Making Democracy Great Again: Transform American Democracy

“Summon the Elector Counts!”
- Emperor Karl Franz, The Empire (Warhammer Universe)

Karl Franz is the fictional emperor of the Empire — the most powerful nation of men in the Warhammer Universe. In that universe, the Empire — akin to our world’s Holy Roman Empire — is besieged from within by traitors and heretics and without by the forces of Chaos. Franz isn’t an emperor in the hereditary sense. He’s an elected emperor. He was elected by the Elector Counts, or princes, of the Empire’s various provinces. Each Elector Count has one vote.

Similarly, the United States has Electors. Ours meet every four years in the Electoral College. Like the Empire’s Elector Counts, our Electors aren’t princes. They’re the faithful of political parties. and chosen by said parties of each state — i.e. the Democratic Party of Virginia, the Republican Party of Florida, etc. If the party’s candidate wins their particular state, they’re sent to the Electoral College.

There, while not bound by any federal law, they are expected to vote for the candidate who won the largest number of votes in their State. Conveniently, that should be the candidate of their own party. Those who do not are deemed “faithless” electors. There haven’t been very many of these in American history, but it does happen. Many thought that Electors would become faithless en masse and prevent a Trump presidency. Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

Ultimately, that’s probably a good thing. It indicates that Americans are willing to abide by the rules and value the peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next. But that doesn’t mean the rules are very good.

Consider that on four occasions — in 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016 — the Electoral College has failed to elect the candidate with the most votes to the Presidency. Some people view that as a strength. Others view it as a deficiency. Regardless, it’s not good for democratic legitimacy or republican stability. It’s a “misfire” rate of 7 percent.

This hasn’t exactly made the Electoral College popular — particularly among Democrats. It isn’t hard to understand why. Winning more votes but losing an election isn’t exactly democratic. Moreover, how its construction and operation are the real problem. However, these are the rules — and in a republic, rules matter — so long as they don’t become exploits. The good news is that rules can change.

Interestingly, it wasn’t that long ago that Republicans weren’t fans of the Electoral College, either. Here are two Tweets from a certain President that haven’t aged well:

So, that’s ironic.

Back to the rules. Here’s the thing — rules must be fair. Otherwise, they’re not rules. They’re exploits. In a video game, exploits are bugs that are used to gain an unfair advantage. The problem with exploits is that they don’t necessarily break the rules of a game. Instead, they weaponize them. Rules can also be designed as weapons.

That the rules have been weaponized and that the rules are weapons are not mutually exclusive propositions. In fact, in America, both are true.

Let’s start with the rules as weapons. Consider the Constitution as it stood in 1789. Here are a few rules established by the Constitution:

  1. Senators were appointed by State legislatures
  2. Slaves counted as three-fifths of a person
  3. The Electoral College elects the President

The Framers were suspicious of direct democracy. Fair enough — their efforts to construct a representative democracy were radical for their era — an era so dominated by the Kings and Queens of Europe that it’s known as the Age of Absolutism. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t see the rules for what they were — an attempt to limit democracy. And limit democracy is what these rules did.

First — Senators, appointed by their State’s legislature, represented aristocratic interests. Interestingly, this can be viewed on the part of the Framers as a foreshadowing of Karl Marx. They recognized the inherent class conflict that characterizes politics. So, they wrote the rules to help people like themselves.

Second — The three-fifths compromise, which counted towards representation of slaves states, enhanced the electoral power of slave states. It did so by counting three-fifths, or 60 percent, of each slave towards the representation of slave States in the House of Representatives. That’s sick on multiple levels. First, it says that slaves were less than human — which served to justify slaves’ status as less than human. Second, it strengthened the power of their oppressors.

Third and finally — the Electoral College itself was constructed as a final safeguard against — if you take the positive view of the story — demagoguery; or — if you take the negative view of the story — direct democracy. In effect, what the framers created was an aristocratic representative democracy which — for their time — was radical.

Since then, the history of America is the expansion of its radical promise. That promise is exemplified in the words of the Declaration of Independence — “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

That’s a powerful sentence. What it says is that all of us — all humans— are created equal and that we all have unalienable rights. It names three of those rights, but leaves the door open to more. Those are left to us to discover and win.

So, to channel Bernie Sanders, are you ready for a radical idea? Every vote — electoral or otherwise — should be equal. That means equal weight, access, and opportunity. Our democracy must be defined by two fundamental principles — equality and inclusion. Will we get there overnight? No. But we can get there.

