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Challenges and Threats to Representative Government in the United States

Voter-ID-e1301046802166Let’s consider two basic propositions of democratic governance:

  1.  Public policy should be a reflection of voter preference.
  2. Voters should choose elected officials, not the other way around.

These basic principles apply even if one wants to go down the rabbit hole of “the US is a republic, not a democracy” (unless one thinks that formulation actually means that being a republic means minority rule–a notion that I have decided some people actually subscribe to, whether they acknowledge it to themselves or not–but that is a whole other post, if not more).  Indeed, I will go so far as to note that any representative system should adhere to these propositions, even in federal systems in which sub-units (e.g., states) may have some level of autonomy over certain policies as well as some level of special representation within the central government.  I will add an additional general caveat that there are protected domains within any democratic system wherein the policy preferences of majorities must be circumvented (e.g., racial and religious discrimination, free speech and press, etc.).

A major problem at the moment is that in many areas of policy, the first proposition listed above is not happening, as can be illustrated by the current debate over health care policy.  As Scott Lemieux notes in a commentary for Reuters:

Whatever else can be said about the Republican Senate health care bill, it cannot be accused of pandering. The Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) – which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) hopes to bring to a vote next week – is astonishingly unpopular, often getting less than 20 percent support in polls.

There isn’t a single state in which a majority favors the GOP’s proposals. In a starkly polarized political environment, it’s almost impossible for a major proposal to be this widely hated. So why would the House pass a similar bill, and why didn’t McConnell immediately bury it?

[…]

It’s not just healthcare. Every major item on the GOP’s agenda polls badly. After healthcare, Republicans want to pass more tax cuts for the rich, which are very unpopular among all voters except Republican elites. The rollback of environmental regulations – which under Trump’s EPA director Scott Pruitt has been one of the most consequential results of Trump’s victory - is widely despised. The public also opposes loosening workplace safety standards and defunding Planned Parenthood. The Republican agenda couldn’t be less popular if it was designed to repel majorities.

Republicans should fear backlash over their bill more than they do.   Yet, they really do not need to worry.  This is a combination of the power of partisanship (a lot of Republican voters who will harmed by this legislation, should it pass, will nonetheless maintain their partisan loyalties) and the fact that our system does a particularly awful job at actually representing the preferences of the country.  And yes:  policy should be the result of compromise.  However, such compromise should result from an attempt for competing interests seeking to find a way to assuage the demands of the population–not the results of systematic minority preferences.

As Lemieux rightly notes:

 Republicans won control of the federal government, despite losing the popular vote for president, through structural advantages that give rural and older white Americans outsized power. The Senate vastly over-represents small, predominantly white rural states. Democrats in the Senate, many representing large states such as California, have received millions more votes than their Republican colleagues who hold the majority of seats. The Electoral College, which also favors small states, allowed Donald Trump to capture the White House despite getting nearly 3 million fewer votes than Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Unless something changes radically, we can expect a similar outcome in next year’s midterms. Polls show that Democratic House candidates will get many more votes than their Republican opponents. But because of the natural clustering of Democratic supporters in cities, and aggressive Republican gerrymandering that has given the GOP two or three times as many House seats as Democrats in states with roughly evenly split electorates such as Pennsylvania and North Carolina, that might not be enough. The Democrats could get decisively more votes and still fail to take back the House, as happened in 2012.

