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Reformation Politics: The Occupied State of the Union

In this imagined, alternative State of the Union address, playwright and political blogger Eric Sanders proposes sweeping structural changes, including a "people's congress" with veto power. 

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release                                    January 24, 2012


Remarks by the President in State of Union Address

United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.

9:12 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

I speak to you today not only as your President but as a fellow American citizen who is searching for ways to improve our nation. I believe we are at a pivotal time in our nation’s history, a time of historic disconnect between the wishes of the majority of American citizens and the actions of their representatives, who often represent little more than their own wish to be re-elected and the wishes of the corporations who fund them. We live in a time when many voters feel obligated to vote for one of the two major party candidates in order to not ‘waste’ their one and only vote; we live in a time when legislation is literally written by corporations and lobbyists, none of whom were ever elected or are accountable to voters; we live in a time when more and more Americans wish to have a direct influence on the decisions of their country but have no means to do so.

All of these facts may sound disheartening, but instead of allowing our nation to be broken by despair we must investigate the roots of these problems and eliminate them, one by one. To do this, we must stop assuming that the underlying structure of our nation is sound. It is not. All of our problems are significantly caused by structural defects in our political system, and all of them can be improved quite easily if we wish. We must make three significant structural changes to our political system in order to improve our democracy, to increase Americans’ participation in the decisions of our nation, and to ensure a future where politics is seen not as something disgraceful but as a means to making wise decisions.

The first structural change I propose is serious voting reform.
Since the nation’s founding we have been using a voting method that allows candidates to win elections who do not necessarily represent the true ‘will of the people.’ This voting method is our current winner-take-all, single-option method, where the candidate with the highest number of votes wins. In this system, voters feel obligated to vote for one of two major party candidates, since a vote for anyone else -- even if that person is his or her true highest preference -- will be ‘wasted’ and could ‘spoil’ the election for one of the two ‘front-runners’ who are presumed to win. This in turn causes citizens to feel like their votes do not truly matter, since they often cannot vote for the candidate they most prefer. Fortunately, we can remedy this problem easily. If we visit major websites such as, the Apple App Store, IMDb, Yelp, or Metacritic, we will see that we are able to ‘score’ products with a range of scores, such as 1-10, with 10 being the highest. On these sites, we can instantaneously see the ‘most-generally-preferred’ product simply by sorting by rating. For example, the highest rated movie on IMDb is the one with the highest average score. There is no reason why we should not vote in our political elections in the same way.

We must conduct our elections using this same voting method, Score Voting, in order to ensure that the most generally preferred candidate -- the one who represents the true ‘will of the people’ -- will win. Voters would simply score each and every candidate on the ballot that they wished, and the candidate with the highest numerical score would win the election. This will increase voter satisfaction and greatly increase feelings of legitimacy about our government, since each voter has a greater influence on the outcome of the election, and all of his or her preferences are taken into account. We now have the technology, as the companies I just mentioned have demonstrated, to institute Score Voting on a local, state, and federal level, and eventually to use it in all elections. This is the most important change we can make to our political structure, as upgrading the way in which we vote is at the absolute root of any improvement to our democracy.

The second structural improvement I propose is getting all private money out of public elections.

Again, this is quite simple, and this is why I support movements for a Constitutional amendment that forbids candidates in public elections from using private money. In the place of private money, all candidates who meet the requirements to get on the ballot will be given the exact same amount of money -- a campaign budget -- that they can manage however they wish. In addition, all qualifying candidates will receive equal time and space on public television networks, websites, and publications to tell voters what they believe in. This campaign budget will be like the salary cap in the NBA and NFL, which allow the leagues to be competitive year-in and year-out, since no team has an inherent financial advantage over any other. And just as we can determine the quality of a sports team’s management by how well they spend their money, shouldn’t candidates for public office be judged on how well they spend public money on their campaign? In addition to greatly reducing the influence of wealthy people, major corporations, and lobbyists on our elections and politicians, giving each candidate the same campaign budget would be an additional means of evaluating their fitness for public office, since a large part of being a public representative is managing how public funds are spent.

The third and final structural change I propose is the creation of a new body of the Legislative Branch, which I call ‘The People’s Congress.’
For the first time in human history, we have technology that allows groups of people to collaborate on documents and make decisions even if they are not in the same room at the same time; Google Docs and Wikipedia are two examples that come to mind. It is now possible and even essential to create a new body of government that consists of any and all American citizens who wish to be a part of it. Using the collaborative power of the Internet, The People’s Congress would be able to create, revise, and introduce legislation directly, just like the House and Senate; in addition, The People’s Congress should be able to block any legislation from passing if a large enough number of voters rise up against it. It is clear from recent history that many of Americans’ frustrations about politics stem from doubts about the sustainability and legitimacy of representative democracy. I believe that representative democracy still has a prominent role in American politics, which is why I propose Score Voting and getting money out of public elections in order to strengthen our representative democracy. However, why should American citizens who are not elected to public office have to lobby their representatives or wait two to four years between elections in order to influence public policy? The People’s Congress would give all citizens direct input into the decisions of their nation and serve as a check on the President, House, and Senate to draft and pass legislation that is more generally approved by Americans. In addition, this new body of government would create a strong sense of civic responsibility and interdependence between all Americans, who would now become collaborators on drafting legislation and improving the future of our nation. The creation of The People’s Congress would also help to legitimize our laws, since laws would be seen to better represent ‘the will of the people’ and not just the that of the politicians.

The state of our union is not strong at the moment, but it can be made strong. The three structural changes I propose -- using Score Voting in our elections, getting private money out of public elections, and creating The People’s Congress -- are very clear solutions that get at the root of all of our political problems. An additional benefit of these three solutions is that they can each be implemented at the local and state level as well as the federal level. We must make it our priority to focus on instituting these changes in order to allow all Americans to have a greater, more equal say in the decisions of our nation. Only by improving the way we make decisions -- the root of any democracy -- can we ensure a prosperous and mutually beneficial future for all Americans. No goal is more important than this.

Thank you. May we all work together to make these changes happen, and to create an America that is truly representative of the people who comprise it.
                    END        9:30 P.M. EST

Image credit: CURAphotography /


Learn more about Score Voting:
Test out Score Voting in a mock election for president

Learn more about constitutional amendments to get private money out of public elections:

Do you have an idea about how The People’s Congress could be designed and implemented? Please leave a comment below; I’m excited to see what people think. I think the White House’s new We the People petition platform is a huge step in the right direction.

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