PeopleCount is About Accountability in Politics

I often find myself needing to tell people what PeopleCount is about. Let me take a fresh stab at it. PeopleCount is about accountability in politics, starting with the U.S. Congress.

PeopleCount arose from a fresh look at our problems with Congressional politics

I’m a professional problem solver. A few years ago, I took a fresh look at Congress and Congressional politics. After months of analysis, I found the root problem. From my view, politicians aren’t accountable to citizens.

Why are politicians not accountable to people?

Accountability is a relationship where the 2 parties communicate and act in ways that produce the accountability. If representatives were accountable to citizens, they’d be accountable all the time, not just in elections.

Our desires would steer our representatives. Knowing ourselves what we all want, we would have expectations of what they’d do. We’d tell them which issues are important to us — different issues for different people— and they’d report to us and we’d evaluate their reports on how well they’re doing their job representing us. The least of it, at the end, would be elections. And to guide us, we’d use our collective evaluations.

Simply put, our political process doesn’t work because we lack the relationship of accountability with our elected officials.

It’s about accountability- rich communication at low cost

This involves a lot of communication, both among ourselves and between us and our politicians. We vote on issues and see the results for our districts, states and the country, as would our representatives. We’d be telling them which issues we want reports on, and they’d report, say monthly. So we’d get a short report telling what they’ve done and what they’re planning on each issue we’re interested in. And we’d give it a grade, telling them we’ve read it and giving them feedback about what we think.

This would be rich communication, especially compared with the sound bytes we get in ads and post-cards. These reports might be viewable as written, audio or video, to suit the voter.

And it would be at a low price. Challengers could use it as well as incumbents. When most people are using the site, effective campaigns could be waged for a tenth of the current price.

Many benefits would arise

This could solve the party-divisiveness issue. Instead of having to adopt a party line, a candidate could appeal to centrists on issues. And if citizens are divided, the candidate could even propose compromises and see if people accept them. Or the candidate could say there’s no good solution yet, and propose that nothing be done for now or propose a stop-gap measure to ameliorate the worst of a problem.

Instead of people having to line up for one party or another, people could easily and quickly line up on each issue. In fact, candidates could give up their parties and simply represent the voters.

Coming soon

This is the solution I’m building. It’s been difficult building this alone. But it’s almost ready to launch. It’s now only two month before the election. I hope to launch a beta before the election, but it won’t be publicly available till after.

You’re welcome to add your email address to our announcement list and share it with your friends. A few dollars of donation would help a lot, too.

PS: If you want to read more, try this article, about how political accountability is in our blind spot.

Can you Imagine Real Political Accountability?

This entry is part 2 of 11 in the series Real Accountability

In the previous post, we looked first at cultural definitions of political accountability. Then at what I called real political accountability. Below is the definition from the previous post. Read it slowly, carefully. Imagine that together, the citizens of your district are the boss. Imagine your representative in Congress is the worker.

Real accountability is:

  • the boss guiding the worker and having expectations
  • the worker regularly answering the boss’ questions
  • the boss judging the worker
  • the boss being able to fire the worker

To make real political accountability, we’d need ways to be an effective boss together. We’d need all constituents to communicate with each other. We’d need to share our guidance, expectations, and evaluations. And we’d need to be able to elect a new person to office.

It’s hard to imagine. It requires new thinking.

When I talk to people about it, most people think it’s not possible. They conclude that without really thinking it through. Most people have thoughts like:

  • “There are too many of us- we can’t all be bosses.”
  • “Politicians need donors more than approval.”
  • “Voters don’t keep informed, so just believe political ads.”
  • “Politicians won’t report to us- they don’t want to be accountable.”

And on and on. There are a flood of thoughts about corruption, primaries, gerrymandering, parties, and more. These automatic thoughts prevent real thinking.

I didn’t come up with it in a day. It took about 6 months. And I’ve been talking to hundreds of people about it and working on it for years. Please, don’t expect it to make sense all at once. And even if it does make sense, don’t expect it to rearrange all your thinking very quickly.

