The Best Democracy Index

- Jesse Kumin

This is Dedicated to the Ones I Love

I've never done this before. I want to dedicate this page to the people who inspired it, the current Boulder County, CO Commissioners. Over the past two years Elise Jones, when I asked her about putting Home Rule on the county ballot for a vote by the people, denied that Boulder County has One Party Rule and that One Party Rule is a problem for Democracy (March, 2018); Matt K. Jones evaded answering straightforward questions about putting Home Rule on the ballot six times in 2018 before he said No, over about a six month period at various candidate forums and in personal emails; and in early 2020, before COVID-19, Deb Gardner refused to take my Best Democracy handout card on Proportional Representation at Boulder County Democratic Party (BCDP) forums, twice, or engage with me.

Matt, you were evasive and unaccountable. You also don't believe in diversity in representation and a fair election process. This is from a guy who won the BCDP nomination, in a One Party Dominant county, with less than 1% of the voters voting, because of caucuses, 30% candidate thresholds for ballot access and the Spoiler Effect. Deb, you wouldn't demonstrate an open mind or listen to a constituent. All three of you are out of sync with the BCDP Healthy Democracy Plank (#4) of the BCDP Platform that calls for the implementation of Home Rule. None of you believe in inclusive democracy.

Really, the cake goes to Elise Jones, who doesn't think we have a problem with democracy in Boulder County, and that One Party Rule is OK. You fit into a mold of people who deny obvious problems and attempt to marginalizing them by denying their existence. You're in great company. You're the reason we need to measure the data points of democracy, why I designed this survey. Obtuse politicians who have 100% concentrated power and control over our political process, need broad evidence of flaws before they believe a problem is a problem. Were you always so blind? Elise Jones, you're the reason people don't trust politicians to always represent their constituents fairly, because you don't. You're suppose to represent diverse interests on the County Commission, and you don't. You, more than anyone else, inspired me to write this page.

Fools, Smart & Wise

A long time ago, I read a definition of the difference between a fool, a smart person and a wise person. Apparently this originated in Russia. I'll update it to remove the sexism.

• Fools don't learn from their mistakes. They continue to repeat them.

• Smart people learn from their mistakes, and don't repeat them.

• Wise people learn from the mistakes of others, and never make the mistake(s).

By this definition, applied to governance in the United States, we're fools. We don't learn. We repeat the same errors generation after generation. We don't attempt to learn what we've done wrong, or why. We don't correctly identify issues and remedy them. We don't watch where we're going. We allow predictable train wrecks to happen.

"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." - Peter Townshend

"Around 1776, certain important people in the English colonies made a discovery that would prove enormously useful for the next two hundred years. (Now 244 years). They found that by creating a nation, a symbol, a legal unity called the United States, they could take over land, profits, and political power from favorites of the British Empire. In the process, they could hold back a number of potential rebellions, and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership."

"When we look at the American Revolution this way, it was a work of genius, and the Founding Fathers deserve the awed tribute they have over the centuries. They created the most effective system of national control devised in modern times, and showed future generations of leaders the advantages of combining paternalism with command." A People's History of the United States - Howard Zinn.

Threatened and prompted by the impending loss of their enormous wealth and "property" by "Somerset v. Stewart" (1772), in 1776 these important people staged a Slavers Revolt. In 1776, slavers comprised about 2 to 3% of the Colonies population. 73% of the signers of the Declaration of Independence owned slaves. Slavers devised a system of command and control that excluded 94% of the population from participation in decision making. They skewed control of the new government to a slave owning class in the South of the new nation, implemented through distortions in representation and elections. 10 of the first 12 US Presidents owned slaves. The full realization of their plan was institutionalized in the US Constitution in 1787. James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution", a third generation slaver, owner of 120 slaves, made his design of US government impossible to change through the insertion of Article V of the Constitution.

Madison's institutionalization of predatory capitalism in its worst form, self enrichment through slavery, his concentration of power and wealth in a small elite class, legitimized through the appearance of democracy, have evolved. In 2020, modified predatory capitalism still exploits labor and has concentrated wealth even more than in 1776. Most people are still excluded from decision making. Distorted distribution of power and wealth are still legitimized through the appearance of democracy. Most of Madison's institutionalized distorted Representation, distorted Distribution of Power and distorted Election Protocols are still in place, protected by Article V. Some are getting worse with time.

