Process is Power

by Ben Carter


I am going to write a series of essays about process.

For those of you still reading, thank you.

Process is so important. Process is power. So, in the coming weeks, expect this table of contents to be filled in with hyperlinks to essays.

  • Campaign finance
  • Redistricting
  • Election Day logistics
  • Restoration of voting rights
  • Fusion Voting

But, for now, I want to get a few things said about process.

If following politics is watching the sausage being made, then paying attention to process issues is animal husbandry. What are you feeding this pig? Where does it live? How much exercise does it get? Hell, is what you’re growing even a pig? The answers to these questions will dramatically impact both the quality and quantity of sausage you get to eventually make.

The conventional wisdom is that “process issues” are not the kind of issues on which people cast their vote.[1] No one, the thinking goes, says, “Well, she supports publicly-funded elections, so I’m voting for her.” That may be .02% of the electorate.

That’s got to change.

As a country, we’ve got to spend much more time and energy thinking about process, talking about process, organizing around process, and agitating for process change. This is hard for a few reasons.

1) People in power don’t want us to talk about process. They got power using the processes as they exist today. To the extent they want to change the process, they want to change it to consolidate their own power; but, generally, public dialogue about process will challenge the status quo, which the powerful are bent on preserving and deepening.

2) Process is geeky. Process nerds are the political world’s sabermetrics nuts, John Siracusas, and dungeon masters. Talking about process can get wonky fast. People who love process love it because it quickly engages very deep questions about power and human nature. They love it because parts of it can be quantified in legislative districts, voter turnout; it can be charted, graphed, mapped. Normal people have a lot of practice ignoring nerds, and process nerds are no exception.

The powerful don’t want us talking about process and the normal want to ignore us. We cannot allow this to stop us. Process issues are too important.

How we elect our government is intimately related to the pervasive cynicism towards our government. Look at Congress’s approval ratings: a deep skepticism grips the American public; they no longer trust that Congress represents them. This is a crisis not just of politics but of process.

Our politics can be broken, but our process cannot be. We must have processes that Americans trust. The seeds of revolution sprout from broken processes, not broken politics. Look at the Declaration of Independence. The colonists list of grievances were entirely process issues. Here are just the first four:

  • He [King George III] has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

  • He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

  • He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

  • He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

Don’t tell Thomas Jefferson that process is boring, that people don’t vote on process issues. The Founding Fathers risked their necks, literally, for process. Washington crossed the Delaware for process. Farmers lost feet in Valley Forge for process. People died for process.

How do we structure elections? How do we fund them? How do we draw the maps for districts? Who will we disenfranchise? The answer to these questions provide us the representatives who will answer every other question our country faces. How we elect people determines who we elect.

If you care about China, the environment, education, infrastructure, war, energy, taxes, unemployment, crime, human rights, animal rights, plant rights, extraterrestrial defense preparation. If you care about anything that local, state, or federal government touches, you damn well better care about process.


  1. Or, the kind of essays people spend their leisure time reading.  ↩