CLAIM DEMOCRACY CONFERENCE AND U.S. SENATE VISIT
NOVEMBER 21-24, 2003, WASHINGTON, D.C.
As an active member of Michigan Focus on Reforming Elections and Ferndale Residents for Instant Runoff Voting, I attended this conference. The Claim Democracy Conference was held in Washington, D.C. on the weekend of November 22-23, 2003. It was sponsored and organized primarily by the Center for Voting and Democracy, which is chaired by John Anderson, former Congressman and 1980 Presidential candidate. It was also inspired by Jamin Raskin of Washington College of Law at American University, a well-known public interest lawyer who has defended Ralph Nader, the Rainbow Coalition, and others. Many of us arrived on the 21st and therefore were able to have an additional day before the conference officially began to meet, make contacts, and have discussions.
THE CALL TO ACTION
The conference was organized around a Call-To-Action for Securing, Enhancing, and Exercising the Power of the Right to Vote. Specific problems that plague our current voting system, and that were central to the impetus for the conference, include:
- Poor voter turnout
- Poor representation of minorities and women in government
- Disenfranchisement of D.C. citizens, past felons, and other groups
- The lack of competetive electoral races stemming from unfair redistricting procedures
- The excessive influence of money in politics
ORGANIZATIONS INVOLVED IN THE CONFERENCE
Over 75 organizations signed the Call to Action – including many civil rights groups and electoral reform groups. It was acknowledged that we all have our differing views on what approaches to use towards reform, but that a rising democratic tide lifts all boats. We in all areas of the democracy movement need to support each other and we are connected whether we like it or not. Progress anywhere helps give a push to progress everywhere, and failure anywhere can set back the cause everywhere.
Several different types of groups were involved in the conference, which brought together people and organizations from around the world and from disparate areas of primary political concern to work together on these core democratic reforms that are essential for any of our progress. These included:
Broad organizations that work for democracy
- Alliance for Democracy
- Alliance for Better Campaigns
- Citizen Works
- Common Cause
- League of Women Voters
Local groups specifically focused on voting rights
Civil Rights GroupsI consider it a crucial step for these groups to realize that it isn't enough to simply fight for their particular cause without getting involved in the root problem which is lack of representation and a vote that counts. It was great to see groups like those below beginning to realize that.
- American Association of People with Disabilities
- Fannie Lou Hamer Project – defining Campaign Finance Reform as a civil rights issue
- National Women's Alliance
- Fairvote Canada – represented at the conference by Larry Gordon
- Electoral Reform Society in the U.K – represented by its Chief Exec. Ken Ritchie
MAJOR ISSUES DISCUSSED AT THE CONFERENCE
Throughout the conference these and many other groups and individuals spoke about a slate of important reforms that would help restore democracy to our system, including:
- Instant Runoff Voting
- Proportional Representation
- Campaign Finance Reform and Publicly Financed Elections
- Constitutional Amendment Securing the Right to Vote as explained and proposed in Congress by Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.
- Free Airtime for Candidates
- Open Debates for Candidates of Multiple Parties
- Enfranchising the Citizens of D.C.
- Election Day Holiday
- Same Day Voter Registration
I sent back a report each night I was there, detailing the events of that day and what I learned in each. These reports are available below:
- November 21, 2003 Synopsis and Detailed Report
- November 22, 2003 Synopsis and Detailed Report
- November 23, 2003 Synopsis and Detailed Report
LESSONS ABOUT BALLOT INITIATIVE SUCCESS FROM THE CONFERENCE
I learned an incredible amount of information in just a few days at this conference. There were three main tracks to the workshops, Youth, Democracy and the Law, and State Reformers. For the most part I stayed on the State Reformers track, since it was most relevant to FIRV's goal of passing Instant Runoff Voting in Ferndale, Michigan. In these sesions - as well as in the plenary speeches and other sessions, I learned a great deal about the process of placing ballot initiatives on the ballot and getting them passed - especially initiatives dealing with election reform and campaign finance reform/publicly financed elections/clean elections. I've summarized the many lessons I learned at the conference.
MY DAY IN THE U.S. SENATE GALLERY DURING THE MEDICARE REFORM BILL DEBATES
Finally, I spent the last day of my trip in the gallery of the U.S. Senate watching the last day's debate over the historic Medicare reform bill that passed the next day.
MY PICTURES FROM THE CLAIM DEMOCRACY CONFERENCE AND THE U.S. CAPITOL IN WASHINGTON, D.C.
I also took a number of pictures during the conference and my visit to The Capitol.