Usually it takes a conversation of 15 minutes to two hours for someone to get it.

Imagine: What would it take?

And some possibilities we never, ever consider. Even in the articles yesterday’s post linked to in Wikipedia, legal dictionaries and U.N. papers, the articles didn’t ask: What would it take to have our elected officials be truly accountable to citizens?

We have accustomed ourselves to an incomplete definition of political accountability. It’s not just a cultural adaptation, it’s a human adaptation. It’s high time we question it.

Please, stop reading now. Maybe go for a walk and just think about the question:  What would it take to have our elected officials be truly accountable to us? What would it take for us all to be the bosses of our politicians?

This is a hard question. I’ve talked to hundreds of people, and no one had a decent answer. (For more on this, see the first article in another series, about how America has political accountability in its blind-spot.)

We’ll answer this in the next article, about what is needed for true political accountability to exist.

We can Learn about Political Accountability by Using It

Issues and culture are not simple. PeopleCount proposes a pretty simple system, but many Americans find it easy to misunderstand. This is because we don’t use the word “accountability” very much in politics except when there’s a mistake or corruption. But you’ll be able to use PeopleCount easily even without understanding it at first. As you use it, you’ll naturally learn about political accountability.

Examples of learning by using

It’s sort of like electricity. Much of it is pretty simple. But it took humanity a long time to understand, because humans didn’t understand the nature of atoms and electric charge, nor “force at a distance,” like gravity and electric charge and magnetism. But once we did, it became easier. Now, we all use it and accept it. Not all of us understand the details, but we all use it easily and naturally throughout our lives.

A bicycle is another good example. Figuring out how a bicycle balances is complex, if you’re working with paper and pencil (I did this in college physics courses.) And when someone first gets on a bike, it seems impossible. But once it starts moving fast enough, almost everyone learns how to balance on it. And now it makes sense to almost every culture that bicycles are widely useful.

My writing seems complex

Partly, my writing seems complex because we have an incomplete, primitive notion of “political accountability.” I’m bright, with math and science and computer programming education and degrees. As a computer engineer, I deal with some concepts most people find unthinkable. Plus, my thinking easily gets very precise about language. My brain often corrects my (and other people’s) words when we describe something important, but our words for it are approximate.

This is how it is with political accountability. If you read my definition of it, you’ll see it’s a richer than how we usually think of it.

It’s hard to want something that has never existed

Like electricity and other things that grew easy to understand once we used it, political accountability will become easier to understand.  Right now, it’s a foreign concept. In our political system, there’s no way for our leaders and lawmakers to deliver accountability daily. We want accountability, but we don’t realize we need it in the form of actions, both for us and for our leaders.

Here’s an analogy. We wanted light in our homes, but we didn’t know we needed switches and bulbs and electricity. Plus either wiring and a grid or batteries and ways to charge them. We’re complaining about lack of political accountability like we complained about lack of light. It’ll take a bit of work to make and use the system, but like electricity and lights, it’ll transform society completely.

Learn about political accountability by using it

When Edison invented the electric light bulb, it was hard to understand and it changed nothing. And it took a lot of changes. Factories had to make these new “bulbs” and more wire and stores had to sell them and much much more. But as people used it, it became accepted. We learned by using it. And it transformed our lives and society.

PeopleCount is beginning that with political accountability. With your help, it can happen. Add your email address to our announcement list and we’ll invite you to the beta.

The PeopleCount Theory of Political Accountability

I’ve done a fair amount of research on political accountability. PeopleCount is based on some thinking about accountability that seems to be new. Let’s call it: The PeopleCount Theory of Political Accountability.

It seems unlikely that I would have stumbled upon a whole new theory of political accountability. But it’s possible. I’m new to political science so could bring a fresh way of looking at it. And I’m a professional problem solver.

Thinking outside the box

Plus I have unique education in distinguishing cultural contexts. Politics is a very emotionally charged subject, plus is a critical foundation in people’s world-view.  So our cultural contexts in this area are very strong. Strong underlying contexts easily limit our thinking.

