America Needs a Pro-Democracy Movement

Instead of trying to export democracy into a religious civil war or merely cursing the darkness, four leading progressive organizations are publishing a "Democracy Protection Act" [pdf]to restore democracy here at home.

The Democracy Protection Act includes 40 proposals that reflect a nascent pro-democracy movement among citizens who know something is wrong and have ideas how to make things right. Written by Demos, The Nation magazine, The New Democracy Project and the Brennan Center for Justice, it covers five general areas: voting rights; rule of law; democratizing congress; secrecy; and the economics of democracy.

Among the proposals advanced are: enacting "democracy funding" and free airtime for qualifying federal candidates, creating national voting standards, making electronic voting secure, strengthening the Freedom of Information Act, making CEOs more accountable for excessive corporate compensation, restoring habeas corpus; and restricting presidential signing statements. (See below for an executive summary of all the proposals.)

Here's the groups' "Declaration for Democracy" and then a summary of the proposals:

"America's two century advance toward a better democracy - with more voters, greater fidelity to the rule of law, and more transparency and accountability - is threatened by a group of 'New Authoritarians' who show an anormous contempt for the process of democracy. Trampling on the values represented by the flag far more than the couple of fools a year who actually burn one, this trend poses a clear and present danger to our constitutional traditions.

While visible crises such as Iraq, health care and income inequality assault us daily, there is a quiet crisis of democracy that is as urgent as it is ignored.

We have too much money and too few voters in our electoral process. Too much corruption. Too high barriers blocking access to civil justice. Too much contempt for the Rule of Law.

At a colloquium we organized last January in New York City, Bill Moyers said that what America needs most is 'a different story' than the prevailing conservative narrative of private=good, public=bad. That story is democracy.

So we are dedicated to injecting the value of democracy and our 40 pro-democracy solutions into the public conversation of '07-'08. That means a renewed dedication to expanding the franchise, accountability, transparency and the rule of law. The Democracy Protection Act, therefore, is designed to be a trumpet heralding that, in the words of former Governor Al Smith, the cure to the problems of democracy is more democracy."

Executive Summary

A. A Democracy With Too Few Voters:

1. Enforce National Voting Standards - Create national standards to assure a more professional,trained, non-partisan staff to implement election day.
2. Make Electronic Voting Secure - Use electronic voting machines with paper trails (as ATMs do) to deter or detect fraud.
3. Establish Voting by Mail - Follow Oregon's example and send ballots by mail to all eligible voters, a form of universal "no excuse" absentee balloting.
4. Enact Election Day Registration - Make it easier to vote by keeping voter registration open until and on Election Day and merge Veterans Day into Election Day to create a national holiday called "Democracy Day."
5. Create Universal Youth Voter Registration - Based on high school enrollment, automatically register all 18 year-olds to vote.
6. Criminalize Voter Intimidation - Make it a felony to knowingly try to stop others from voting.
7. Bar "Voter Identification" Rules that Suppress Voting - Stop states from requiring expensive forms of ID that are tantamount to a new poll tax.
8. Restore the Vote to People with Felony Convictions - Enfranchise ex-offenders who have paid their debt to society.
9. Give the Vote to D.C. Residents - As America was founded on the principal of "no taxation without representation," give residents of our capital city representation in Congress.
10. Ensure Responsible Redistricting - Establish a non-partisan system of former judges to oversee the drawing of the legislative lines.
11. Elect the President by National Popular Vote - Organize states that together comprise a majority of the Electoral College to agree to cast their electors to the candidate who wins the popular vote.
12. Try Proportional Voting - Instead of winner-take all elections, use proportional voting to allow similar-minded groups to gain seats in closer proportion to their share of the population.
13. Implement Instant Runoff Voting - Instead of plurality-wins in multiple candidate races, implement "instant runoff voting" by ranking favored candidates until someone gets an absolute majority.