Preventing Train Wrecks

Inspections to prevent accidents from occurring have been utilized for a long time. To prevent a train wreck, inspections are scheduled on a periodic basis to inspect rail tracks and mechanical parts on the trains. If you don't inspect component parts of a system, catastrophic failures may occur killing dozens of people and injuring many more.

Public health and the prevention of pandemics fall under the umbrella of "Good Governance", as a function of government. That's why we have a Centers for Disease Control. Had the concept of preventing public health train wrecks been extended to the Coronavirus, tens of thousands of lives may have been saved. Let's connect a few dots.

Epidemiologists at the CDC, the US rail inspectors of infectious diseases, understand the potential for disaster. It's part of their mission and experience. When Ebola became a potential disaster in 2014, competent, trained individuals from the CDC helped manage the epidemic before it became a pandemic. In 2020, could the train wreck of COVID-19 been mitigated or possibly prevented with better systems and competent managers in place?

If we measure the US response to the Coronavirus pandemic, compared to other countries, as a measure of Good Governance, how is the government performing? Is killing tens of thousands of people through incompetence and blaming others Good Governance? Are there objective measures that can rate politicians in how they perform their jobs? How do we hold our politicians accountable?

The electoral equivalent of a rail inspection are Risk Limiting Audits (RLA) that guarantee the integrity of the election process. ..."the goal (of RLA's) is to identify not only intentional alterations of ballots and tallies, but also bugs in election machines, such as software errors, scanners with blocked sensors or scanners skipping some ballots." RLA's have a limited scope, inspecting the integrity of actual votes. RLA's do not inspect the system of Democracy.

The common denominators of preventing different types of train wrecks are monitoring systems, looking for problems, accurately identifying sources of problems, and remedying issues before they become disasters. We can extend this concept to "Democracy".

Missing In Action, Pluralism in the United States

One study I like to quote, because it's the only one of its kind, by Thomas Cronin and Robert Loevy in 2018, found that 82% of county elections in Colorado are won by one or the other branch of the Cartel election after election. The predetermination of county elections is also true for overlapping House and Senate districts in those same geographies. I guesstimate between 70% to 85% of elections are predetermined in Colorado. The same applies to other states, countries and provinces. The level of predetermined elections varies by electoral district. Most are predetermined by electoral system and party registration. Measuring pluralism and other variables would determine accurate percentages for the level of predetermined elections and other flaws in each electoral system.

Boulder County, Colorado where I live, hasn't had pluralism for 22 years in any of 9 elected offices. One strong indicator of the lack of pluralism are uncontested elections. 5 of 7 elections for Boulder County offices were uncontested in 2018. Boulder County gets a zero for pluralism.

One Party Dominant districts are so pervasive in Georgia, in 2016, 83% of the House District seats were uncontested. A small rural county, Hot Springs County, Wyoming, has had a persistent lack of pluralism since 1948. 6 of 8 Hot Springs County 2018 races were uncontested. This is true all over the urban and rural U.S. map, where minority parties and voices are purposefully excluded through electoral system design.

By the time of general elections in November of even years, most elections in the United States are predetermined, often by less than 1% of the population voting at party county assemblies in One Party Dominant districts. Most people across the United States have little to no real choice in who represents us. If we have no choice in who is elected, there’s no democracy. Most of us do not live in a democracy. Fewer than 1% of party activists in any given county or state making decisions for everyone, does not constitute an inclusive democracy.

The EIU Democracy Index is Flawed

The EIU Democracy Index gives a rough breakdown of their criteria for measuring democracy with very little detail:

• Electoral Process and Pluralism

• Functioning of government

• Political participation

• Political culture

• Civil liberties

The EIU measurement of Electoral Process and Pluralism in the United States for 2020 yielded a result of 9.17 on a 10 scale, an extremely generous rating based on the anecdotal evidence from state and local elections above. There is no way to prove how generous without data. We don't know the extent of the lack of pluralism across the United States, because it isn't defined. Even when removed from the context of local and state elections, using national projections that the EIU Democracy Index measures, there’s very little pluralism. In the latest Cook Political Report, 346 of 435 (79.5%) of US House of Representatives seats are considered uncompetitive "safe" seats. Only 4 of 35 (11.4%) of US Senate races are considered “Toss Up" seats. Most Americans, 79.5% to 88.6%, live in districts that are predetermined in federal elections by electoral system and party registration. This is often true in state and local elections as well. As a result, voter engagement is low. Why vote when it doesn't matter?