In other words, cultural contexts are “the box”. Strong contexts make the box seem large, roomy, able to hold everything that’s possible. They very deceptively limit our thinking. In an area with strong cultural contexts, “outside the box” thinking is rare.

The PeopleCount Theory of Political Accountability

Politicians are not very accountable to citizens in America because we think accountability is about elections. True, elections are both structures of support for accountability and they contain lots of accountability procedures. But when it’s truly present, it happens elsewhere.

Consider: In these superior/servant relationships there is a lot of accountability:

  • boss/worker
  • teacher/student
  • parent/child
  • spouse/spouse

Elections in politics are akin to firing, failing, punishment and divorce in these other relationships. Accountability occurs mainly in other ways.

  • The superior guides, prioritizes and expects results, communicates them and gets buy-in (and counterproposals) from the servant.
  • The inferior works and then reports to the superior.
  • The superior judges the report, and communicates the judgement, possibly with more back-and-forth communication.
  • Finally, there might be firing, failure, punishment or divorce.

Summary: Day-to-day accountability mostly happens in the first 3 steps. Yet politics is missing procedures with which to carry out these parts of accountability and is missing structures of support for them. So political accountability in our culture is weak and often missing.

A likely remedy is first to define procedures for political accountability in politics. And create structures of support to make them possible, efficient and powerful.

This is exactly what PeopleCount.org intends is doing. Hopefully we’ll succeed. But even if we don’t, this opens up a whole new area for effort- defining other ways for people and politicians to behave in a relationship of accountability, and create new and better structures of support.


If you’re a political science expert or student, and know of people who’ve written about this, please send me a reference. If you’d like to research or publish about this, I’d be happy to speak with you.

And for everyone else, please add your email address to our mailing list.

Lack of Press about Political Accountability

There seems to be a lack of press about political accountability. I seem to be the only one writing seriously about it. (If you know of others, please inform me via email or in comments, below.)

In my conversations with people, the common belief is that accountability happens in elections. Consider the possibility that almost no accountability can occur in elections. Lawrence Lessig, Represent.us, and others have identified real problems with money buying elections and influence. While they offer positive solutions that most Americans would agree with, they do almost nothing to deliver real accountability.

Instead, they merely try to remove the pressure to be accountable to moneyed interests. They blindly believe that if accountability to the wealthy is abated, politicians will magically be accountable to the people.

I’ve written before about how Americans have a blind-spot when it comes to political accountability. The views of these experts show how true it is. I have no objection to stopping corruption and giving The People more power in elections. These changes are important. But these will do almost nothing to deliver more accountability to the people.

Consider this definition of accountability:

The obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner.

Do you see much of this occurring in elections? Politicians go in front of the public a lot and orate. But their goal is to broadcast and reach people, not to account for what happened with their promises. And it’s all about what will happen in the next session of Congress. Incumbents rarely talk about what they’re doing now, or what they’ll do in the next few months.

I’m not saying Lessig or Represent.us are wrong. They use the term “accountability” rarely, if at all. (It is used on a page inside the details of one of Lessig’s supported solutions.) I’m saying that accountability is vital when it comes to rejuvenating democracy. They should be advocating it.

Reprepresent.us is certainly supportive. You’ll see their support after PeopleCount goes live.

Lessig less so. In private emails, he doesn’t disagree. He believes the issues he’s addressing are vital and need focus. While I agree, I think he’s selling himself short in thinking he can’t spend an hour a week in lending his voice and reach to the cause of accountability. Still, I’m grateful for the emails he has taken the time to write. And I’ll do what I can to empower Americans to hold their members of Congress accountable for the important issues he’s championing.

And yes, there are plenty of other people who want our system fixed, but are missing this essential, and most easily provided, element.

What is Political Operational Accountability?

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Political Operational Accountability

What is political operational accountability?

What is Operational Accountability?

Operational accountability is the things people do to create accountability. It’s what is actually going on, operating, when accountability is happening.