My views on the Electoral College are well known (I can see no reasonable defense of the institution), so let’s look at the House v. Senate issue.  While I have a variety of philosophical and theoretical critiques of the Senate (its structure, after all, was the result of political compromise, not some high-minded understanding of government of how government should exist for all eternity*), political reality stipulates that it will always be a body that does a terrible job in terms of representativeness. However, let’s not ignore basic reality, either:  it is a body that has the power to thwart democratic majorities in a way that skews national policy preferences towards small population states.  But, the House is supposed to be the chamber that represents the people writ large, and it does a terrible job of that.  Not only do things like geographic sorting (e.g., Republicans tend to be more rural and Democrats more urban) and gerrymandering** create advantages for Republicans, but the sum total of the system (single member seats with plurality winners) leads to the possibility of spurious majorities in the House.  This means a situation, as in 2012 noted above, wherein the party that receives the most votes nationally does not win a majority of seats in the chamber (indeed, it has happened in 1914, 1942, 1952, 1996, in addition to 2012).  Yes, I fully understand that our system is not predicated on the national vote totals (indeed, we do not know those totals, typically, until months after the election) but a system that can create such an outcome is flawed from a representativeness point of view.  Indeed, the totality of our system is one in which the candidate with less votes can be elected president and where the party with the most votes can fail to win control of the House (objectively, these should be red flags).  Throw on top of that the small/large population issue in the Senate and you have a policy-making system that does not have to take majority preferences seriously.   Protecting against the tyranny of the majority is one thing (and a goal I philosophically agree with, although it is a more complicated proposition than most people realize) but a system that allow for the ignoring of the majority on a systematic, ongoing basis is a problem.  (I will note that if one thinks that the main goal should be the protect the wealthy from taxation, then one probably wants an oligarchy, not a democracy, broadly defined–such a system is inherently minority-focused).

Put another way:  we do not even have a system in which the various anti-majoritarian propositions create the need for coalitions have to be forged to pass legislation.  Instead, it is a system in which the minority can elect the government and from there dominate policy at the expense of majority preference.  If too much power in the hands of the majority is problematic, how much moreso should minority over-representation be of concern?

Proposition two notes that voters should choose elected officials, not the other way around.  Partisan gerrymandering is a violation of this dictum, as are many attempts to suppress voting the US.  Lemieux notes this in his essay (indeed, it is the main topic of the piece):

In late June, the Trump administration announced a series of measures to constrict the body politic, making it older, whiter, and wealthier – and therefore more Republican. The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is asking for detailed state data about voters. There already is evidence that merely asking for the data is stopping people from registering. Voting rights experts say that because voter rolls inevitably contain errors, such as still listing voters who recently moved, the Trump administration is likely planning to use these discrepancies to justify vote suppression efforts such as onerous identification requirements.

[…]

Civil rights advocates fear that in the months and years ahead state data will be used to deregister thousands or even millions of disproportionately minority voters. As voting right reporter Ari Berman puts it, Trump’s commission “appear[s] to mark the beginning of a nationwide voter-suppression campaign, based on spreading lies about voter fraud to justify enacting policies that purge the voter rolls, and make registration and voting more difficult.” This can determine the outcome of an election, as it did in the 2000 presidential race in Florida, where hundreds of thousands of voters who shared the same name as a convicted felon were disenfranchised.

Chasing imaginary voter impersonation, disenfranchising millions of eligible voters in the process, is not just an obsession of Trump’s. Republican lawyers are circulating the country urging state and local officials to purge voter rolls. Conservative lawyers are targeting districts with large numbers of racial minorities and few resources for legal defense. Republican state legislatures have also recently passed measures like requiring voters to present government-issued photo IDs and restrictions on early voting.

The ultimate outcome of all of this clear:  it affects potential voters who are more likely to prefer Democrats to Republicans.  Let’s not pretend otherwise.

Lemieux continues:

Republicans are doing everything they can to keep Democratic-leaning constituencies – people of color, the poor and young people – from voting. The party claims to have suddenly developed a peculiar fixation with election security, but it’s plainly about constricting the electorate to protect Republicans from feeling voters’ wrath over their unpopular policies. These efforts are not always well-disguised. A federal judge observedthat a North Carolina voter suppression law, “target[s] African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

Between now and the next cycle of elections in 2018 and 2020, Republican state legislatures are likely to pass more and more vote suppression measures. While many of these laws have such a disparate impact on Americans of color that they appear to violate the Voting Rights Act or the Equal Protection Amendment of the Constitution, it seems unlikely that a Department of Justice headed by Trump appointee Jeff Sessions or a conservative-leaning Supreme Court will overrule them.

