicity blitz for “the last great populist movement.” He walks a tightrope while carrying a cellular phone on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall, urging citizens to consider Voting by Phone. “There are 5 billion people out there waiting for empowerment,” he says.

Phone voting would bring democracy back to the nation that perfected it during small town meetings in New England, Ravitz said, suggesting that regular referendums are needed now that government touches virtually all aspects of life.

“It’s clear that capitalism has triumphed over socialism. What isn’t certain yet is whether democracy will triumph over totalitarianism.”

No doubt, widespread telephone voting would be a milestone in evolution of political power. Once, power fell to big men wielding pointed rocks. With phone voting, couch- bound dullards and office drones could pick up phones and help select the president.

Anything would be better than the present situation. many political analysts believe. The United States has the lowest voter participation rate of any democracy in the world.

Voting figures

Only about half of America’s voting age population cast ballots in the 1988 presidential election. That’s down from about 62 percent in 1960. As few as 1 in 17 registered voters cast ballots in elections for special districts in Colorado, though the state usually ranks higher than average for voter participation in general elections.

Even in major metropolitan mayoral battles, participation is waning. In Los Angeles, only 24.3 percent of registered voters cast ballots last year to pick a mayor and nearly half the city council.

Legal efforts to revive voting – – such as a Texas early voting law, “motor voter” legislation to increase voter registration and widespread provisions for voting by mail – – have failed to reverse a 30- year decline in voter participation.

“It’s embarrassing that one of the showcase democracies in the world has so little turnout for votes,” said Tom Cronin, political science professor at Colorado College and author of several texts on American politics.

Perhaps the most common reason people give for not voting is that they are “too busy.” Urban citizens lament the daily details that eat their time – – viewed increasingly as a commodity to be allocated for maximum personal benefit.

Citizens also claim their votes don’t matter – – that one individual can’t make a difference amid big money politics in which candidates often blur political differences.

Boredom is another factor. Americans are asked to select some 493,000 candidates for office every year, with elections held every week. said American University Professor Richard Smolka, the Washington, D.C.- based publisher of the Election Administration Reports.

Yet Smolka opposed voting by phone. “All that would do is open the door for people who want to play games with the system to take over.”

Technical concerns

The opponents tend to cite technical concerns, rather than qualitative concern that phone voting could encourage casual attitudes toward selection of leaders.

Colorado Secretary of State Natalie Meyer had a typical response. She said voice print technology would be necessary to guard against voter fraud.

Yet Aaron Harber, a Democratic candidate seeking her job, was eager to test voting by phone. “Democracy survives only when everyone participates,” Harber said.

Resistance from political incumbents can be expected, said Cronin, who believes the future of the concept depends on a successful test in a progressive community such as Boulder.

“If you open up the possibility that the whole universe of adults registers and votes …. you wouldn’t know who’s going to turn out,” Cronin said. Phone voting “would scare the bell out of politicians. They like to be cautious with respect to suffrage.”

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Certificate of Incorporation




I, NATALIE MEYER, Secretary of State of the State of Colorado hereby certify that the prerequisites for the issuance of this certificate have been fulfilled in compliance with law and are found to conform to law.

Accordingly, the undersigned, by virtue of the authority vested in me by law, hereby issues A CERTIFICATE OF INCORPORATION TO VOTING BY PHONE FOUNDATION, INC., A NON-PROFIT CORPORATION.

Dated: DECEMBER 17, 1990



I, NATALIE MEYER, Secretary of State of the State of Colorado hereby certify that

774 19TH ST. #5


in classification (100) MISCELLANEOUS

claiming such Trademark was first used anywhere on JULY 1, 1990. A reproduction of such Trademark is attached hereto.

Accordingly, the undersigned, hereby issues this Certificate of Registration effective for a period of ten years from this date.

Trademark no. 911002890

Dated: JANUARY 16, 1991


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Report from Boulder, Colo. – THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, Sunday, January 27, 1991
“Report from Boulder, Colo.” By John Woestendiek, Staff Writer

BOULDER, Colo. – – Americans shop on it, hank on it and use it to get everything from horoscopes to “HOT PHONE SEX,” but that most American activity of all – – voting – – is still more than a telephone call away.

