Let’s bring democracy to the United States
(and be greeted as liberators)
Yes, the Democrats need to accept a peaceful transfer of power. Yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but lost the election. Sometimes that’s the way it goes. Except that it doesn’t — go the other way, that is. The system is fundamentally biased and it’s time to organize and demand change.
We have three elected federal bodies of government — the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Presidency, each one slanted to favor Republicans. This is no accident — and it’s a big problem.
The House of Representatives
Let’s start with the House, the part of the legislative branch specifically designed to reflect the popular will of the people. Yet, in 10 of the last 12 elections, a disproportionate number of Republican representatives were elected, compared to the number of popular votes cast. Sometimes, the differences are small(ish). But sometimes the spread is wide — and critical; in 2012, the Republicans took control of the house with just under 50% of the popular vote, compared with Democrats receiving just over 50%. The average Republican Representative represented roughly 250k voters, compared to the average Democratic Representative’s 300k voters. Once the 2016 votes are tallied, we may be looking at a similar situation this year.
Republicans like to say that the wind blows this way and that way, it’s just “noise” in the system. When the winds blow in favor of one party over the other in ten of twelve elections, however, it’s time to call the game what it is: rigged.
Republicans also like to point out that a key cause of the discrepancy is the tendency for Democrats to cluster in and around cities. This phenomenon, coupled with the fact that rural states receive a minimum of three representatives each, they say, is nothing more than an unfortunate reality. A more comprehensive explanation would pay equal attention to the fact that gerrymandering is out of control. One way to test the true drivers of this persistent discrepancy is to create nonpartisan committees to oversee redistricting. Once we implement nonpartisan redistricting and can see how voting patterns change, we will have a clear sense of how much of the issue is attributable to geographic self-selection and how much is attributable to intentional gerrymandering.
And, while I’m recommending changes, let’s enfranchise the citizens of Washington, D.C. There are more residents in Washington D.C. than in Vermont and the city has been part of our nation since its founding. The fact that the residents of D.C. are expected to forego federal representation is an outrage.
We all know that representation in the Senate is disproportionate by design. Thank you, founders, for the Connecticut Compromise. And, while it may be troubling that 45% of the population is represented by 51% of the Senate, that seems to be the intention of the founders. As unfair as it seems, given all the other urgent changes we need to make, let’s leave the Senate alone for the moment.
Except D.C., let’s go ahead and enfranchise the citizens of D.C. here, too.
The way we select the president is convoluted, undemocratic, and unfair. The Electoral College was designed to protect uninformed voters from making poor decisions, given how hard travel and communications were in the 1780s. Both have become much easier since then, but the Electoral College remains, just as undemocratic as it ever was.
And, while the Electoral College is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, the current winner-take-all system is convention, not law. It’s implausible the founders wanted a set of 11 “purple” states to be the only ones that matter in a presidential campaign.
In addition to creating a set of all-important swing states, our winner-take-all system systematically disenfranchises specific populations within individual states (think of the largely Republican upstate NY, or the typically Democratic Atlanta, Georgia). One simple, but insufficient, fix would be for states to allocate their electoral votes proportionally, as Nebraska does. There would then be cause for Republicans to campaign in states such as California and NY and for Democrats to campaign in Texas, where even a partial win can lead to some electoral benefit. Equally as important, 39 states would not be ceding the right to select the next president to only 11 states.
More complicated, but more important, is reallocating the way electoral power is assigned. The fact that 12 of the 20 the most powerful states (based on representation per EC vote) are red, whereas only six are blue, is no accident. Of the ten least powerful states, only one is red; five are purple and four are blue. If California voters had a fair share of electoral college votes (based on the average allocation of EC votes by population), it would have 75 , rather than the current 55. NY would have 39 rather than 29 (and Texas would have 51 rather than 47). If California and NY had as much electoral power as the average top-10 state by electoral power, each would have 138 and 72 EC votes, respectively.
An easier way to look at it: In the past five elections, two Democrats have won the popular vote, yet lost the electoral college — This has happened to Republicans exactly zero times.
A great solution to our current crisis is the National Popular Vote interstate compact. The idea is that states would all agree to cast their Electoral College votes for the winner of the popular vote. Eleven states have already signed on.
Some people might argue that any change to our current system would leave small states powerless against the larger, more populous ones. This problem, however, is why the founders made the Connecticut Compromise in the first place. Small states should take solace in the fact that the Senate disproportionately represents their will. Small states should not have an outsized influence over the House and Presidency, too.
Taken together, the system is a mess. And while I can appreciate that small, less populated states may not want to shift toward a system that doesn’t benefit them, those of us who value patriotism and equality must forcefully make the demand. Let it be incumbent upon those that stand in the way of fairness to make their case. It’s hard to argue against one person, one vote.
What Can You Do?
Call and write your state legislator.
- Demand support for the National Popular Vote interstate compact. For information on where your state stands, look here.
- Demand nonpartisan redistricting. Our government should not be controlled by whichever party happened to be in power during a districting year.