But how do we get there?

First, we have to talk about Constitutional Math. This is a simple addition equation. 435 + 100 + 3 = 538.

Like any good equation, its got variables. Those are to the left of the equals sign. And its got a dependent variable. That’s to the right of the equals sign. Let’s talk about each of these.

435. That’s the number of seats in the House.

Let’s start with the bad news. America has the worst ratio of population per Representative in the free world. We have over 754,000 people per Representative. Other large, comparable nations like Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom have 114,000 to 215,000 people per Representative in their lower house legislature (which is akin to our House of Representatives).

Now, here’s the why. The House stopped growing in 1912 — when America had 95 million people and about 218,000 people per Representative. Why? The House chose to. There was a 20 year fight between populous, urban states and sparsely populated, rural states. The fight was over apportionment — or what states get how many Representatives.

Here’s a chart of the House’s growth over time.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_United_States_House_of_Representatives

Then, in 1929, the fight was over. The House passed the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929 — capping the House’s size at 435. Ostensibly, the argument was that the House was getting too big for the current Capitol — as if we should let the physical size of a building trap an institution! Temporary adjustments were made for the admission of Alaska and Hawaii to the Union, but the House shrunk to 435 again in 1963 and has remained there ever since.

Personally, I’d characterize it as the undoing of the Connecticut Compromise — which created a House based on population and a Senate based on equality among States. But as we’ll see later, demographic trends are going to wreck that compromise by 2040 anyways.

So, here’s the good news. Congress created this problem. That means Congress can fix it. And that’s without a Constitutional Amendment. As you’ve probably guessed by now, the Constitution is largely silent as to how many Representatives there should be. That means we’ve got lots of options. Those can be discussed another time — but the major point is this, House representation should be grounded in math. We could, for example, mandate that no House district should be larger than 250,000 people. And if it becomes larger than 250,000, it will be split into two equal halves.

This would create a House of about 1,300 Members — quite a lot; we’d need a new Capitol, division of labor, more staff, etc. But there is no reason to let the physical size of buildings trap our institutions. Besides, it’s the 21st Century and we have the internet. They can work from home.

100. That’s the number of seats in the Senate. There are 50 states. Each state has 2 Senators. 2 x 50 = 100.

By 2040, 70 percent of Americans will live in just 15 states. Under the current order, that means 70 percent of Americans will be represented by 30 Senators. 30 percent of Americans will be represented by 70 Senators.

That is just insane. It’s an example of the software (our modern reality) not running well on the hardware (our Constitution). And it’s a scenario for permanent gridlock and the de-legitimization of our democratic republic in the eyes of its citizens. Who wants to live in a country where 30% of the population can block anything and everything via the Senate? This is a scenario I like to describe as the Tyranny of the Minority.

Here’s why it would be tyrannical. No legislation passes without the House and the Senate. Generally, those 35 states with 30 percent of the population but 70 Senators will be older, whiter, and — given the current state of affairs in the GOP — ultraconservative. The fear is that they’ll make today’s Republicans look comparatively moderate.

Now, think of the power those ultraconservative States will have in the context of the current system. I’ve already mentioned they’ll have 70 Senators. The other 15 states — populous and largely urban — will have about 300 seats in the House. That is a perfect recipe for permanent gridlock.

Ready for the bad news? Those ultraconservative states will be just a few states shy of being able to call a Constitutional Convention — they’re already dangerously close as is. Ready for the worse news? In a Convention, States are equal. That means these 35 with 30 percent of the population states can write the rules to suit them. In short, this is a nightmare scenario that would make the country ungovernable at best and rip it asunder at worst.

There is a solution. I’m proud to call this solution my own. So far as I know, no one else has written about it. So, I’m calling it the Wyss Maneuver. Here are the rules:

  1. Every State gets 1 Senator to start with.
  2. When a State has less than 1.00% of the population, it shall have 1 Senators. When a State has more than 1.00% of the population, but less than 2.00%, it shall have 2 Senators. When a State has more than 2.00% of the population, but less than 3.00%, it shall have 3 Senators. When a State has more than 3.00% of the population, but less than 4.00%, it shall have 4 Senators, etc.
  3. Senators shall be elected via Party. In other words, if a State has 10 Senators, and the Democrats get 60% of the vote, then they get 6 Senators. If in that same State the Republicans get 30% of the vote, then they get 4 Senators. If in that same state a third party gets 10% of the vote, then it gets 1 Senator.