Republicans are so determined to shrink and tilt the electorate because they see it as the only way to hold power while advancing an unpopular agenda.

By the way:  it is not that I take electoral security lightly.  Rather, it is that if we, as a country, are truly concerned about the issue, then let’s address it.  Let’s modernize our ID system and, more importantly, our voter registration process.  But, of course, the real security that would result from some form of free, universal ID and a truly modernized (universal) registration system would actually increase the ease of voting for all.

We like to talk about the US being a beacon of freedom, of being “the greatest democracy in the world.”  You know, the shining city on a hill, an example to all those huddled masses longing to be free–none of which is true if we are going to allow, let alone support, policies that suppress the vote.

And, of course, a critical look at the machinery of government that is supposed to be such the envy of the world wouldn’t hurt, either.

*There is no way the Framers could have anticipated the differences in population between states like California, Texas, and Florida and states like Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota.  Indeed, the creation of western states was so radically different than the creation of the original 13 that is hard to make the argument that the Framers had any idea of how the Senate would skew representation in the future.

**Yes, there are districts gerrymandered to help Democrats, but it is the GOP that has sought to systematically exploit the districting process.  See, for example, McGann, et al.’s 2016 book, Gerrymandering in America:  The House of Representative, the Supreme Court, and the Future of Popular Sovereignty from Cambridge University Press.

 

 

 

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Andy says:

    Not surprisingly, I have a few issues with how you’ve framed your arguments (yet again).

    But in this post you don’t really explain what “majority” is. You use the term “majority preference,” talk about the majority and minority in abstract terms and mention policy that comes at the “expense” of the majority. In parts you mention gerrymandering and the popular vote, so the assumption is that majority/minority should be viewed in partisan terms. Is that correct and, if not, who is the majority?

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  2. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    Thank you for making some important points about the current situation and for the link to Lemieux’s column. However, I would note that I’m not sure how many people in the country still believe the caveat in the introductory statement that you made.

    I will add an additional general caveat that there are protected domains within any democratic system wherein the policy preferences of majorities must be circumvented (e.g., racial and religious discrimination, free speech and press, etc.)

    Especially when the majorities in question have been conditioned to believe that they are both an ignored majority and a beleagured minority being run over roughshod by “people who aren’t even citizens.” (Cognitive dissonance is an amazing thing.)

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  3. @Andy: Majority as defined here by either votes won (e.g., the majority vote in the presidential election was for HRC, not DJT). It manifests are partisan, sure. Perhaps I do not understand the question.

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: Yes, a lot of cognitive dissonance going on.

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  4. michael reynolds says:

    Democracy does not work in the absence of virtue. Once you decide that ethics and morality and fairness can be subordinated to the will to power no system will stand.

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  5. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Ok, so you are talking about candidates and vote totals then. I was confused because so much of the post, to me, was about policy preferences. As you know, candidate and policy preference are often quite different.

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  6. Kari Q says:

    A well-written and thoughtful piece.

    Thwarting of the will of the majority is more dangerous than some realize. How long does it go on before the majority begins to reject to ‘democracy’ which does not represent them? And what will they do next?

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  7. James Pearce says:

    Republicans should fear backlash over their bill more than they do. Yet, they really do not need to worry.

    This, to me, is the tragedy of our age.

    For example, the most appropriate response to the voter suppression efforts would be to laugh in their faces, saying “You think that’s going to stop me?”

    It’s almost as if the right is saying, “You want the title? Want to wear the heavyweight crown? Nose broke, jaw smashed, face busted in. You ready for that? Is that you? ‘Cause you’re facing a man who’s ready to die before he lets you win.”

    And the left says, “No, that’s not me. You can have the title. I don’t want my face busted in.”

    I mean, I can’t really disagree with this:

    Republicans are so determined to shrink and tilt the electorate because they see it as the only way to hold power while advancing an unpopular agenda.

    But I would add that Democrats, and their voters, are not as determined to stop them.

