The American Constitution is an amazing yet imperfect document. The men – and perhaps the exclusion of women was one of the problems – who drew it up were brilliant and had anything but an easy task before them. We reluctantly still teach that among other things it contained what was at that time deemed several best possible compromises. In my nerdy way I’d like to explore a few of those provisions today and the results of them over two centuries later.
The American Constitution has been the model for many democratic constitutions that have followed. To my knowledge no country has adopted our Electoral College because it is widely viewed as one of the flaws of our Constitution. The presidency is the only elected office in the land that doesn’t simply use the popular vote which is the most democratic system.
In the interest of brevity and the desire to cover other topics I won’t make a complete case against the Electoral College today. Let me just cover recent American presidential electoral history. The Republican have lost seven of the last eight popular votes yet Republicans won the electoral vote in both 2016 and 2000 enabling Donald Trump and George W. Bush to occupy the Oval Office. The lone Republican to win both the popular and electoral votes since 1992 was George W. Bush and you have to think 9/11, which he largely mismanaged, was a huge factor.
Before that the last Republican to win both the popular and electoral votes was George H. W. Bush in 1992. As of 2019 (the last good data available) the average American was 38 years old. In order to have voted in 1992 you would have to be 49 today. In order to have voted in 2004 you would have to be 37 today.
The Senate, with two senators per state regardless of population, was a compromise attempting to placate small states. It is by design an undemocratic institution. The Senate is also the lone place where nominees for federal judgeships, including on the Supreme Court, are confirmed. So, if you control the White House by virtue of the quirks of the Electoral College and the Senate by virtue of an undemocratic constitutional quirk you can willy nilly confirm federal judges as you please. Can’t happen; think the Trump administration. While you are at it think Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
Then we come to the evil in men’s (and today some women’s too) hearts. Gerrymandering goes back to 1812 and both parties have used it to gain political advantage. Simply put (and with different methods in various states) the power to draw up congressional districts resides in the individual states. Political parties have used this power for their own benefit for over 200 years. Of late it appears it is getting more partisan than ever. Several states are relatively equal in the number of votes each party gets for the House of Representatives but the number of seats are heavily skewed to the party which happens to control the redistricting process in that state. Coincidence? I certainly think not!
The result is that the by design most democratic of the federal legislative chambers ends up being anything but. The voters are the losers. A pure democracy was never and certainly is not now a practicality in America so we opted for a representative democracy, (a/k/a republic).
Theoretically we elect people who reflect our views and they “vote for us”. It isn’t often enough working out that way.
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