For instance, here is an article about it in business. They define:

Accountable:  Answerable for correct and thorough
completion of deliverable or task

And they discuss how to drive milestone completion to support this. They say what tasks different people should do. For instance, in meetings, the manager should: Prep, Report, Prioritize, Problem Solve, Close the Loop. And they go on to discuss each step.

Note: Implicit in the definition of accountability is the definition of the deliverable or task. An example of a deliverable might be completed research of the ways to address a challenge, or a plan of action for implementing a solution, or a schedule, or a product delivered. Being answerable usually involves either reporting that the task was completed, or if it wasn’t completed, saying a bit about what happened and what portion was achieved, and a new plan for completion.

Also implicit is to whom the people are accountable to, usually a manager. The manager guides the group and sets goals, or approves them. Usually the manager handles rewards and if needed, replaces someone. So the manual judges individual performance. How the manager does these things, perhaps noting the average number of days deliverables are early or late, or grading each project, is also part of operational accountability.

What is Political Operational Accountability?

Political operational accountability, to citizens, is the actions that we and our politicians take, so accountability of representatives to citizens occurs.

Donors and lobbyists and the party leaders work out their arrangements with members of Congress in phone calls and meetings, and sometimes through their staff. Specific goals are laid out, like sponsoring a bill or voting for or against one. They talk and come to an agreement. Then the member of Congress fulfills the agreement or they work it out in another meeting or call.

All these parties have something the member of Congress wants. They all might contribute money to the member’s campaign. The party can also cooperate on a bill or support an amendment the member favors. So meeting and talking and making deals are the main operational aspects of accountability to these people.

There is little Political Operational Accountability to Citizens

But what can citizens do? I’ve called my representative’s office and talked to someone on her staff. The person said they’d forward my concerns. I’ve sent her email and after a week or more received what seemed like a canned letter that didn’t really answer my question. I replied, but didn’t receive anything back.

I tried several times to arrange an appointment and was finally put on a waiting list.

I have no way to communicate with my representative. Accountability doesn’t happen.

And even if I did, she’s a well-like incumbent. Almost no one runs against her. If someone offered good communication with voters, I’d be interested. But it would take too much money to try to reach enough voters. We’re not particularly organized to be reached inexpensively. We’re not listening for this kind of communication, even though many of us would welcome it.

So all we have is the vote on election day, if there’s significant competition. We lack ways to operate accountability, so we have little in politics.

In the next post, I’ll discuss how accountability could operate.

Answerability is Powerfully Delivered with Interactive Reports

This entry is part 6 of 11 in the series Real Accountability

Answerability can be powerfully implemented using interactive reports. This will make them engaging plus put teeth into them so voters can truly hold their officials accountable.

This is the 4th in a 9-part series looking at how PeopleCount will implement, or support, the three principles that make up accountability, and how it will address the problems with them that exist in America’s political system. This is the second of two about the second aspect of accountability, answerability. In the last post, we saw that answerability means they answer you. And not just on the issues they want to answer. On the issues you want answers about. But there’s more.

You judge them

Imagine answering your boss’ question about your work. It doesn’t stop there. He or she then judges you (sometimes with consequences, such as sending you back to work on it some more, or trying a new direction.)

Currently, you can send your congressperson a question. When they answer you, it’s pretty much over. That’s not accountability. You also need to judge them and they need to hear it. And your judgement should matter, it should be part of an ongoing judgement created by the whole constituency. So we’ve designed that into our system.

On PeopleCount, we’ll start with a simple way of doing this. After reading one of your congressperson’s report, you’ll be able to judge them by giving them a grade.

In the beginning, it’ll just be one grade. You’ll grade them on well they’ve done their job of representing the district (or state, for a senator), according to their report. Remember, you’ll know how the other constituents, and all Americans, have voted on issues. (We also have some ideas for other grades, such as completeness and honesty.) Challengers and the press will weigh in so that you’ll get a broader perspective in case you have one of the (few?) not-completely-honest politicians.

You’ll grade the reports of both incumbents and challengers. When the election comes, you’ll be able to see the average grade you’ve given each, to remind you of what you’ve thought of their reports.