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  8. @Andy: In a representative system there should be a connection between popular sentiment, elected officials as chosen by voters, and policy outputs.

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  9. gVOR08 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Democracy does not work in the absence of virtue.

    It’s a commonplace that the Founders did not assume virtue. Of course their system doesn’t seem to be working well.

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  10. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    In theory yes – in practice that is difficult in a de facto two party system. The two parties today are growing increasingly narrow and insular, which results in less representation, not more. For this past election, a huge number of voters did not vote based on a positive view of candidate policies, but on a “lesser of two evils” criteria or even purposely voted against one candidate by supporting a different candidate.

    There’s a problem when the two parties nominate individuals who are the subjects of FBI criminal investigations and are deeply unpopular with large segments of the American public. The two parties are no longer “big tent” parties and thus they represent the interests of a diminishing number of Americans. But Americans vote for them anyway because they don’t think they have any other option. In my view, that is what is breaking our system – a system that has largely worked in the past.

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  11. Ben Wolf says:

    @Kari Q: We’re already seeing how it will play out. In the aftermath of Trump’s torpedoing of the Paris Agreement, the crackdown on undocumented workers and the effort to re-invigorate a new drug war a number of states are explicitly refusing to comply and even proclaiming their intent to do the very opposite. This process will continue as Democrats appear unaware that control of governorships and state legislatures after the 2018 election will decide control of the House for the next decade.

    As there is no politically competent opposition party to thwart Republican efforts we can expect critical strain on every institution underpinning the Union.

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  12. Ben Wolf says:

    @Andy: Orthodox Republicanism hasn’t changed since the early 20th Century: it represents the interests of capital. With the waning numbers of the religious right no longer sufficient to guarantee them political dominance, the Republicans are caught within the fatal contradictions of their ideology. To protect and serve capital they must increasingly impair the social structure upon which that capital depends for its growth and survival.

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  13. DrDaveT says:

    unless one thinks that formulation actually means that being a republic means minority rule

    My views on the Electoral College are well known (I can see no reasonable defense of the institution)

    Putting these side by side, I think it’s worth noting that the Founders may well have subscribed to the notion that the Republic they sought was a minority rule, and that the Electoral College was the tangible means to ensure that.

    It seems to me that the Founders wanted to prevent hereditary aristocracy, and had some notion of a representative democracy in which the educated served as the aristocracy, while the uneducated chose representatives from among the educated — not to implement their policy preferences, but to do what their superior learning indicated would be best for all. (To their credit, they thought that expansion of the educated class would be a good thing, and universal education ideal.)

    There are real problems associated with universal franchise absent universal education. The most obvious is the susceptibility of the voting public to demagogues. We’re living through that now, and while this particular outcome leaned heavily on the disproportionate value of a rural Red State vote, this need not be true.

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  14. Kari Q says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    The majority of the voters have not given up on democracy, so no, we aren’t really seeing how it will play out right now.

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  15. @DrDaveT:

    I think it’s worth noting that the Founders may well have subscribed to the notion that the Republic they sought was a minority rule, and that the Electoral College was the tangible means to ensure that.

    The Framers definitely wanted to manage the majority. Although, really, the degree to which they thought there could be a true majority preference is questionable–Madison thought mass opinion would be made up of ever-shifting alliances of different factions. I cannot stress enough that they did not understand political parties or the role they play in representative government.

    In regards to the EC: it never worked as intended, so it is pointless to make arguments about the EC and what the framers thought they were creating.

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  16. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    Ok, so you are talking about candidates and vote totals then.

    It wasn’t clear to me whether Dr. Taylor meant a majority of voters, or a majority of eligible voters, or a majority of citizens, or what. At present, there are substantive differences between what most Americans want and what most voters want, and between what most voters want and what the people they’ve elected want.

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  17. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Benjamin Franklin: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

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  18. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I cannot stress enough that they did not understand political parties or the role they play in representative government.

    Agreed — it’s the biggest hole in the system they ended up with.

