Archive for November, 2014

Restoring democracy in the United States

On the eve of a day when less than a third of the electorate will go to the polls and elect candidates who will govern contrary to the best interests of those voters it is perhaps worth noting that our democracy is showing its age and not in a good way. Our Congress is the oldest such institution in the world not to have been significantly modernized since its inception. There are a number of measures we should adopt by Constitutional Amendment.

First, the role of the Senate must be clarified. When the Constitution was written, it was assumed that the polity—i.e. political legitimacy—resided with the individual states each of which had its own unique character and economy. Modeling it loosely on the aristocratic House of Lords in the British parliament, the Founders intended the Senate to represent the interests of the states as corporate entities within the federation. If that were the case, the 17th Amendment should be repealed and Senators chosen by the state governments they are intended to represent. But in fact the Senate is an anachronism that serves only to distort equal representation of the people. There is really no strong reason to have a bicameral legislature. Great Britain and Canada, for example, have long since stripped the upper chambers of their legislatures of any real power. The state of Nebraska functions very nicely with a unicameral legislature. If there is a need to damp down the passions of House of Representative, perhaps a quasi-judicial upper body operating under the purview of the Chief Justice of the United States could be created to review laws before they are sent to the president for signature. Members of that body might be elected by House to single staggered ten-year terms sheltering them from the need to campaign for election.

Second, the Reapportionment Act of 1929 which fixed the membership of the House of Representatives at 435 should be repealed because it unfairly favors smaller states. Currently, congressional districts in large states consist of 20% to 25% more residents than those of the smallest states. The size of a Congressional district should be the population of the smallest state with body growing as need be. That would give New York, for example, seven more Representatives than it currently has.

Third, apportionment of the House of Representatives should be taken out of the hands of politically-motivated state legislatures and turned over to the Census Bureau with the mandate that it be done using impartial computer algorithms monitored by a commission appointed by the Supreme Court.

Fourth, the Electoral College should be abolished. There is no reason why 194,000 voters in Wyoming should have the same voice in choosing the president as 697,000 in California.

Fifth, there can be no real democracy without public financing of elections, strict limits on campaign funding, and an advertising-free period prior to the election.

Sixth, the terms of office for the Congress should be changed to put a stop to endless campaigning. The entire House should be elected the year after the decennial census has allowed it to be reapportioned with each member limited to two five-year terms. This would have the added benefit of decoupling the presidential and congressional elections strengthening the system of checks and balance.  

Finally, perhaps voting should be made mandatory subject to a nominal fine. That has worked in other countries to significantly increase voter participation.