Plus you’ll be able to see the average grade of your district or state on each report, to see what others thought of it.

And the representative or senator will see it, too. You’ll be giving them feedback.

And you’ll be able to see their average grade from everyone in your district or state on all the issues. You’ll see a measure of how satisfied or dissatisfied all you voters are with the job they’ve done. This will also help you act in concert with others in the election. For instance, while the district might largely support one party, it could easily help a challenger in the same party win the primary.

PeopleCount delivers answerability, the essence of accountability

We have more ideas for how to make this work, but will start with the basic functions outlined above, and get your feedback.

But the bottom line is: Your elected officials will be accountable to you. You’ll guide them and have expectations. They’ll report to you and you’ll judge them. And they’ll produce results much more aligned to what the voters want.

Freedom from being accountable to the party and the wealthy

One of the key parts of being accountable to the people is not being accountable to others. Currently, not knowing what we want and not being able to report to us, politicians huddle together for safety in groups, the parties. It’s the party that’s responsible for most positions and for battling the other party to make progress.

There’s a downside to this. Our populations are at most 60% from one party, so party positions don’t represent all of us. Being able to know what we want and how we feel judge their answers, our officials will be freer to work for us regardless of what the party says. They’ll begin to be accountable just to us, not to a party.

Similarly, being able to communicate to us for very low cost, they’ll be free of the need to fundraise. They’ll be free of the need to be accountable to the wealthy.

In the next post, we’ll tackle the third part of political accountability- fire-ability.

Fair Elections are also needed for Fire-ability

This entry is part 10 of 11 in the series Real Accountability

Fair elections are also a key factor in having the third necessary aspect of political accountability. This third aspect is fire-ability, the ability to not reelect incumbents who are not effectively representing their constituents.

This is the sixth post in a series of articles on how PeopleCount will deliver accountability. The first posts talked about creating the relationship of accountability between voters and politicians. The next covered creating answerability. The previous three posts are about two aspects of fire-ability: supporting an informed electorate, having free elections. This and the next one are about fair elections.

Fair elections means no monopolies

Currently, American politics is monopolized by the two parties. It’s completely unfair to voters who want to state their preference for a third party.

Many want Bernie Sanders to run as a third-party candidate. Most people who support Bernie favor Clinton over Trump. But a vote for Bernie means their preference between the Hillary and Trump won’t be voiced. If Trump were getting 40% of the vote, if Bernie runs, he might pull 25% of the vote to him, leaving Hillary with 35%, so Trump wins.

Our voting system is called “plurality voting”, or “first past the post”. It only looks at who has the most votes rather than people’s real preferences. This voting system perpetuates the two-party monopoly. Because of this voting system, Bernie won’t run and voters will be denied this choice. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Other voting systems exist

There are other voting systems that give third-parties a chance, like instant-runoff elections which are used in Australia. An more-simple one is approval voting, where each voter can check-off all of the candidates they’d like to see in office.

Our voting system keeps third-parties from having a chance. Both Congress and state legislatures are monopolized by the two parties. They will never vote to change the election system. Parties want to hold onto their power. By keeping this issue away from American voters, the parties preserve their monopoly. You won’t even find “voting systems” mentioned in party platforms.

And it’s not just in the main election that it can make a difference. This article concluded that Republican voters in Florida preferred Cruz narrowly over Trump. If instant-runoff elections had been used, Cruz would have beaten Trump in the primary. The bottom line: our voting system is very bad for any race in which there are more than two candidates.

But if the American people want it changed, that could be an issue on PeopleCount. Voters could pressure candidates, and challengers could differentiate themselves. After all, almost half of Americans want a third party. So we probably want an election system that makes voting for a third party possible. If citizens use PeopleCount to champion this cause, we can easily get it passed. It could take just a few months. Or at most, by the next election, as challengers take up this cause to gain support.

In the next article, we’ll present the other major affront to fair elections, gerrymandering.

Fire-ability: Fair Elections mean No Gerrymandering

This entry is part 11 of 11 in the series Real Accountability

Gerrymandering is a big impediment to fair elections in America. Gerrymandering is when district boundaries are drawn to ensure that one party always wins. It started early in America’s history.

