Reader’s Forum — Paul Burke

The Politics Industry by Gehl and Porter

This isn’t a review of the book. These are comments to show why I decided not to spend time reading the book, after reading the free sample of the opening pages. None of us can read everything, so it may help people understand why some people choose not to pursue the ideas of the book. Someone I respect asked me to do this much:

1) I wouldn’t support something nationally for the US until it has thorough testing. I don’t know that top 5 primaries have been tested?

2) Gehl is collecting emails and money to establish a fledgling organization at and This effort diverts resources from the hundreds of political reform organizations which already exist. Were the authors unable to convince any existing organization to adopt their ideas? Better to join existing movements for RCV by itself, campaign finance reform, anti-gerrymandering, anti-revolving door, limits on lobbyists, etc.

3) They have incomprehensible nostalgia for big business and the filtering by mainstream media in the old days, which gave us sex and race discrimination, old-age poverty, world-wide poverty, endless war, endless pollution, exploitation of immigrants, etc. No wonder rich people from Koch to Schultz endorse them.

4) Neither the sample nor their other writings I found described their “modern streamlined” proposals for legislative procedures. Wikipedia says they propose a nonpartisan group to write new rules from scratch. They have the heft to assemble such a group right now, better than Congress. I’d love to see a draft! In their Aspen talk they only mentioned Congressional rules, an approach which ignores states and towns where crucial decisions are made.

5) Part of their proposal is Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). I respect that serious people are working for RCV over the long term. It doesn’t attract me because: (A) Auditing RCV to find errors requires big samples in every contest. Even now no state audits enough ballots, in enough contests, and we can’t continue to leave results unaudited in a world of error-filled software. Approval voting is more auditable. (B) Ranking choices is simple enough in parliamentary elections for one seat, not in our elections for 10-20 offices, where most people can’t even pick one candidate per office. San Francisco seems to have had this problem (C) In five-person contests name recognition would stay crucial, especially for 2nd and 3rd choices. Name recognition requires money or previous fame, like actors. That leaves power with lobbyists and donors. See point 3.

Paul Burke has been a poll worker in Bosnia, West Virginia and California, and found strengths and weaknesses in all three.


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Founder of the Politics for the People free educational series and book club for independent voters. Chair of the New York County Independence Party.

3 thoughts on “Reader’s Forum — Paul Burke

  1. Attitudes like this are our greatest obstacles to solving the problem. This is a gift to partisans, who just love watching us fight each other over details.

  2. I concede Paul Burke knows more about election processes than I’ll ever know. So I take his cautions seriously. At the same time, the two-party stranglehold on our elections yields nominees who lack broad appeal. How can we change this if we continue to do nothing? Gehl and Porter’s open Top Five primaries and ranked choice Final Five elections present a potential for significant strategic change. That’s why their ideas deserve evaluation.

  3. Mr. Burke’s experience can be a valuable resource in evaluating results/problems/improvements as we gain experience in experiments to restructure the election process to attract leaders who actually understand what governing is and wish to do it. We no longer have that with the parties. It is hard to imagine a form that would be worse than what we have–not to mention the poisonous attitudes the people we elect to serve us feed back into our own society. That is a feedback loop from Hell.

    I am not impressed by reviews of books by commentators who have admittedly not read the book. The essential conversation between author and reader, by definition, has not occurred. It smacks of an arrogance that ignores different opportunities to learn beyond one’s own experience. I hope that is not the actual mindset that drives Mr. Burke’s comments.

    Yes, the landscape of governance reform organizations and movements is truly messy. It is, I think, a necessary foment driven by many great ideas and priorities seeking a path toward regaining our ability to govern. It will continue to be messy. It will also reinforce hope for better, not perfect. It is the antidote for a pervasive fear that what we have now is just not working. Invention is one of our strong suits. So let’s invent.

    Stay tuned, Mr. Burke. You might even read the book.

    Al Bell

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