    In regards to the EC: it never worked as intended, so it is pointless to make arguments about the EC and what the framers thought they were creating.

    I wasn’t aware I was “making arguments”, but I don’t agree that it’s pointless to speculate, or to try to understand what they were hoping to achieve.

    I do agree that it’s irrelevant to today’s government, or how it should function.

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  19. @DrDaveT:

    It wasn’t clear to me whether Dr. Taylor meant a majority of voters, or a majority of eligible voters, or a majority of citizens, or what.

    The most basic metric is the voter. When I speak of the EC and the House, I am referring to actual votes. I will note that the references to the Senate are basically about population.

    Whenever one talks about majorities in this type of discussion, one is referring to voters–although it is not irrelevant to also note public opinion polling when trying to determine the preferences of citizens.

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  20. @DrDaveT:

    I wasn’t aware I was “making arguments”, but I don’t agree that it’s pointless to speculate, or to try to understand what they were hoping to achieve.

    Well, make claims:

    I think it’s worth noting that the Founders may well have subscribed to the notion that the Republic they sought was a minority rule, and that the Electoral College was the tangible means to ensure that.

    You seem to be connecting a specific design possibility (minority rule) with design intentionality of the EC.

    My point is: we know that what we ended up with isn’t what they intended (there is a reason, for example, one of the first post-Bill of Rights amendments is to EC procedure).

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  21. Andy says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    It sounds like you agree that the GoP is growing more narrow over time. I would just add that the conservative national security establishment has also, for the time being, abandoned the GoP as well.

    @DrDaveT:

    At present, there are substantive differences between what most Americans want and what most voters want, and between what most voters want and what the people they’ve elected want.

    That’s well said.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Whenever one talks about majorities in this type of discussion, one is referring to voters–although it is not irrelevant to also note public opinion polling when trying to determine the preferences of citizens.

    Thanks for the clarification. I think that’s a reasonable criteria.

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  22. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @James Pearce:

    For example, the most appropriate response to the voter suppression efforts would be to laugh in their faces, saying “You think that’s going to stop me?”

    I see that you have no real idea how this voter suppression thing actually works.

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  23. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “In regards to the EC: it never worked as intended, so it is pointless to make arguments about the EC and what the framers thought they were creating.” I’m not sure that I agree with your conclusion. While it may not have worked as intended the fact that Congress didn’t manage to make significant alterations to the system may show that it wasn’t working against their intentions or interests. At that point, a discussion of 1) what the founders thought they were creating and 2) whether what that evolved into meets the interests of the nation now (and I think that both are coordinated ideas, but I’m just an ig’nint cracker) would be beneficial.

    I will note that these types of thoughts have not appeared to any recognizable degree among the New Constitutional Convention cohort is important and sadly telling about their chances of ever doing anything constructive. But what the Electoral College is supposed to do seems to me to be an important question.

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  24. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You seem to be connecting a specific design possibility (minority rule) with design intentionality of the EC.

    Well, it’s not like we don’t have Federalist Papers that explicitly assert what the intent of the EC was, at least for those authors.

    That said, I feel (not for the first time) that you’ve latched onto certain key words in my post and attributed to me all sorts of arguments that you expect me to make, on the basis of the pigeon-hole you’ve put me in. You’re giving me too much credit; I am blissfully unaware of any existing debate, academic or otherwise, on these subjects.

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  25. michael reynolds says:

    The Founders made quite a few mistakes, but, much like Obamacare, those mistakes have to be weighed against what was possible at the time. They did very well given what they had to work with, and the knowledge they then possessed. It took a civil war to sort the question of states versus federal, slave versus free. We managed female enfranchisement without a war, which was nice. But then we were still left with the aforementioned blindness to party, the imbecility of the second amendment, and the Senate.

    So some very big problems which led inevitably to war, faction, continuing racial injustice, and increasingly political paralysis. Not to mention hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans killed and wounded by a country drenched in guns.

