From a very early age we were taught about voting and how whoever gets the most votes wins. Oh yes, when running for class president, whoever got the most votes won. And my New Jersey governor won because he received the most votes and the senators and representatives who represented my state in Congress were sent to Washington because they got more votes than their opponents. Thus power is bestowed on those who receive the most votes in an election.
But wait…why is this not true on a national level? Chief executives in every democracy in the world win and serve their people when they receive more votes than other candidates. In every democracy, that is, except ours. Our former chief executive, Donald Trump, came in second. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, won far more votes that he did. And in 2000 Al Gore received more popular votes than George W. Bush. Yes, the reason Gore and Clinton lost was the dreadful Electoral College with its state by state “winner take all” rules set up by our genius “founding fathers”. Perhaps if we could have included some “founding mothers” in that august group that wrote the US Constitution, their sense of fairness could have prevailed and our presidents would have been elected with the popular vote. Just think if Gore has been elected instead of Bush. The trillions of dollars and thousands of lives wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan wars would still be with us. And I am sure we would be leading the world in saving the climate as well, considering Gore’s long held convictions concerning climate change.
And what if Hillary Clinton had won the election in 2016? Yes, news of Bill prowling around the White House looking for things to do would not have been pleasant. But he could have been appointed by his wife the President to some new position, perhaps “Ambassador to the World” or something like that, just to keep him occupied and out of trouble. But our government institutions would have been left intact, we’d still be participating in the Paris accords for climate change and the Iran nuclear deal would still be extant. We’d still be serious players on the world stage. And the clown show led by Donald Trump and his entourage of fools and incompetents featuring Ivanka and Jared would not have occurred. And perhaps most important of all, the scourge of the Covid 19 pandemic could have been contained and hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved.
But, because our country is ruled by a minority, the Republic Party and its leader Donald Trump had a grand time promoting disaster in Washington. How has this happened in a “democracy”, where the majority supposed to rule? Let’s take a look.
First of course is the aforementioned “Electoral College” method of electing our chief executive. Ostensibly put in place by our genius Founding Fathers to protect the power of small states, which it indeed does, in fact, this quirk of American presidential elections was put in place to also protect the power of slave states. The “three fifths person” designation for slaves was enough to give slave states enormous power in the Electoral College through significantly increasing their representation in the House of Representatives, even though these hundreds of thousands extra “3/5” people could not vote.
Also simply giving small state a minimum of three votes in the Electoral College, gave them an advantage. And the recent anomalies of George W. Bush becoming president even though his opponent Al Gore had a half-million more popular votes and Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote overwhelmingly yet losing to Donald Trump, has given the Republican Party tremendous power, even though a minority party at those times. Thus it’s no wonder that recent polls have revealed that a huge majority of Republicans want to retain the Electoral College, whereas a majority of Democrats want to elect our president with the popular vote.
Another negative aspect of the Electoral College is that it reveals the apparent uselessness of voting in certain states and the phenomenon of “swing states” in others. With the statewide “winner take all” character imposed by the Electoral College, if one votes in a presidential election in overwhelmingly Democratic New York or California or in overwhelmingly Republican Wyoming or Idaho, that vote, whether Republican or Democrat, does not matter much, since the result is largely already determined. But in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania or Florida, one’s vote is extremely valuable since the result could go either way. For example, my wife and I could have voted for president in Vermont last November. But why, since the state would vote overwhelmingly Democratic anyhow. So we made sure we voted in our home state of Arizona, which has become a “swing state” and really needed our Democratic vote. The simple result of all this is that is if the president were elected on a nationwide popular vote, every single vote would count and voters would eagerly participate, no matter where they lived. A Vermont vote would be every bit as valuable as an Arizona vote. There would be no “wasted” votes.
The perverse power of Republican minority rule is also exemplified in our Congress and the way it conducts its business. The membership of just one legislative body in Congress, the House of Representatives, is based upon population and is therefore quite democratic. The other, the Senate, since every state gets two senators, is terribly undemocratic, revealing the anomaly of tiny states like Wyoming or South Dakota having just as much power in the Senate as populous states like California and New York. Today, each Democratic Senator from California represents 371 million American citizens, while each Republican Senator from Wyoming represents but 289,000. On a macro level, the undemocratic nature of the Senate is illustrated by the fact that, now divided 50-50, Democratic Senators represent fully 42 million more citizens than the Republican half. In fact, though in control of the Senate many times since 1996, that year was the last that the Republican party actually represented a majority of Americans. Yet Senate Republicans, representing a minority of voters, have effectively blocked a hugely popular minimum wage bill and passed extremely unpopular tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations.
Another way that the Republican Party, a minority party, mind you, retains power is through gerrymandering. Over ten years ago, while the Democratic Party was foolishly focusing its resources into ensuring the reelection of Barack Obama, Republicans, led by Karl Rove and financed with millions of dollars from the Koch brothers and other right wing billionaires, wisely set their sights on control of state governments, especially state legislatures, which in most states have the power to draw legislative districts after each decennial national census. So after the 2010 census results, Republican legislatures across the country began some very serious gerrymandering, guaranteeing a growth in Republican House of Representatives seats that would last through multiple elections. So even in the House of Representatives, which is by far the more democratic of our two legislative houses, although millions more voters voted for Democrats than Republicans in 2020, Republicans dramatically increased their share of seats.