The Freedom House "Freedom of the World" Index gave the US an 86 on a 100 scale, including a 14 of 16 on Part B. Political Pluralism and Participation. The Freedom House gives much better detail on what they're measuring. If half the country has One Party Dominant government and most people stay home for local elections, and nearly half stays from national elections, how is that a 87.5% rating on Pluralism and Participation?

Marc Bühlmann, Wolfgang Merkel, Lisa Müller & Bernhard Weßels published "The Democracy Barometer" in 2011 that outlines the parameters and approach to measuring democracy in nine categories.

These are all useful tools that can inform a system of measuring the quality how we are governed.

The Slow Moving Train Wreck You Can See Today

The United States has two inter-related gross distortions that are already with us, persistent, evolving train wrecks of growing severity. They are the US Senate and the Electoral College. Both should be abolished. We don't watch where we're going. We allow predictable train wrecks to happen. Demographic trends indicate both distortions will become even more exaggerated over time.

What does Jim Crow have to do with it?

People who have 100% control will not relinquish control voluntarily. For a problem they don't want to solve, like Jim Crow, they denied that the problem existed and therefore, did not need to be addressed. If a problem can be denied to exist, it can be safely deflected and ignored. Maybe it will go away? If you’re not looking for a problem, you probably won’t find one. For generations, white supremacists in the South employed this as one of their strategies in their Jim Crow enforcement toolbox. Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones rationale for preventing pluralism (it's not a problem) in Boulder County comes from the same toolbox used by white supremacists in 1963 Alabama.

State and local officials do not measure Democracy

Elise's denial illustrates that before we can remedy an issue, first we need to collectively acknowledge that the problem exists. We know that the US as a whole ranks #25 on the EIU Democracy Index and is categorized as a "Flawed Democracy". While the EIU Democracy Index criteria are somewhat opaque and inaccurate, they can still provide some guidance, a starting point. Knowing that the US in total is a Flawed Democracy, the component parts, every county and state government in the US, can also be assumed to be "Flawed Democracies", unless proven otherwise. We don't know the details whether they are Full Democracies or Flawed Democracies until we measure the details.

Currently there is no way to prove the lack of pluralism easily. Just like Elise Jones, County Clerks and Secretaries of State don't think competition for political office or pluralism are issues, so they don't measure the data. After acknowledging the problem of pluralism exists, a large hurdle with people who have 100% of government control, we need to define and understand what the problems are before we can fix them. We need to know the details of how our systems are flawed, that affect the vitality of democracy across the U.S.

In Summary

County Clerks and Secretaries of State have a partisan interest in not measuring Pluralism. The Cartel has no interest in measuring how it performs, or providing data like a corporate quarterly report, that can be used for public analysis. If an issue isn't defined, it doesn't exist. If the data doesn't exist, the lack of democracy will never be acknowledged as a problem by the Cartel. Competitive elections are unimportant to politicians and parties who have distorted 100% control through current electoral systems. There are no rail inspectors of pluralism and democracy in the United States. If you're not looking for a problem, you won't find it. It will find you. Election reform and self examination are always low priorities for revision by elected officials.

Let's Measure Democracy in the United States

Most people reading this page would agree that US electoral systems are deeply flawed, but probably not agree on how or why they are flawed. The flaws in our electoral systems are ambiguous, undefined and subjective. Elected officials who control the design of government and modifications of election systems, can be obtuse; they often will not acknowledge that our systems do not represent everyone fairly. The Best Democracy Index is an outline of how the metrics of Fair Representation and Good Governance might be measured, to answer the question: Why and how are our systems of representation and governance not performing well? The idea is to objectively identify flaws in the systems. Conclusions and recommendations can be drawn from the raw data. First we need to measure the data.

Good Governance Boards can fix these issues by providing oversight and transparency of the performance of elected officials and their product, good governance. To remedy the issue of Pluralism, we need to define the problem first. I’m proposing that each Secretary of State and County Clerk collect data in each of the 50 states along these lines:

Measure the variables, each statistic by County:

Electoral Systems

• Voting System used for each office elected in each county.