Now, from this university town in the Rocky Mountains comes a movement to change that. The notion of voting by phone – – as telecommunications technology improves and voter participation drops to near record lows – – is gaining attention. if not support, from across the country.

“The timing is right, both from a technological standpoint and politically,” said Evan Ravitz, a computer analyst turned street entertainer who is founder and director of the Boulder- based organization Voting by Phone.

Led by the 38- year- old tightrope walker/juggler/comedian, the organization draws technical support from an array of respected scientists, scholars and politicians who maintain that allowing Americans to vote by telephone would be easier and more ecologically sound and, above all, would revive a democracy that has the lowest voter participation rate of any in the world. The concept is not a new one. First suggested by futurist R. Buckminster Fuller about 50 years ago. it has been proposed, shot down and revived several times since.

“The idea turns up with a regularity that is truly astonishing,” said Bill Kimberling, deputy director of the Federal Election Commission’s National Clearinghouse on Election Administration. “I think these people have been watching Star Trek a little too much.”

Citing the potential for vote fraud and violations of voter privacy, he added, “we looked into it and concluded that, even if it were technologically feasible, the cost of the technology would far exceed whatever benefit might accrue.” [please see COST]

Ravitz, however, believes a virtually foolproof system could be devised, and would, in the long run, save money. And the price would not be too much to pay to save a democracy in distress, he says.

Nationally, only about 36 percent of the 186 million Americans eligible to vote cast ballots in November, matching the lowest turnout of the last 50 years. Many political analysts expect the downward trend to continue.

His organization is trying to legalize telephone voting in Boulder through a city ballot measure in the next election, and it hopes that, by the 1994 election, residents here will be letting their fingers do the voting.

Under the nationwide system the group proposes, all registered voters would be given 14- digit voter identification numbers. To help protect against fraud, only one in every 100,000 possible sequences of numbers would be a valid voter identification number. Voters would call a free telephone number from touchtone phones, punch in their identification numbers, then vote on candidates and ballot issues by punching other numbers. While backers acknowledge that there are kinks to be worked out – – most related to ensuring security and voter privacy – – researchers say the technology exists to resolve those concerns.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that a cost-effective, user- friendly system could be designed,” said Joseph Pelton, director of the University of Colorado’s graduate telecommunications program and technical adviser to Vol it by Phone. “Remember that, 20 years ago. people thought it would be crazy to trust your money to a bank machine; now everybody uses them.”

“By next November, we should be ready for a full- scale test – – a demonstration process that will debunk these concerns.” Pelton said. “It’s going to happen, if not in Boulder, then certainly somewhere in the next few years.”

While there is no organized opposition to the Voting by Phone movement, Pelton said, the idea does have its critics, including those who doubt the technology, fear the loss of election- related jobs, or question whether voting would – – or should – – be made easier.

“That more people would vote is an assertion that is wholly untested,” Kimberling said. “I’m not sure that spending 30 minutes listening to directions and punching buttons on the phone is making voting easier.

[with a ballot worksheet to prepare our votes, we demonstrated live that we could vote in a minute with our system at the 5/18/93 Boulder City Council meeting -editor]

“The other question is whether non- voting is really a problem,” he added. “People who don’t vote are the least informed and the least interested, and I don’t know whether trying to herd them into the polling place with a cattle prod is a desirable thing…I mean how hard is it to vote, compared to getting a passport or a driver’s license? People don’t vote because they don’t want to.”

As Ravitz sees it, they don’t want to vote because they feel alienated and disenfranchised from a system they don’t feel represents them. And telephone voting, he says, would change that, making for a more direct democracy, and one in which the electorate would be more reflective of the population.

Studies comparing voters with nonvoters have shown the electorate to be skewed toward those with higher incomes and higher educations. It is older and whiter than the general population. Other research, however, suggests that expanding the electorate would not make much difference in the outcome of elections.