In the same way that my own part-time residence in a heavily Democratic state like Vermont renders my vote superfluous – whether I vote Democratic or Republican, either way it’s wasted, gerrymandering strives to render certain votes useless as well, by “packing” or “cracking” legislative districts in order to render them uncompetitive. Cracking involves breaking up groups of voters who usually vote a particular way in order to deny them the power of voting in a block. Packing involves drawing districts in such a way as to concentrate voters of one persuasion or another in such a way as to maximize “wasted” votes or to maximize the power of your party’s voteAnd now in 2021, it appears that Republicans, who again control most state legislatures and who again do so right after a census year, are perfectly positioned to take control of the House of Representatives in 2022, even though their total votes will likely not increase and may even decrease. The Republican controlled state legislatures are poised to take their new census information and very precisely and scientifically, create legislative districts across their states that will enable Republicans to win a majority of House seats with a minority of votes. Their plans are well outlined in this New York Magazine article. Ari Berman states for the article that “Republicans could pick up anywhere from six to 13 seats in the House of Representatives — enough to retake the House in 2022 — through its control of the redistricting process in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas alone”. No need to work hard to earn more votes, or come up with programs or policies that voters prefer – gerrymandering will be sufficient.
And additional examples were offered by NYTimes columnist Jamal Bouie who noted that North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature has passed a new map that would, in a state that is pretty much 50-50 Democratic and Republican, give it 10 of the states 14 congressional seats. In Ohio, a proposed map would provide Democrats with but two seats out of the 15 allotted to it after the 2020 census, only 13 percent of the total. And this in a state that is only slightly more Republican than Democratic. In both cases, these two states would have to achieve blowout, supermajorities of Democratic votes in order to be proportionately represented. Ari Berman’s prediction noted in the previous paragraph is already coming true. And the minority party’s triumph for Congressional dominance has already been determined as noted by a NYTimes article just this week And as if the Electoral College and gerrymandering were not enough, just the transfer of population from several norther “swing states” to Republican strongholds in the south as revealed in the new 2020 census, will further cement Republican minority strength in presidential and congressional elections.
One might reasonably ask why Democrat-controlled legislatures and Democratic governors are not doing the same thing right now – redrawing districts to make sure that they sent more Representatives to Congress. Well as it so happens, other than present efforts in Illinois and New York, when the Democratic Party controls state legislatures and the redistricting process, instead of drawing legislative districts to benefit their party, it instead tries to establish independent commissions to draw legislative districts. Thus by striving to be fair the Democratic Party is shooting itself in the foot.
Another way that we are ruled by a minority party is through voter suppression. Presently the Republican Party is doing everything it can to limit the votes of poor and minority voters. Under the guise of “election security”, promoted by the “big lie” – that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election and rampant voter fraud gave the election to his opponent, Republican controlled legislatures and Republican governors are making it more difficult to vote. They are doing so by limiting mail in voting, requiring specific types of identification for both in person and mail in voting, limiting voting days and a variety of other changes to make voting more difficult. Georgia has even made it a crime to bring water or food to a person in a long voting line. And who does voter suppression hurt the most? Poor voters and people of color, who usually voted Democratic, again helping the minority party, the Republicans.
In addition and much more serious is that many Republican-controlled state legislatures are changing how votes are counted and who does the counting. While typically a state’s voting operation is under the supervision of a secretary of state, some state legislatures are wresting control of elections from state and local election supervisors and placing it directly under their control. If this had been the case in Georgia in the 2020 election, the state legislature could have declared Trump the winner, instead of the steadfast Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger refusing to accommodate Trump as he did.
It’s important to note that simply because of the way the Electoral College is set up, with it being composed of electors equal to the Congressional delegation of individual states, even without all the shenanigans listed above, the minority party retains a 3.5 point advantage there. And in the Senate, because of each state having two senators and a minimum of one representative regardless of size, the minority party maintains a five point advantage. Thus, even after winning millions more votes that Republicans in 2018 and 2020, the Senate is evenly split and Democrats have but a narrow four-seat advantage in the House.
Yet another way the minority party is limiting the influence of the majority party is through packing the courts with conservative Republican judges, picked from the ranks of the Federalist Society. With the help of then majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump filled over 200 vacancies on the Federal bench, including 53 vacancies on Federal Appeals Courts. This was the highest total of any first term president since Jimmy Carter. And of course this includes the incredible number of three Supreme Court justices appointed by a single one-term president. Amazingly just two Republican presidents who were elected by a minority of the popular vote have appointed four of the justices on the Supreme Court, ensuring a conservative majority for at least a generation. And the Supreme Court, as the final arbiter in election law, has done its best to ensure minority rule, with far reaching decisions on the role of money in elections (it’s “free speech”, not corruption) and in voting rights enforcement, to name but two decisions which have further entrenched the minority party.
And finally, the filibuster, the Senate rule not in the Constitution, enables the minority party in an evenly divided Senate to repeatedly block any legislation it does not like, by requiring a 60 vote majority, very difficult or well nigh impossible to achieve in our evenly divided Senate. Consequently Republicans used it recently to block the Voting Rights Bill, called also the For the People Act, which would have constituted the largest federally mandated expansion of voting rights since the 1960’s. It would have standardized voting procedures in all states, allowing mail voting and same day registration, banned partisan gerrymandering, and limited the role of money in our elections by forcing super PAC’s to disclose major donors and creating a new public campaign financing system. Yet because of the filibuster, the Republicans in the Senate were able to keep the bill from even being debated on the floor.
So it should be obvious that America is indeed ruled by a minority – the Republican Party. And why? It’s pretty much our lousy constitution which badly needs to be changed. It established the Electoral College, determined that each state regardless of size should have two Senators and a minimum of one Representative. It allows anti-majority rules like the filibuster. It determined that elections, even federal elections, should be a state function and it made Supreme Court justice a lifetime job, subject to the vagaries of old age and death, regardless of who is in the White House or which party controls Congress. All these factors enable one political party, a minority, to effectively thwart the will of the people and wield majority power. If the US is to remain a democracy, this must change.