This is the last in a series about how PeopleCount will deliver political accountability. This is the last of four articles about the third part of accountability, fire-ability.

How gerrymandering gives a party an unfair advantage

In many states the dominant party has drawn district boundaries to favor them. Here’s an example of how it can work.

Imagine a state has 10 congressional districts for their 10 million voters. And imagine the voters are 50% Democrat and 50% Republican so their are 5 million of each. Imagine that one year the Democrats win a tiny majority. They could redraw the boundaries of districts so 3 districts are 90% Republican. This means each has 900,000 Republicans and 100,000 Democrats. By putting so many Republicans, 2.7 million, in these 3 districts, they can arrange the other 7 to be heavily Democratic.

Once the 3 heavily Republican districts are made, they can evenly divide the remaining 4.7 million Democrats and 2.3 million Republicans into the remaining 7 districts. Each of these 7 districts is now 2/3 Democratic! So Democrats are guaranteed to win 7 of the 10 congressional seats and control the state, even though they only represent 50% of the population.

It’s even more unfair than just guaranteeing uneven party distribution. Basically, the 0.3 million Democrats in the Republican districts and the 2.3 million Republicans in the Democratic districts are guaranteed their choice of candidate will lose. Gerrymandering is simply unfair.

The remedy, a state proposition

California has a proposition process, where citizens can create legislative proposals for the state’s citizens to vote on in the next election. In the last decade, California voters supported a proposition that created a non-partisan citizen-committee to draw congressional district boundaries. While some citizens are die-hard party zealots, the overall population is more interested in fairness. Especially when supported by non-partisan groups like Common Cause and The League of Women Voters.

But many states have no proposition process. And nationally there is none. So most people can not use this method to rid their states of their parties’ unfair tactics. The two parties are too power-hungry to allow fair redistricting. They’re even actively challenging non-partisan citizen committees in the courts.

A serious problem for the country

In 2013, a few months after the election, this article on MajorityRules.org said:

Democrats received 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives, yet Republicans won control of the House by a 234 to 201 margin.

In the seven states where Republicans redrew the districts, 16.7 million votes were cast for Republicans (50.4%) and 16.4 million votes were cast for Democrats (49.6%). This elected 73 Republicans (68.2%) and 34 Democrats (31.8%). … 1.7 million votes (16.4 minus 14.7) were effectively packed into Democratic districts and wasted.

Gerrymandering is a huge national crime. We no longer have a true republic, a constitutional democracy. It violates both the principles of democracy as well as the right to vote enshrined in The Constitution. The Republicans have an excuse, that the Democrats do it whenever they can, too. But it needs to end.

The Constitution was not designed to handle parties

The US government was never designed to handle parties. The Constitution says nothing about them. And George Washington warned against them. But they’re the dominant force in Congressional politics. The parties care much, much more about power than about fairness.

If the people want to end gerrymandering, we’ll need a way of making it an important election issue. We’ll need a way to pressure politicians to take a stand on it. After anti-gerrymandering officials are in office, voters will need a way to hold them accountable to keep their promises and represent the will of the people. This is one of the things that PeopleCount will supply.

PeopleCount will deliver accountability

PeopleCount will make your members of Congress accountable to voters. It’ll deliver the foundational relationship where citizens are the boss. It’ll have our representatives report to us so we can judge them, the essence of accountability. This includes having them report on issues of our choosing. And it’ll improve fire-ability.

The sum of all this is that our candidates will compete to accurately represent us, the people, instead of parties or the wealthy. It’ll allow us to make Congress pass widely-desired laws to make elections in which voters can fully express their preferences in fair elections. It’ll let us pressure them to outlaw gerrymandering.

Currently voters can’t effectively communicate their opinions to their members of Congress. So the members look to the parties for guidance. With PeopleCount, members will see what all their constituents want. Our officials will be able to truly represent the people, instead of the parties.

If you haven’t yet, please join our announcement list. We’ll send you an alert when the system launches.