The Plan to Eliminate Majority Rule in the U.S. Has Succeeded (So Far)
By Peter Montague
Trumpist Republicans are on track to win back control of Congress in 2022 and perhaps the White House in 2024.
Even if Trump is not the Republican presidential nominee in 2024, the next Republican nominee seems certain to be equally lacking in conscience and empathy and also likely to be far more capable and focused, and therefore much more dangerous to people Of Color, women, immigrants, and one-person-one-vote democracy itself.
Given the Republican Party’s present commitment to white supremacy, theocracy, male dominance and anti-democratic authoritarianism, the impending Republican resurgence threatens the bedrock of the U.S. political system, which is majority rule. To win elections, Republicans must prevent many people from voting, as the man-child messiah himself has admitted publicly. The only path to Republican electoral success is minority rule. (As historian Nancy MacLean has shown, conservatives set out to eliminate majority rule from the U.S. political system long ago.)
The Republican drive to victory in 2022 and 2024 can be stopped in its tracks, but it will require the Senate to enact the “For the People Act” (known in the Senate as bill S.1), which is probably the most far-reaching election-reform bill ever attempted. (I’ll describe S.1 below.) To enact this critical law to make every vote count, the Senate must be able to make decisions by majority rule, which it cannot do today because of the Senate’s own “filibuster rule.”
The Senate’s filibuster rule allows any senator, acting in secret, to automatically require a 60-vote majority to enact any bill, instead of the usual 51-vote majority (50 Senators plus the tie-breaking vote by the Vice-President).
The filibuster allows any group of 41 senators to kill any proposed legislation. The filibuster rule turns the Senate from a majority-rule institution into a minority-rule institution. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can gather 41 Senate votes just from states that voted more than 20 percent for Trump in 2016. Using the filibuster, senators representing as few as 20% of the U.S. population can overrule Senators representing 80% of the people.
When the Senate becomes a minority-rule institution, the U.S. becomes a minority-ruled nation because every proposed law has to be approved by the Senate, along with all federal judgeships specified in Title III of the Constitution (Supreme Court and all federal appeals and circuit courts), plus more than 1000 presidential appointments (cabinet positions, ambassadors, agency heads, attiorneys, and so on). The Senate is extremely powerful and the framers in 1787 designed it to make decisions by majority rule. The filibuster changes that design, allowing 41 Senators to control decisions.
The filibuster rule was developed in the 1830s to prevent northern states from abolishing slavery, and then it was used for almost 200 years to make laws, programs and policies that disadvantaged Blacks and other people Of Color. The filibuster has been a racist sledge-hammer since it was invented, and it is shameful that the Senate has chosen to retain it. The Senate can change its own rules by a majority vote at any time, yet the filibuster has been retained as a racial bludgeon. It is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Senate has been a blatantly racist institution since about 1830 and continues to be one today.
To be absolutely clear, the Senate can eliminate the filibuster by a majority vote of the Senate — so today’s 50 Democrat senators, plus Vice-President Kamala Harris, could do the job at any time. This would allow Democrats to enact the “For the People Act” (S.1) and clean up our corrupt and undemocratic election system, reducing the money-corruption of the system, guaranteeing one-person-one-vote, thus assuring majority rule.
Unfortunately, two Democrat senators say they want to retain the filibuster. Those two obstructionist Democrats are Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Krysten Sinema of Arizona. If these two Democrats refuse to eliminate the filibuster, 41 senators will be able to kill S.1 and kill the rest of President Biden’s progressive agenda, thus enabling Republicans to retake control of the House of Representatives and the Senate in 2022 and very likely the presidency in 2024.
In other words, senators Manchin and Sinema hold the key to the future of U.S. democracy. Talk about minority power!
Why is S.1 essential for Democrat success in 2022?
The Democrats need 218 seats to control the House of Representatives, and they currently hold 223. When all current vacancies are filled, they may hold 224 or 225 seats — a slim majority of 6 or 7 votes.
After the final 2020 census results are released, all 435 Congressional districts will be redrawn, as happens every 10 years. Partly because people from blue states are moving to red states, and partly because of how Trump jiggered the census to undercount people of color, when districts are redrawn, “Democrats are going to get pounded,” Grim tells us.
Because of population shifts, nine states are going to lose a seat: California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia. New York might lose two seats.
Texas will gain three seats, Florida two, and one each will be gained by Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon.
Those shifts alone might hand Republicans control of the House. But gerrymandering would seal the deal. Gerrymandering is the practice of shaping congressional districts into ridiculously weird geographic shapes to benefit one party over the other — for example, making sure all Black people are corralled into a single district and white evangelicals are divided up to create majorities in several different districts, thus reducing the representation of Blacks, who usually vote pretty solidly for Democrats. White evangelicals, heavily tainted by white supremacy, are the beating heart of the modern Republican Party.
Republicans control the redistricting process in almost all the states that will get new districts — in Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, Montana and Florida, where they can gerrymander districts to get the seats due them under the new census but also to pick up a few districts the Democrats won in 2018. Democrats can only gerrymander Oregon, Grim explains.
Across the country, Republicans can gerrymander 20 states, the Democrats nine, and “in most of those [nine] there aren’t many gains left to be made,” Grim writes.
To win back the House, Republicans only have to successfully gerrymander one seat in half the states they control. “That’s incredibly easy to do, given today’s mapping technology,” Grim writes.