    Look back over the last 200+ years and see just how much damage slavery did to this country. It’s very sad. It’s the original sin we can never quite get past.

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  26. James Pearce says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    I see that you have no real idea how this voter suppression thing actually works.

    You’re right. I do not understand why the GOP’s ridiculous BS “voter fraud” stuff “actually works,” but….apparently it does.

    I mean, when I read stuff like this, I think “You played yourself.”

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  27. gVOR08 says:

    I think you’re all looking at this wrong. The system is giving the majority of the money what it wants. It seems well established that the wishes of the 1% are catered to, the rest of us, not so much. But why do you expect more if you’re not willing to pay for it?

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  28. @DrDaveT:

    Well, it’s not like we don’t have Federalist Papers that explicitly assert what the intent of the EC was, at least for those authors.

    Actually, we do. I have written about this before:

    How Hamilton saw the Electoral College

    Looking to the Design of the Electoral College

    The entire design of the EC assumed that, after Washington, the ability for a candidate to win a majority in the EC was unlikely and that the House would frequently choose the presidency.

    If you look back to the convention itself, the EC is a compromise between direct popular election and having the House choose the president. That is functions nowhere near as design is unequivocally true.

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  29. @DrDaveT:

    That said, I feel (not for the first time) that you’ve latched onto certain key words in my post and attributed to me all sorts of arguments that you expect me to make, on the basis of the pigeon-hole you’ve put me in. You’re giving me too much credit; I am blissfully unaware of any existing debate, academic or otherwise, on these subjects.

    I am certainly not trying to offend or to pigeon-hole. I am just trying to make a good faith response, in a conversational manner, as to what appears to be the plain meaning of the words in the comment box. You seemed to be suggesting that the EC is an possible example of the Framers wanting minority rule. I responded as to why I think that that is not the case, that is all.

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  30. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @James Pearce: Nice goalpost shift in the Slate citation. And yes, those people did play themselves, but it’s also not the same as what you were talking about before.

    Clearly though, I just am too ig’nint to see the whole picture in the detail that you do.

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  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds:

    the imbecility of the second amendment,

    The purpose of the 2nd Amendment was entirely different from what it has become today. the first part, A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, is entirely ignored so that the 2nd part, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. can do service to the firearms industry. The founders did not believe in a standing army, and many populations of Americans lived far beyond the reach of any civil authority and yet needed to be able to (collectively) defend themselves.

    The NRA and it’s cohorts have distorted it’s original intent into something the founders never intended.

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  32. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    The NRA and it’s cohorts have distorted it’s original intent into something the founders never intended.

    Sadly, I don’t believe that’s true. The 2nd was largley a concession to Patrick Henry, who wanted to be sure the southern slave patrols could keep their guns so they could keep the darkies in line. To a great extent, that’s what the NRA is still selling. Another consequence of America’s original sin.

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  33. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I have written about this before

    Indeed, and written well. But the texts you quote in the two provided links seem (to me) to clearly establish that Presidents would be selected by elected electors and the House of Representatives. So the question becomes, “who is going to be de facto eligible to be an elector, or a Representative?”.

    That’s the minority I’m talking about — the minority with sufficient reputation and leisure to run for those offices. The minority from which

    men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation

    might be found. Hamilton pretty clearly didn’t think just anybody was qualified to choose a President, and would have hated the idea of direct popular vote.

    That seems wholly consistent with what you wrote, yet you are disagreeing. What am I missing?

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  34. @DrDaveT:

    What am I missing?

    Not to sound snarky (this is not my intent), but since at this point I am not sure what your original point was–and since my interpretation of your original point seems to annoy you to some degree, I can’t say what you might, or might not, be missing beyond that my original point was that the EC does not function as intended.

    Other thoughts:

    Hamilton was an elitist (heck, he wanted an executive elected for life).

    If a majority of the House could select the executive, if elected by the population and representing the population, then that would a system wherein the will of the majority was directly leading to the selection of the chief executive (see, e.g., any parliamentary system). But sure, the actual persons doing the electing would be the members of the House, who are, by definition, in the minority of the overal population.

