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Gabbard, Kucinich aim to disrupt two-party voting system at Independent confab

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Two former Democratic presidential candidates, Tulsi Gabbard of the 2020 race, and former longtime Ohio politician, Dennis Kucinich, a 2004 and 2008 early contender for the White House, will headline the second ever Independent National Convention (INC) this spring in Austin.

It’s an event intentionally set during a non-election year because organizers argue they have a much larger agenda to push than advancing a candidate, from creating a unifying platform of independent, Green, Libertarian and undeclared voters, to tearing up common ballot and runoff formats in favor of ranked voting, and bringing blockchain-backed voter identification and other technology to polling places.

Plus, the event isn’t technically a nominating mechanism by federal election standards, such as the 2024 national conventions on the books for Democrats and Republicans in the presidential election year.

In fact, it’s just these two-party limitations that coordinating officials at the Independent National Union say will dominate the discourse come April 3-5 in Austin. That’s where backers are hoping to build on attendance from a first, pre-COVID INC in Wyoming. Organizers want an in-person convergence to push next steps, but will be live-streaming the event as well.

Could INC eventually become a necessary path to advance a candidate to compete with Ds and Rs? That certainly is the hope, organizers say.

Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who won her first six-year term as a Democrat in 2018 but dropped the party affiliation late last year in a potential jolt to Democrats’ narrow majority in that chamber, has been invited to INC Austin but had not yet confirmed. Sinema, who has caucused with Republicans, has said in interviews she intends to vote largely the same way she has for four years in the Senate, votes that tended to, but did not always, align with Democrats.

Christopher Life, founder of advocacy group OneNation Party US, who is executive producer of INC, told MarketWatch that he and like-minded organizers want to stem the outflow of what they see as millions and millions of Americans pouring out of the two-party system, and ultimately the voting process, period. Even participants in traditional elections who claim independence fail to find organization that can move the needle.

And candidates outside the major parties are often criticized as playing a low-money, vote-splitting spoiler that in some races can create protracted runoffs among top candidates. That, says Life, means they simply are victims of a two-party system and the lack of a ballot mechanism that puts issues before big-money candidates.

The actions of political independents, Life says, no matter how well-intentioned only feed the entrenched political power and influence that feels further and further from what voters want each election cycle.

“The two-party system creates hegemonic control over our country,” Life told MarketWatch. “It is not synonymous with U.S. government, not even synonymous with our policies. It simply creates a duopoly that maintains power and blocks others, whether that is economic or political.”

On the agenda: ranked-choice voting

INC will also look to singularly push “final five” voting, which it hopes to get on more local election ballots on the way to an eventual national footprint. Final five, which is a format created by INC Austin speaker Katherine Gehl, is a subset of what’s generally known as ranked-choice voting. In fact, final five combines a top-five primary with a ranked-choice general election.

Ranked-choice voting is an electoral system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the next-preference choices on a percentage basis. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority.

In final five voting, there is a single-ballot primary in which the top-five candidates advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. Next, there’s an instant-runoff general election, presented to voters in a grid-style, ranked-choice ballot, where voters pick their favorite candidate. If they want, they can also pick their 2nd, 3rd, 4th and last place candidates. First-choice votes are tallied and if one candidate gets over 50%, the election is over. If no one has a majority, an instant runoff is triggered, eliminating the lowest vote-getter, and so on.

Other subsets of ranked voting, alongside final five, include star voting and approval voting.

“Today, Congress is chosen in party primaries by a small slice of the most partisan and extreme voters,” says Katherine Gehl, chair of The Campaign for Final Five Voting.

“Final five voting chooses our representatives in the general election, and the winners suddenly have the right incentives: to innovate, make trade-offs, and meet the public policy challenges of our time,” she says. “Independents play a major role in the final five process. They aren’t frozen out by party primaries, and, because of instant runoffs, they don’t play spoiler roles in the general elections.”

INC operators think a groundswell around ballot revamps can continue if they continue to build on changes already underway at the local level, such as in Oakland, Calif., where ranked-choice voting has been in place for mayor and select other municipal positions since 2010.

In fact, Article One of the U.S. Constitution vests states with the power to change their rules for Congressional elections. Gehl’s group is pushing two methods for change:

  1. All states can use the legislative route: the legislature passes a bill, which is then signed into law by the governor, to adopt final-five voting;

  2. Approximately half the states can adopt final-five Voting using ballot referenda (also known as ballot measures or ballot propositions) in which the citizens vote directly on the law, thereby bypassing the legislature.

Life told MarketWatch that INC will entertain continued discussion around any push toward ranked choice but ultimately wants to “be organized like a laser beam” around one method to push as a bigger pilot and that’s final five.

Pushing blockchain, AI, digital voting

Life says there’s little reason that politics can’t be disrupted in much the same way that Uber
and Airbnb
used technology and crowd-sourcing to turn the world of shared transportation and accommodations away from home upside down. Yes, with growing pains, but not without delivering fundamental change to the way the public interacts with these high-demand services, and soon enough, how it votes.

“We want to upend the civic-culture operating system,” he said.

How might that look?

At its most basic, Life is urging turning more voting systems into electronic presentations that can be safeguarded via centralized security. Underlying technology known as blockchain, a giant shared ledger that is the underpinning to cryptocurrency and other uses, has a place in voting procedure, he says. It’s a topic of major interest at the April INC.

“We’re talking about reliable blockchain-based technology with IDs baked in,” he says.

And once more of the process is digital, there’s little stopping voters from being able to cast ballots from their own mobile devices or shared centralized devices should a voter not be entirely mobile. That means voters with young children or tough working hours can participate just as easily as an individual who can devote four hours to standing in long lines to cast a ballot on election day.

This adoption, Life says, will cut down abuses both by voters and by the traditional parties trying to sway outcomes. Plus, tech is the best way to return more power to voters, which may be able to create critical groundswell and advance ballot issues that are much clearer in their intention.

And, he says, the country should use the same technology to register more individuals to vote, a mass uptake that could prove a disincentive to ever-stricter and confusing mandates for presenting IDs and meeting election-season deadlines.

There’s scope for artificial intelligence to clean up the process, too, says Life.

“AI that can watchdog elected officials during debates, even down to pupil dilation for authenticity,” Life says. “Government goes into a necessary fish bowl, watched by blockchain and AI and opaque government with back-door deal-making becomes a thing of the past. And of course, authentic public servants will have nothing to hide.”


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