Tom Cronin, a political science professor at Colorado College, said telephone voting would increase the number of voters, but he disagreed with the notion held by some that doing so would benefit liberal Democratic candidates.

“I think telephone voting would expand the voting base another 10 percent or so with people voting because it’s more convenient. But they would be people who paid less attention, who were less informed and more subject to media blitzes. You’d have to raise some questions about the quality of the vote.”

A spokeswoman for the League of Women Voters voiced concerns about the security of telephone voting. While the league has not studied the idea, the spokeswoman said, it generally favors anything that would make voting easier, such as legislation introduced last week in the Senate that would automatically register people to vote when they renew or apply for driver’s licenses. Voting by telephone would be a much bigger step, and one Kimberling says would be fraught with dangers. It would overwhelm privately owned phone lines on which privacy cannot be assured, and there would be a high potential for sabotage by computer hackers, fraud or vote- buying, he said. [please see SECURITY] “How would you know somebody wasn’t standing next to the caller telling him how to vote? There are just too many flaws.” [Please see COERCION?]

“Technical people are confident it will work and that the bugs can be worked out,” Ravitz responded. “It’s the non- technical people who are afraid of it. We may succeed where others have failed…

“This would open up the process to shut- ins, the disabled, single mothers and fathers. people who are too busy to vote, rural people who live far from the polls, and, of course, lazy people, the biggest group of all.”

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Let Your Fingers Do the Voting, Maybe – THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

August 12, 1992, pg B1
By Louis Jacobson, Staff Reporter

Ross Perot’s idea for an electronic town hall may have died along with his candidacy. But the vision of a wired-in electorate voting by telephone – long a dream of populists and techno-nerds–is inching its way into the mainstream.

This June in Nova Scotia, the Liberal Party threw open the phone lines at its convention, holding a provincewide televote to choose its new leader. Despite a computer glitch that delayed the vote by two weeks, voters eventually cast ballots in numbers four times greater than at the previous convention, which had used traditional balloting methods.

Late last month, the House Subcommittee on Elections heard testimony on allowing phone or fax voting for overseas civilians and military personnel. Soldiers in the Gulf War voted by fax from the Mideast.

Meanwhile, Boulder, Colo., could become the first U.S. city to test a telephone voting system, if the Voting by Phone Foundation succeeds in getting the issue on this fall’s ballot. The proposal has prompted a spirited local debate and, if passed, could present Colorado courts with a landmark case on the issue.

Too Busy

Longstanding proponents say telephone voting could remedy low voter turnout, which has shrunk to half of the eligible voters in presidential elections. Citizens with disabilities or those too busy to vote could be easily enfranchised. Even better, supporters say, the technology already exists. Yet, the idea is dogged by worries over fraud and privacy.

“This idea crops up like mushrooms after a spring rain,” says William Kimberling, a Federal Elections Commission official. “I’m just not sure it’s worth it, especially if you need a parallel system [of ballot voting]. What do you gain except a terrible expense and unknown ramifications? The futuristic stuff is good for people who watch Star Trek regularly, but not my mother.” [We were unable to locate his mother for comment -editor]

Undeterred, advocates say the fine- tuning of communications technology, as well as the public’s comfort with banking and shopping by phone, may provide a breakthrough for a heretofore subversive idea.

A symbol of the movement’s anti- establishment roots is Evan Ravitz, who founded the Voting by Phone Foundation in 1989. A 40- year- old computer programmer, Mr. Ravitz has variously supported himself as a tightrope walker, juggler and comedian. Now, leading the charge in Boulder, Mr. Ravitz boasts 100 to 200 volunteers and has more than half of the 5,500 signatures needed by next Monday to put the issue on Boulder’s ballot. His foundation’s literature cites support from local and state politicians of both parties.