    There are numerous ways that majority preferences can be translated into governance/elected officials.

    When I speak of minority empowerment, I literally mean that a minority of voters get to have the final say in the selection of an office holder or in the confirmation of a policy.

    Donald Trump, for example, won office with minority electoral support (as did GWB).

    When legislation is passed in the Senate by a coalition of smaller population states, that is a the minority opinion that is carrying the day.

    etc.

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  35. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    When I speak of minority empowerment, I literally mean that a minority of voters get to have the final say in the selection of an office holder

    Sure — but “final say” is perhaps not as clear-cut as you seem to think.

    Your point is well-taken about legislation, which will always be drafted and ratified (or not) by a small minority of people. As opposed to, say, a public referendum.

    My only points were that (1) I see a significant difference between direct election of an executive by the populace and election of an executive by the elected representatives of the populace, and (2) so did Hamilton. Especially when the elected representatives could reliably be predicted to be wealthy landowners and/or educated professionals.

    My original point was that Hamilton wanted a system whereby the executive would be chosen by the (minority) elite — and he got it, sort of. But it didn’t work out the way he had intended, as you correctly point out, because parties.

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  36. @DrDaveT:

    Sure — but “final say” is perhaps not as clear-cut as you seem to think.

    I am referring to the final say on a given legislative action, and ultimately to the passage of given legislation. Can policies later be changed? Sure.

    My only points were that (1) I see a significant difference between direct election of an executive by the populace and election of an executive by the elected representatives of the populace, and (2) so did Hamilton. Especially when the elected representatives could reliably be predicted to be wealthy landowners and/or educated professionals.

    Well, sure. Those are different systems.

    But it didn’t work out the way he had intended, as you correctly point out, because parties.

    Not just parties. The EC design failed to function as expected period.

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  37. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @gVOR08: How ironic: Patrick Henry wasn’t willing to give his slaves liberty, but was willing to give them death. Hmmmm…

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  38. Gavrilo says:

    This entire piece is a profound collection of idiocy.

    1. Of the 10 most populous states, there are 9 Republicans and 11 Democrats representing those citizens in the U.S. Senate. Of the 10 least populous states, there are 9 Republicans and 11 Democrats representing those citizens in the U.S. Senate (including Sanders and King.) This “structural advantage” for Republicans in the Senate is a complete myth. There is no structural advantage in the U.S. Senate for either party. There is only an outlier state, California, that is currently represented by two Democrats. Flip one or both of those CA Senate seats and the “structural advantage” instantly flips to the Democrats.

    2. Where the hell were you from 1955 to 1995 when Democrats dominated the House, often with majorities of 100 or more seats? Despite landslide Republican winning Presidential campaigns in 1956, 1972, 1980 (maybe), 1984. Nixon won 60% of the vote in 1972 and Democrats still maintained a 50 seat majority in the House. Reagan won nearly 59% in 1984 and faced a 71 seat deficit in the House. Since the House expanded to 435 members in 1912, Democrats have held the majority for 70 out of 106 years. Now, after Republicans did the hard work of winning statehouses and the power to redistrict, all of the sudden gerrymandering is a scourge on democracy! Get back to me when Republicans maintain a 40 year stranglehold on the House despite losing landslide Presidential elections.

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  39. @Gavrilo:

    This entire piece is a profound collection of idiocy.

    Weirdly, such an intro does not exactly encourage engagement.

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  40. Grewgills says:

    @Gavrilo:
    Since you seem incapable of remembering past threads in which you have participated…
    The structural advantage is in favor of RURAL voters who are typically more socially conservative. TODAY that means republicans. During that 40 year stranglehold you pointed out that meant democrats. You seem to think that today’s republicans are the party of Lincoln. They aren’t in anything more than name.

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  41. @Grewgills:

    The structural advantage is in favor of RURAL voters

    Indeed.