     Single Member Districts

     First Past the Post (FPTP)


     Instant Runoff Voting


     At Large Plurality (perform like Single Member Districts)

     Mixed Single Member and At Large Plurality     

     Multi Member Districts

     Mixed Member Proportional

     Party List

     Single Transferable Vote

• Last electoral system structural modification


     Size change of legislative body

     System change

     Population at the time of the last restructuring & percentage growth since

Home Rule or Statutory County

Voter Demographics

• County Population

• Voter Registration by County and percentage of qualified electors registered to vote.

• Registered Party Affiliation by County (Democratic, Green, Libertarian, Republican, other minor parties).

Voter Access

• Online Registration and Modification

• Universal Voter Registration

• Vote At Home

• Polling Place Access

• Same Day Registration

• Extended Voting, Time Window

• Disability and Foreign Language Access

• Voter ID Restrictions

Voter Engagement % of registered voters voting each year



     Non-November elections

     Odd years

     Even years

     Presidential elections

Party Participation

• Number of Parties participating (in some counties it may be 1, in other counties it may be 4+).

• Uncontested Races (Voter Choice, # of candidates).

• Pluralism (number of parties which won seats with elected representatives).

• Aggregate county totals for the state.

Candidate Ballot Access and Debates

• Party Ballot Access Thresholds

• Ballot Petition Thresholds

• Frequency of Candidate Debates

• Minor Party Access to Candidate Debates

Direct Democracy

• Referenda: #

• Citizens Ballot Initiatives

     Yes or No

     Thresholds for Initiatives (percentage of registered or active voters)

     Number of Initiatives

     Online Petition Gathering

• Elected Official Recalls: #

Distorted Representation/Concentration of Power

• Number of constituents represented by each office (Granularity Score)

• Office Compensation/Living Wage?

• Gerrymandered District

• False Majority Government

     Governing party/coalition percentage of total vote in all component districts / actual assigned seats

     Excluded parties percentage of total vote in all component districts / actual assigned seats

• Term Limits

• Current office holder, length of service

• Breakout of office holders by sex

• Vacancies filled by: a) timely elections, b) party vacancy committee, c) left open until the next general election

Election Integrity & Campaign Finance

• Risk Limiting Audits

• Paper Trail

• Issue Advertising and Campaign Contribution Transparency

• Timely, published candidate campaign contributions during elections with full source transparency

• Campaign contribution limits

• Publicly Funded Elections

Elected Official Accountability: Government officials should be held to the strongest ethical standards, transparency and accountability.

• Paper Petition Recalls

• Online Petition Recalls

• Length of Term

• Vote of No Confidence, Removal by Coalition Partners

• Required Town Halls

• Question Time in legislative sessions

• Open Meetings (% of Executive Sessions)

• Lobbying Disclosure Requirements

• Income Tax Disclosure

• Consistency of platform and votes (Is their policy the same as what they campaigned on?)

Civil Liberties and Government Transparency

• Is the Judiciary Independent of the Executive/Legislative Branches?

• Percentage of people incarcerated

• Public media access/Freedom of Speech (public TV and radio)

• Media Diversity

• Free or low cost Freedom of Information Act requests

• Competitive, transparent contract bidding process

Democracy Score

Yet to be determined is a formula for objective measurement for scoring outcomes for each variable, sometime down the road. This is an early draft.

Make the data transparent

Once collected, the data should be published, freely available on county and state web sites, and downloadable in .csv format. When we have widely available, accurate statistics, we can define the amorphous blob lurking in the corner, the lack of Pluralism, the black hole of democracy, sucking all the choice out of the room. When we define what the problems are, we can understand what needs to be addressed. Until the issues associated with Pluralism and other metrics of democracy listed above are defined, they remain unacknowledged and unaddressed. Without addressing our lack of pluralism, we will continue to have predetermined elections, no real choice, concentrated power, distorted election outcomes at very early stages of the process, and unaccountable politicians.

Please write your Sec. of State and County Clerk, asking them to implement the Best Democracy Index in their web sites.

If you’re not looking for a problem, you probably won’t find it. It may find you first.