But for activists like Delray Beach resident Jayne King, who is cochair of the Palm Beach County Green Party, that old lesson may look like one-part hogwash and two-parts wishful thinking.
That's why King has banded together with some strange bedfellows: She says that the Electoral Reform event she's helping to organize for this Saturday has support from a whole spectrum of political activists.
Sure, members of the Green Party and the ACLU will show up -- you expected that, right? But so, King says, will Tea Party activists, Libertarians, Independents, and even a few Republicans. The common thread is that all agree that major reforms are due in our highly compromised elections system.
People are disenfranchised. Third- and fourth-party candidates are discouraged from running. The public is apathetic about voting. Lobbyists exert undue influence. And our state Legislature is stocked with millionaires who don't represent the will of the common people.
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King says that Saturday's event, which will take place from 3:30 to 6 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Boca Raton, will host speakers on the subject of electoral disenfranchisement, followed by break-out groups, to come up with a "white paper" organizers will distribute to our elected officials.
The event is the "kickoff," King says, for a series designed to get the public reinterested in its old civics lessons. Saturday's speakers will include Robert Watson, a Lynne University American Studies professor who directs the nonprofit think tank Think Act Lead; Deland-based policy analyst Michael Arth, who is running for governor in 2010 (he actually had a day named after him in Volusia County); and Fred Markham of the Space Coast Progressive Alliance. They all to some degree think our Florida elections system is in the crapper.
In the future, the group will focus on at least ten areas of electoral reform, including increased public financing for elections and instant runoff voting, where voters rank their choices for a given post.
"The system itself needs to be changed," King says. "We want to make it a lot easier for the average person to get on the ballot."