Rethinking Democracy

Ideas and ideals worth watching

| March / April 2006

During the 2000 election, Ralph Nader managed to get on the ballot as a Green Party-endorsed presidential candidate and have a major impact on the results. Many Gore voters blamed Nader, and by extension the Green Party, for Bush's victory. As a result, third parties found themselves relegated to the margins, and a number of organized, progressive voices were muted in 2004.

Looking toward the 2006 election, it turns out there is a way for third parties to endorse candidates who support their issues, to have an impact on results, and to avoid being dubbed 'spoilers.'

It's called 'fusion voting' or 'ballot fusion,' and it's once again gaining in popularity. The idea is to allow a candidate to be endorsed by multiple parties and appear on a ballot multiple times, which, besides giving marginal candidates a better chance of forming a coalition, allows third parties to strategically support major-party candidates. By choosing to mark a candidate's name on a minor-party line, citizens can both vote for a winner and show their support for a particular set of issues.

Fusion was legal until the early 1900s, reports Alyssa Katz in The Nation (Sept. 12, 2005), when the Democratic and Republican parties erected greater barriers to third parties. The practice remains legal in seven states, most notably New York, where the Working Families Party, founded in 1998 by a coalition of labor unions and community groups, has been using ballot fusion with remarkable success.

The WFP has recently branched out to Connecticut, another legal fusion state, and is looking to export fusion to more states. The party's Massachusetts chapter has qualified a ballot measure that would legalize fusion in the Bay State this fall.

On the World Stage, a More Perfect Union

'Without global democracy, national democracy is impossible,' argues British author and activist George Monbiot, whose political essays are archived online at The reason: Most of the real power over economics, trade, even environmental and social policies, has been ceded by national governments to global institutions like the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, which are largely run by unelected rich men. In this flat-earth era of corporate globalization, nation-states are becoming nearly obsolete.

Yet so many of the problems progressives care about are global in scope. 'It is not enough to think globally and act locally, important as this is,' Monbiot has written. 'We must act globally as well.'

One solution he proposes in his book Manifesto for a New World Order (New Press, 2004) is a world parliament, with 600 members elected by citizens around the globe. Representative districts would straddle national borders, so that elections to the parliament would reinforce a sense of global citizenship. Monbiot would locate the institution's headquarters in the Southern Hemisphere -- possibly Brazil or South Africa -- to give the Global South a symbolic political counterweight to Washington, Brussels, and Geneva. 'Our task is not to overthrow globalization,' he asserts, 'but to capture it, and to use it as a vehicle for humanity's first global democratic revolution.'

In Vermont, Secessionists Work to Dilute the Union

Aristotle posited that no state should be so large that its governors can't know their constituents personally. Today, the average member of the U.S. House of Representatives speaks for almost 700,000 people. No wonder Congress is so out of touch.

Thomas Naylor and Kirkpatrick Sale, who founded the Middlebury Institute think tank in Vermont, became convinced last fall that Aristotle was onto something. Which is why the two activists posted a letter on their website ( urging citizens to 'place secession on the national political agenda,' and ultimately to bring about 'the peaceful dissolution of the American empire.'

Separatism, they point out, has been one of the most important political trends of the past half-century, which saw the breakup of European empires and the expansion of the United Nations from 51 to 191 members. In many cases, these political movements have been fueled by nativism or ethnic populism -- but times and demographics are changing. In Quebec, for instance, the separatist Parti Qu?b?cois has taken a sharp left turn, actively courting French-speaking immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean since narrowly losing a 1995 referendum on secession from Canada.

In Naylor and Sale's dreams, new nations would recruit local talent to solve local problems and utilize direct democracy. They point to New England, where citizens attend annual town meetings to debate and vote on local laws, as one example of what a new world could look and feel like.

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