Thursday, June 2, 2011

How much of a democracy is America after all?

One of the essences of a democracy is the philosophy of 'One Person, One Vote.' But in some American elections, that isn't the case. The Electoral College insures that some times, the winner of the popular vote doesn't win the presidency. Remember that one, Bob Dole? That system was worked out carefully by our founding fathers as a way to ensure that politicians wouldn't simply try to sway the big audiences at expense of the small. In those days, they didn't want Virginia to have undue influence over the nation but the same situation applies today. If the popular vote was all that mattered, presidential hopefuls would only campaign in states like New York, California and Texas, leaving the South Dakotas and Alaskas of this country unrepresented. Who would care about mining rights in Wyoming or fishing in Hawaii if these states couldn't deliver even 1% of the vote?

But that system isn't as bad as the primary voting situation. With states like New Hampshire and Iowa required by their state constitutions to hold the earliest primary and caucus, they hold tremendous sway over the platforms of presidential hopefuls who seek to emerge from the pack to become a front-runner. According to an article in yesterdays New York Times, people in these states have as much as eight times the influence of us poor folks in New Jersey and Oregon in influencing policy. Check out this map for details:

What effect does this have in real life? How about ethanol subsidies for one? The article also points out that since these states, plus the Super Tuesday states like South Carolina and North Dakota, have no large cities, this drives an anti-urban policy during the early stages of any election.

In the Senate, "the 12 million residents of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina have eight United States senators among them, while the 81 million residents of California, New York and Texas have only six." This is a big problem. This country, like the rest of the world, is becoming more and more urban but the urban areas are becoming less and less represented every year. "The country’s 25 largest areas are responsible for 52 percent of the country’s economic output, according to the Brookings Institution, and are home to 42 percent of the population."

So how do we solve this? I'm not an advocate of changing the bi-cameral nature of our congress. The checks and balances are already in place and working well. But the primary system has to change. David Leonhardt offers a suggestion that seems logical:
"A more democratic system would allow more voters to see the candidates up close for months at a time. The early states could rotate each year, so that all kinds — big states and small, younger and older, rural and urban — had a turn. In 2016, the first wave could include states that have voted near the end recently, like Indiana, North Carolina, Oregon and South Dakota."
Now that's a system I can stand behind. And as for those state constitutions requiring the earliest primary? No-one says we have to attend...


  1. Our voting customs are still rooted in the days when Pa had to finish working in the fields. Then he and ma and the kids would load up in the wagon and take the two-day trek into town (and arrive on Tuesday).
    I like this rotating idea. Yet caucuses are just one of the many elements of our election project that need a fresh change.

  2. What else would you change, Kevin? The two-party system? The electoral college? The campaign donations?
    I'd like to stop any donations to politicians and make them all campaign on a certain amount provided by the taxpayers, rather than being bought by a few rich corporations.
    There'd be fewer ads also.