B. Democratizing Congress:

14. Tighten Lobbying Laws - Enact bans on lobbyists' bundling, gifts, meals and travel and create an independent Office of Public Integrity that could investigate and report on congressional transgressions.
15. Enact "Democracy Funding" in Campaigns - Establish a federal system of public matching funds for qualifying candidates so that small donors diminish the sway of big interests.
16. Guarantee Free Air Time for Qualifying Candidates - Provide guaranteed TV/radio time for qualifying federal candidates as a condition of holding lucrative Federal Communications Commission licenses.
17. Require Congressional Oversight Hearings - To spur oversight hearing when a congressional majority covers up for an administration, allow hearings when at least a third of a panel's members request one.

C. Rule of Law:

18. Restrict Presidential Signing Statements - Establish rules limiting how these "statements" can become unilateral declarations of law.
19. End Torture, not Habeas Corpus - Rewrite the recent Military Commissions Act to make it clear that the United States will not condone torture and will continue to recognize Habeas Corpus petitions.
20. Ban Federal Funding for Programs that Proselytize - To comport with the "Establishment Clause,"stop funds going to religious-based public programs that proselytize clients.
21. Teach Science-based Science in Classrooms - Do not permit creationism or "intelligent design" to be taught in science classes.
22. Stop Discrimination by Sexual Orientation at Work - Bar workplace discrimination against gays, lesbians, transgender and bisexual workers.
23. Establish a Civil Right to Counsel - Provide counsel to the indigent in major civil cases as provided in criminal cases under Gideon v. Wainwright.
24. Create a Real Civil Liberties Protection Office - Especially given proven abuses in the "war on terror," fund and empower an office to investigate and expose civil liberties violations.

D. Secrecy & Democracy:

25. Strengthen the Freedom of Information Act - Establish the presumption that all federal agencies should release reasonably requested information under the Freedom of Information Act (i.e., there's a "right to know," not the requirement of proving a "need to know").
26. Publish Budgets for Every Government Agency - Give taxpayers a right to know how their monies are being spent, subject to very narrow national security exceptions.
27. Reduce Media Concentration - Enact cross-media ownership rules prohibiting one corporate owner from largely monopolizing print and electronic news in a defined population area.
28. Restore the Office of Technology Assessment - Restore the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment to provide authoritative and objective analysis of complex scientific issues.
29. Subject Government Contracts to Open Bidding - Make government contracts transparent, subject to public disclosure and open to intense competition, contrary to nearly half of $329 billion spent on no-bid contracts in 2004.
30. Strengthen Whistleblower Protections for Federal Employees - Restore the weakened Whistleblower Protection Act and expand protections to employees in the intelligence and security communities.

E. The Economics of Democracy:

31. Create a Living Wage -- Raise the minimum wage to a living wage indexed to inflation and reviewed biennially.
32. Establish a Child Savings Fund - Provide every child at birth a savings account that, with compounding interest, can be withdrawn at 18 for investment - a Keogh for kids.
33. Tax All Income Equally - To stop AMT from soaking the middle class, either index it to inflation or ideally stop taxing income from work at higher rates than income form capital.
34. Restore Consumer Class Actions - Stop blocking access to court for consumers who have been bilked in bulk.
35. Assure Net Neutrality - Assure universal access to the internet so we don't divide Americans into the information-rich and information-poor.
36. Bridge the Digital Divide - Invest in broadband so that universal access becomes a reality.
37. Review Corporate Compensation - Require that only independent directors on the Board can vote for increases in pay, subject to shareholders' approval.
38. Enact a Borrower's Security Act - Establish a "Borrower's Security Act" to bring fair credit practices to an industry that now routinely exploits credulous and confused customers.
39. Expand the Right to Organize at Work - Allow employees to organize if a majority signs union recognition cards and impose penalties on employers who use intimidation and firings to discourage organizing.
40. Create Citizen Utility Boards - Create consumer advocacy offices to fight for fair utility rates and practices in legislative and regulatory proceedings.