Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Death of Democracy

Roughly half of 'Mericans woke up after election day to find their democracy had died overnight. For the second time in sixteen years a presidential candidate wins the popular vote but looses the only vote that counts in the Electoral College. (Clinton 59.79 million, Trump 59.5 million according to AP) Thousands took the streets last night to express their displeasure with the anachronistic process that disenfranchises a majority of the people. The fact is that American politics has devolved into a contest between two well-defined voting blocs divided by geography, economics and culture: one is working class and embraces diversity, the other is presumptively privileged and clings to conformity. Three states whose electorate is divided between these two blocs and voters who view themselves as independent control the outcome of contested presidential elections. Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida together control 67 electoral votes. Today, a presidential candidate cannot win an election without carrying at least one or two of these states. Hillary Clinton lost all three. The custom is--and it is just a custom because only thirty states have made it law--that the result of the popular vote in a state controls to whom its electoral votes are awarded.

Because this undemocratic process is not truly representative of the people's will, there is discussion on how to fix it. Frankly only a constitutional amendment will solve the problem, and that process would require Herculean resolve that a few transitory demonstrations will not provide. Nevertheless, people in populous states that are reliably part of one bloc such as California or Texas justifiably believe their votes do not count. The proposed Interstate Popular Vote Compact, which would not take effect until states controlling 270 electoral votes have signed, is an attempt to short-cut the amendment route but it is probably unconstitutional since it violates the equal protection doctrine of one person, one vote. It preserves the Electoral College, but awards electors based on the result of the national popular vote. The compact would substitute the current domination of "battleground states" for those "spectator" states who agree to elect a president by national popular vote. So far eleven states controlling 165 electoral votes have passed the agreement. There is nothing sacred about the Electoral College. In 1789 only three states used the winner-take-all rule to award its electoral votes for president; the Constitution does not require this (Article II, Section 1). It is time to scrap a system intended for a different, less educated age, or risk being equated with Russia among the world's republics.