This would produce a Senate of 126 Senators. Most importantly, it wouldn’t leave any parties out. I know, some of you are groaning about the Framers hating political parties — but the reality is they formed the moment the Republic formed. So, they’re part of our history whether we like it or not. We might as well embrace it. The Democrats have their Donkey, the Republicans their Elephant, the Socialists their Rose, the Greens their Tree, and the Libertarians have…Milton Friedman etched in gold?

Interestingly, if we awarded these Senators seats on the basis of Single Seat Winner-Take-All elections, analysis suggests that there’d be 52 Democratic Senators, 58 Republican Senators, and 16 Senators from Swing States.

Alternatively, if we can’t reform the Senate via this or other means, we can abolish it. It is imperative, however, that it not remain in its current form.

3. Three represents the number of Electoral Votes allotted to DC per the 23rd Amendment. Stated simply, it says DC can have as many Electoral Votes as the smallest State in the Union. Currently, that’s Wyoming. And Wyoming has 3 Electoral Votes. Now you know why DC has 3 Electoral Votes, too.

There’s a simple solution. Make DC a State. Under the system I’m proposing, it’d have 2 Senators and 3 Representatives. This solution also has the virtue of being the right thing to do. After all, as the Colonists declared in the 1700s — “No Taxation without Representation!”

Boom. Now we have a House with about 1,312 members and 126 Senators. While we’re at it, let’s make Puerto Rico a State, too. It’s the right thing to do. They’re Americans and they deserve for their votes to be meaningful. That’s the most important right — both in a cosmic and political sense — of all.

538. Well, the number wouldn’t be 538 anymore. Now, it’d be something like 1,438.

Currently, our Electoral College operates on a Winner-Take-All principle. It’s time to change that. States should now award their Electoral Votes on the basis of the House District. But let’s make it a little more exciting. Utilize Ranked Choice Voting, too. Doing so will transform the Presidential election via Consensus Democracy. Not everyone will get a President they love, but the majority will get a President they can support.

Why is this important? Why go so far? Because right now, if you’re a liberal in Texas, a conservative in California, or a third party supporter anywhere, your vote means squat. Why go so far? Because we have a right to self-government. And what we have now no longer meets our needs. So, we must transform our democratic republic peacefully, thoughtfully, and meaningfully.

Unfortunately, reform is — at this moment — unlikely. While many liberals and Democrats in Blue (Urban) America seek to abolish or make an end run around the Electoral College via the National Interstate Vote Compact, those efforts are a bad idea. If they succeeded, Red (Rural)America would scream Bloody Murder, and rightfully so. They would now be subjected to the Tyranny of the Majority. Meanwhile, Rural States, which currently vote overwhelmingly Republican — are quite happy to see Donald Trump in the White House. But will they be able to hold the line forever? It’s possible — and that’s a Constitutional Crisis waiting to happen.

Remember that statistic about 70 percent of Americans living in the 15 largest states by 2040? That means those 15 States will have about 300 seats in the House, but only 30 in the Senate. Again, given our current Constitutional arrangement, that sets up a scenario for permanent gridlock. Urban states, controlling the House, won’t be able to get legislation through the Senate. Rural States, controlling the Senate, won’t be able to get legislation through the House. Worse, the 15 largest states won’t be able to call for a Constitutional Convention — that requires two-thirds of the States. Nor will they be able to pass any Constitutional Amendments in Congress — that requires two-thirds of each chamber.

Imagine you’re a resident of Urban America in 2040. Would you put up with a system that’s constantly gridlocked because 30 percent of the population (and declining) wants to prevent you from doing anything? That’s the Tyranny of the Minority. Every urbanite would chafe under such a system. Thus ends the Connecticut Compromise and, along with it, a governable United States.

Taken together, this means that reform is necessary. It can happen in one of two ways. Either a crisis — manufactured or imposed by history — will force it or a compromise will craft it. Crafting a compromise is greatly preferable to crisis. Why? Because in crises, people die.

My fellow Americans, the time is now. We all believe in this country’s promise. And we all want to believe in fair play. So, let’s hammer out a system together in which we can all live together, work together, and build America together. Just as in 1776 — we stand for mankind.