2009/12/05

Cost of Reform

Let’s try to put some numbers on what it will take to achieve any of our reform goals.

The typical congressional district contains about 210,000 persons who are registered to vote and who can be associated with current addresses and phone numbers. Robo-calls delivering push polls of about 5-7 questions will run about $0.20/call, or about $40,000.

Multiply by 435 congressmen and one gets 91,350,000 voters, or a cost of $17,400,000.

I am familiar with petition drives. Here in Texas the Libertarian Party needed to gather about 50,000 signatures to get on the ballot. We found that volunteers weren’t gathering them fast enough to meet the deadline, and that it was a more productive use of their time to raise money to pay professional petition gatherers, at about $1 per signature. (We collected 80,000 signatures to make sure we would have enough after many were disallowed, and got on the ballot.)

I would expect a similar situation for gathering signatures for the Continental Congress 2009 Articles of Freedom (AoF), except that what the petitioners for LP ballot access were asked to sign was only one sentence. If you had to pay people to gather signatures for something even as long as the Declaration and Resolve (preamble), you would probably be looking at $5-10/signature. To get people to read and sign the entire AoF would likely run more than $100/signature. So an estimate of labor cost, even volunteer labor, to gather 15 million signatures, is likely to be in the range of $15 million to $2 billion.

Would having that many signatures make enough of an impact to justify that expenditure? As petition signatures, probably not. Yes, it is about 34,000 per member of the U.S. House, but that is not enough if they are mostly people who aren’t likely to vote for the congressman anyway. If they were mostly swing voters, perhaps. As supporters we can get to take action, such as write letters, make phone calls, demonstrate at rallies, or engage in civil disobedience, it could make a significant difference. In other words, it is not signatures on a petition we need to gather, but recruits for other activities.

In a presidential election the two main parties will spend about $1 billion to appeal to about 100 million voters. Since they will divide the vote about evenly, each will spend about $10 for each vote their candidate gets, or about $500 million. Down-ballot contenders will similarly spend about $10 for each vote the winning candidate receives. That does not count the millions of man-hours of unpaid efforts by volunteers, which if paid for would likely be an additional $10-20/vote received.

Let’s consider a more modest goal of reducing the odds to less than 50% that federal (and state) prosecutors can win criminal convictions under unconstitutional statutes. As I discuss in my blog article “Jury Size Matters” , it is only necessary to convert about 6% of the population from which jurors are drawn into competent and diligent jurors to get that result. But what would it take to do that?

Over the years I have tested various ways to recruit ordinary citizens into a state of enlightenment sufficient to make them good jurors. It is a lengthy process of one-on-one education. Although I have not tried to convert such efforts into automated telephone push-polls, I can imagine that 5 such calls to every person, each containing about 5-7 questions, and spaced over about two years, might reach that 6% conversion.

The calls would have to be made to all of about 100 million voters—every person likely to be in the jury pool—or judges could just screen out the ones receiving such calls by asking if they had received them. So that would be 5 calls at about $0.20 each for 100 million voters, or about $100 million.

Of course, the same result could be obtained with unpaid volunteers, but we would be asking them to devote time that would be worth about ten times that amount, or about $1 billion worth of their time. That is a lot to ask of people in hard times who are having to devote most of their time to finding work, if they aren’t doing extra work for no extra pay to keep the jobs they have.

I don’t want people reading this to lose hope. The situation is not impossible. But it is difficult, and these numbers should offer some insight into why constitutional compliance has been so elusive. Such expenditures in time and money are being made by our adversaries, often paid for with our taxes. The challenge is to be able to match such efforts.

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