If Republicans take control of House or Senate in 2022, Biden’s agenda is finished. That will put Republicans in a strong position to win the White House in 2024.
Here’s the thing: S.1 would make gerrymandering illegal, nationwide. It would require each state to set up its own independent commission to do the re-districting instead of, as now, having state legislatures do it according to which part holds power. The corruption of gerrymandering would end.
S.1 contains many other provisions that would level the playing field at election time. Here’s a short list of what’s in the 706-page bill (which the House passed March 8, 2019) and the Senate is considering now:
Elections reforms in S.1 fall into three categories: (1) It would make it easier for everyone to vote; (2) It would eliminate gerrymandering, make every vote count equally; and (3) it would amplify the political power of small-dollar donors, reducing the power of fat-cat donors.
Here are some details:
The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world where voting is a two-step process — first you “register to vote,” then you cast a ballot. S.1 would make voter registration nearly automatic, but if that missed someone they could still register at the polling place on election day.
Many Republican-dominated states today require voters to show a government-issued ID, which many people don’t own (especially poor people, young people, people Of Color, and people with disabilities). S.1 allows anyone to vote without an ID; they just have to sign an affidavit swearing (under oath) they are who they say they are, with penalties for lying.
S.1 would make it impossible for states to engage in sham purges of voter rolls. And states could no longer stop people with felony convictions from voting after they’ve served their time, plus states would be required to inform them in writing when they can vote again.
S.1 would require states to allow at least 14 days of early voting, for a minimum of 10 hours per day. Furthermore, all eligible voters could choose to vote by mail for any reason. To prevent election fraud by voting-machine hackers, all states would be required to use paper ballots.
The U.S. Supreme Court first opened the floodgates for money-corruption of elections in 1976 (a case called Buckley v. Valeo, with the majority opinion written by tobacco lawyer Lewis F. Powell, Jr.). In 2010 the Roberts Supreme Court went Powell one better in Citizens United, allowing unlimited campaign expenditures by Super PACS so long as everyone pretends that the super PACs and formal political campaigns are acting “independently” (wink, wink).
S.1 cannot overturn these corrupt decisions to flood our elections with big money (because it would require amending the Constitution), so S.1 takes a different tack — it empowers small donors.
S.1 provides a six-to-one dollar-match for any campaign contribution up to $200. If anyone donates $10 to a candidate, that candidate receives $10 + $60 = $70. A $200 donation gives the candidate $1,400. The matching funds come from the U.S. Treasury (the people’s money).
This can be hugely important. As Maryland Representative John Sarbanes has explained, if someone sponsors a house party for 30 people and each donates $50, then the candidate receives $1,500 + $9,000 matching funds = $10,500. From a candidate’s perspective, this makes a house party more attractive than the usual appeal to a corporate lobbyist; they get the money and they get to meet real voters.
It also spurs average citizens to hold more house parties, which gets more people involved in politics. Right now, your $25 donation doesn’t do much, so why participate at all? But if every $25 automatically turns into $175, there’s a reason to get all your friends to donate. Donors tend to pay attention, get involved, and vote.
To qualify for federal matching funds, a candidate would first need to raise $50,000 from at least 1000 people, to weed out unserious candidates.
S.1 contains many other provisions that would strengthen one-person-one-vote, majority-rule decision-making in the U.S. As Jon Schwarz writes in The Intercept, if S.1 passes with its main provisions intact “a new era could dawn with a creative, lively, nationwide progressive movement.” Of course, a genuine conservative grass-roots movement (if such a thing actually existed) would benefit equally from S.1.
The provisions in S.1 are wildly popular with the U.S. population. As historian Heather Cox Richardson reported Jan. 25, 2021,
“Polling by Data for Progress and Vote Save America shows that the principles in H.R. 1 [the same as S.1] are very popular, across parties. Sixty-eight percent of Americans approve of the reforms in the bill. Sixteen percent oppose the measure. The items within the bill are also popular. Eighty-six percent of Americans support a plan to prevent foreign interference in our elections; 7% oppose it. Eighty-five percent of us want to limit the amount of [money in] politics; 8% oppose that idea. Eighty-four percent of us want more election security; 8 percent do not.
“Seventy-four percent of us want to see nonpartisan redistricting; 11% do not. Sixty-eight percent want to see 15 days of early voting; 19% do not. Sixty percent want same-day voter registration; 29% do not. Fifty-nine percent want automatic voter registration; 29% do not. Even with the Republican attacks on mail-in voting, fifty-eight percent of us want to be able to vote by mail; 35% do not.”
As I said, the House passed this bill in 2019. Now it’s up to the Senate, where the only thing that can stop it is the Senate rule called “the filibuster,” which was invented by racists, for racists (as Adam Jentleson has detailed in his excellent new book, Kill Switch). The only hope for passing S.1 is a simple-majority vote by the Senate to eliminate the filibuster rule, which would then allow a simple-majority vote to enact S.1.
Unfortunately, two Democrats say they will vote to keep the filibuster, thus ending all chance of passing S.1, which in turn will allow Republicans to use our present corrupt election system to gerrymander their way back to power for at least the next 10 years, crushing President Biden’s progressive agenda, thus likely handing the White House to white supremacist Republicans in 2024.
To restore majority rule, our democracy desperately needs S.1. And to enact S.1 we would have to eliminate the filibuster. The two people who hold the power to disable U.S. democracy are Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Krysten Sinema of Arizona. Please let them know what you think of their stance.