Is the U.S. a Democracy?

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, November 4, 2020

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By Jack Bernard

Bernard is a retired corporate executive.

Democracy is based on the principle of one person, one vote. No one should have more of a say than anyone else. But that is not what happens in Presidential elections. In several past Presidential elections, the candidate getting fewer votes was elected.

Almost every American politician refers to us as a democracy; we are not. Right or wrong, that’s by design. Back in 1776 the Founding Fathers, elite white men, did not have any faith in commoners. So, they made the 13 states a republic with some democratic features, diluting the will of the masses. Plus, the smaller states had their own reasons.

Via Constitutional Amendments, we have evolved away from slavery and male chauvinism (both slaves and women could not vote). Isn’t it time that we further modify our form of government to ensure a more democratic republic?

The Constitution states many ways in which the less populated states have more influence than the more populated states. This unfortunate fact causes our national elections and law-making processes to be biased against the wishes of the majority of our nation’s people. Due to space, I will only address one major problem, the Electoral College. Two of the last three Presidents received fewer votes cast by American voters than their opponents.

Constitutionally, each state gets a number of electors equal to its number of members in Congress. There are 538 electors, which means that if someone gets 270 votes, they are elected President (as long as the electors vote as they pledged to vote, another issue). These electors, generally unknown to the population and not selected by them, cast their votes to determine who will be President. In theory, all of the electors from each state are to cast their ballots for whomever won the popular vote in their state (or Congressional District in Maine and Nebraska). The problem is how the number of each state’s electors is determined: by totaling their Representatives in the House, plus 2 (i.e. Senators). House districts are created according to population, based on the census. However, regarding Senators, California with a population of 39 million and Georgia with almost 11 million, each have the same number of Senators as Wyoming with .6 million. Thus, the smaller states get a disproportionate share.

This issue can be resolved via a Constitutional Amendment abolishing this 18th century relic, using just the popular vote. Or an amendment could allot each state the number of electors equal to their number in the House of Representatives. In other words, eliminate the undemocratic “plus two” Senate requirement. However, with the fractious state of politics in America, and the current system favoring the GOP, there’s virtually no chance of getting an amendment passed.

More promising is a workaround known as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Under it, each state pledges to award its electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote (versus the person receiving the most votes in their particular state). This move would also eliminate the current over-emphasis on Presidential candidates campaigning in just the dozen “swing states.”

Currently, 15 states and the District of Columbia have made this pledge. However, they are all blue with the exception of CO, a purple state leaning blue. Combined, they total 196 electoral votes.

To operationalize and implement this policy for the next Presidential election, more support is required. Here are nine key states and the number of electors from each: Leaning Blue: Minnesota (10); Pennsylvania (20); Wisconsin (10); and Michigan (16) Swing states: Florida (29); Ohio (18); Georgia (16) North Carolina (15); and Arizona (11).

Thus, if these four blue states voted for the Compact, committed electoral votes would total 252. Only 18 more electoral votes would be needed to make the compact rules determine the winner. Any two swing states would bring the total over 270, as would the electors from Florida or Ohio. Hopefully, after the debacle of the 2020 election subsides, political leaders in each of these states can approve the Compact. If not, we are in for continuing trouble.