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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Non-representative democracy for an undemocratic republic

by John MacBeath Watkins

From Vox:

More Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. More Americans voted for Democratic Senate candidates than for Republican Senate candidates. And while we don’t have final numbers yet, it looks likely that more Americans will have voted for House Democrats than for House Republicans.

The senate was designed this way, giving two senators to every state, whether they represent the 582,658 people of Wyoming, or the 38,332,521 people of California. Each senator represents 291,329 people in Wyoming and 19,166,260.5 in California. This means that in the senate, Wyoming voters are 65.8 times as powerful as California voters in any decision made by the senate.

The remedy designed for this is that the House of Representatives is allocated by population, with each state having at least one House member. Therefore, Wyoming's one House member represents 582,658 people, and each of California's 53 House members represent 723,255 people.

Notice I say people, not voters. When the constitution was written, some slave states had more slaves than free men. This remained the case up to the end of the Civil War: South Carolina, the first state to secede, had a total population of 703,708 and a slave population of 402,406 in the 1860 census. The compromise that helped bring the slave states into the union allowed them to count slaves as 3/5 of a person for purposes of determining how many congressmen they were allocated, and electoral college members as well.

There are 538 members of the electoral college, one for each House member, one for each senator, and three for Washington, D.C., since the 23rd Amendment passed in 1961. This means that each of the 55 electors from California represent 696,955 people, while Wyoming's 3 electors each represents 194,219 people. In electing a president, Wyoming's voters are roughly 3.6 times as powerful as California voters.

And since this power structure is based on population, not votes cast, during the Jim Crow years, states paid no penalty for preventing African Americans from voting. Nor do states in the present day pay any penalty for suppressing the votes of African Americans and Hispanics.

The result of all this is that a party that gets a minority of votes can elect the president and gain majorities in the senate and house. The problem is made worse by gerrymandering. After the election of our first African American president in 2008, Republicans were looking at a demographic death spiral as the country became more diverse and more urban.

Their response was a concerted effort to make America less democratic. They recognized that the backlash against the election of a black president gave them an opportunity, and outspent Democrats 3-1 on an all-out effort to capture enough state legislatures and governorship to control a large part of the redistricting that was done based on the 2010 census, as Pro Publica detailed here. The results have been extraordinarily successful.

Republican now control the senate, the House of Representatives, the presidency, and the power to appoint judges who will favor them. They also control most state legislatures and governorships. They have the power to change the rules of the game so that they can prevent those who would vote against them from voting.

The question that remains is, how long can a minority party successfully rule a republic where a majority of the citizens don't agree with their program?

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