Mr. Ravitz argues that phone elections are so easy to put on that they could even be held monthly. Such a system would make voting less disruptive, requiring only a minimum of staff to man a handful of voting booths. Frequent elections, he adds, would spread out the battery of referendums that have clogged many states’ ballots recently. Right now, companies such as Call Interactive, a unit of First Data Corp., and MCI Communications Corp. could handle a vote held in almost any single U.S. city, as long as the phone- polls stay open for several hours.

Public Appeal

Mr. Ravitz’s notion was bolstered by the Nova Scotia vote because it was apparently the first- ever test of voting- by- phone. Liberal Party leaders, who had appealed for ideas on democratizing the party, say the local phone company, Maritime Telegraph & Telephone, was eager to work with them. Once the company solved the first glitch, caused by new computer software, the system easily handled the surge of about 7,000 calls in a two- hour period, says Howard McNutt, Maritime’s networks- marketing manager.

Some observers say the vote may already have changed provincial politics in Canada. The experience “compels the other political parties to do the same thing,” says Carey Veinotte, an aide to the Liberal member of parliament representing Halifax. “I can’t see the grass roots of the Conservative or New Democratic parties accepting brokerage politics ever again, when they can look at everybody in the Nova Scotia Liberal party voting.” In fact, Nova Scotia’s conservatives have set up a committee to study potential uses of new voting technologies, and the NDP, which has experimented in the past with video linkups, says it would also consider similar methods.

But others aren’t impressed. In Washington, Richard Smolka, who has edited Election Administration Reports for 22 years, says he is sick of the idea. “It hasn’t advanced one iota, for the obvious reasons. The technology is there – you can change your bank by phone- but the problem with elections is due to the nature of the ballot.”

Some obstacles can be overcome. Votes cannot be duplicated if voters are sent confidential ID numbers, like those on a bank card, to punch in before voting. Once a voter’s selection is made, he could short-circuit long lists of also- runs by pressing a button. Citizens could vote from home, the office, a friend’s house or a public pay phone without giving up the alternative of voting in person. if they so wished. In fact, the number could be set up as a free call, such as 911 or 411 are now.

Telephone voting could actually cut overall costs by 80%, Mr. Ravitz says, compared with the price tag of manning traditional polling places, plus transportation costs and the voter’s lost productivity. “The real costs are the costs of moving electrons,” he says.

Petty Cheating

More problematic is fraud. Voting electronically could cut back on petty cheating, but it also opens the door to more widespread and damaging fraud. On the one hand, traditional voting identification “is based on the archaic idea that you know everyone in your precinct,” Mr. Ravitz says. [that the election judges know everyone -editor] An electronic system, on the other hand, raises the stakes by making it possible to change thousands of votes with the press of a button. Such mischief as tying up phone lines is also possible. [Please see Security and Privacy]

But voter privacy is perhaps the trickiest issue. Caller- ID can be defeated by using a public phone, but if hackers crack the master list of names and personal ID numbers, they could track a person’s votes. Mr. Ravitz’s solution: Keep names and ID numbers under lock and key, and use a recording system that keeps ID numbers separate from votes.

“There is no problem with electronic voting per se, but safeguards must be adopted to protect privacy and promote reliability,” says Marc Rotenberg, director of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. “It’s a design issue, and you need independent oversight. Now we have a lot of checks and balances locally, but when things hit the big time, like, ‘Push *67 to raise taxes,’ the stakes go up quite a bit.”

Even if universal telephone voting fails to catch fire, observers say it is likely that local tests will become sufficiently widespread to familiarize voters with the technology. Such a system may actually work better for voting in a corporate or university setting, Maritime’s Mr. McNutt says.

The biggest problems may actually be bringing people to the technology, Mr. McNutt adds. With the Liberal Party vote, he says people were willing to learn, once they were talked through it. “They’re not Luddites,” he says. “They’re intelligent people.”

Joseph N. Pelton, who directs the University of Colorado graduate telecommunications program and advises Mr. Ravitz’s foundation, compares the challenge of telephone voting with that faced by automatic teller machines a few decades ago. “People said, ‘I’ll never use that.’ Now people find them quite user friendly. It took quite a while to work out the bugs. That scenario may happen here.”

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