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  42. Gavrilo says:

    @Grewgills:

    Really? Rural voters preferred Democrats in 1984? I guess that’s how Reagan won 49 states.

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  43. @Gavrilo: You are missing the fact that many conservative voters in the South voted Democratic in the 1980s at the state and local level, but not at the presidential level.

    You really cannot make simplistic comparisons between the the party system that existed at that time with the current one.

    The reason, for example, the Democrats controlled the House for as long as they did was because the southern states were solidly Democratic (or near thereto) in terms of congressional seats until 1994.

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  44. Gavrilo says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You are missing the fact that many conservative voters in the South voted Democratic in the 1980s at the state and local level, but not at the presidential level.

    Actually, I’ve pointed that out here numerous times when pushing back against the myth that the South flipped Republican because of racism.

    Democrats controlled nearly all Southern state houses until the 1990s and later, and with that, redistricting. Are you really arguing that Democrats weren’t drawing favorable districts for themselves when they were in control of the process. As I stated, Republicans went out and did the hard work of flipping statehouses. For that, they have had an advantage over the past two decades. My answer to that “problem” is for Democrats to go out and win elections. Your answer is to blow up the system.

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  45. @Gavrilo: You really only have a very cursory, and incomplete, understanding of the topic. But I get the impression you are pretty certain that the opposite is true.

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  46. DrDaveT says:

    @Gavrilo:

    Are you really arguing that Democrats weren’t drawing favorable districts for themselves when they were in control of the process.

    So you can point to all of those southern states where Republicans were winning a majority of the popular vote, but a minority of House seats, in the 80s and 90s. Right? Or not?

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  47. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You really cannot make simplistic comparisons between the the party system that existed at that time with the current one.

    Sure he can, weren’t you paying attention? Simplistic comparisons are about the only kind he can make.

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  48. Gavrilo says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    If you had any real-world understanding of how the redistricting process actually works, you’d have noted that a huge driver of the Republican “structural advantage” is the Democrats continued embrace of racially gerrymandered districts. There are 65 districts with a Cook PVI of D+20. 26 with a PVI of D+30. Half of these districts are in CA and NY where Republicans had nothing to do with redistricting. Almost none are in states where redistricting was controlled by Republicans. By contrast, there are only 31 districts that are R+20 and only 5 that are R+30. Democrats have consciously packed their voters into urban congressional districts to ensure minority members of Congress. Of course, the end result was to dilute Dem voting power in the suburbs.

    Most serious academics and pundits recognize that true reform necessitates abolishing racially gerrymandered districts. It’s only the Democratic hacks that whine about the Republican “advantage” while ignoring that it was Democrats who designed and perpetuate the current system.

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  49. @Gavrilo: You responses is largely a non sequitur.

    Regardless, I would gladly get rid of racially gerrymandered districts for a more representative system. That, however, really has nothing to do with the post.

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  50. Grewgills says:

    @Gavrilo:
    A couple of points. California has a bipartisan election commission that draws district boundaries. The result has been representation that closely mirrors partisan breakdown in the state. Any racial gerrymandering that might occur there* doesn’t result in a partisan structural advantage. New York went for Clinton at roughly 60 to 36%, not that far off from their 18D:9R congressional delegation. That doesn’t appear to be giving much of a structural advantage to either party. Again, racial gerrymandering has little if anything to do with the small, if extant, structural advantage. It certainly accounts for none of the present republican structural advantage in the house.
    States where republicans enjoy a large gerrymandered advantage include Wisconsin and Texas where representation and party identification as well as party votes are widely divergent. This also has nothing to do with democrats pushing for racial gerrymanders. It is all about republicans pushing for partisan advantage to an odious level ;that completely distorts the will of the voters.
    One side pushes the boundaries on this to a degree that meaningfully distorts partisan representation in the house. It isn’t democrats and it isn’t racial minorities.
    Either you don’t care that making this argument makes you look like a clown, or you think that the rest of us are too ignorant to notice you are a clown. Either way, you don’t look good.

    * I’m skeptical of it’s existence.

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