The U.S. Senate and Electoral College are Bad for Democracy


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Last weekend, I wrote the following:

“Democracy itself is on the ballot in 2022 and 2024.

January 6, 2021 set a grim tone – the House certification of electoral votes may no longer be considered a symbolic act. House Republicans are now firmly gripped by a deeply anti-democratic right-wing populism. These reactionaries are no longer constrained by norms or facts.

If they control the House on January 6, 2025, and a Democrat wins the Electoral College vote, we should consider the possibility that Republicans could instead confirm their own pick for president.”

On Monday, this came out:

It’s clearly past time to get serious and begin repairing our increasingly unrepresentative electoral system.

The political deals we made during reconstruction after the civil war were generously intended to give Confederates a say in electoral democracy, but now they’re reneging on the deal.

The United States Senate benefits white voters. Residents of small states have proportionally more representation, and those states have fewer minority voters. Therefore, the Senate gives more voting power to whites, and less to everybody else. The roughly 2.7 million people living in Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, and Wyoming, who are overwhelmingly white, have the same amount of representation as the 110 million or so people living in Florida, Texas, California, and New York, who are quite diverse.

The Senate filibuster serves to kill legislation passed by the House. By forcing the majority party to assemble a supermajority of 60 votes to pass most laws, the filibuster allows the minority to block bills, including those that enjoy broad popularity.

We must ditch the filibuster to liberate policy from the grips of manufactured gridlock.

Moreover, scrapping the supermajority requirement might actually increase bipartisanship in the long run. By advancing policies that are popular with the broader public, presidents would be able to eventually gain more support from the minority party.

The Electoral College was designed to preserve the legitimacy of elections from interference by what James Madison called “the mischiefs of faction,” which we can interpret as partisanship.

Clearly, it is not working as intended.

To truly strengthen democracy, we should consider eliminating the Electoral College altogether and elect presidents based upon the popular vote. Every citizen should be counted equally regardless of where they live.

The disconnect between the national popular vote and the Electoral College vote, which happened in 2000 and 2016, will deepen Americans’ mistrust in government and in the integrity of the voting process. A national popular vote would prevent future demagogues from pressuring state legislators to remove electors in favor of those who would subvert the will of the people.

What else can we do to strengthen democracy?

We must also strengthen the management of the transition of power. We can’t take peaceful transitions for granted any longer. It’s safe to assume that rogue actors could refuse to certify elections. And it’s clear that political revolt is becoming more and more likely.

It’s past time to reform outdated recall laws. Take California’s imperfect direct democracy for example. The Golden State holds an overwhelming amount of propositions, referendums, and recalls, and these require a small number of signatures to get on the ballot. Because of this wonky system, the Republican Party, who could never hope to win the governorship in a regular election, could snatch it with less than 20 percent of the electorate in a recall race. …As they recently just tried to do.

Investing in civic education can also help protect domestic freedom and build support for a more humanitarian foreign and immigration policy. To protect freedom domestically and build support for a foreign policy that promotes democratic rights and values abroad, it is essential to foster a stronger public understanding of democratic principles, especially among young people. The NGO Freedom House recommends that the U.S. pursue legislation that could require each state to develop basic content and benchmarks of achievement for civic education, including instruction on the fundamental tenets of democracy.

Finally, we must do more to guard against manipulation and election interference by authoritarian actors abroad. This would include increasing transparency requirements for foreign state-owned propaganda outlets (such as Russia’s RT and China’s CGTN) operating in democratic states.

We should also require social media companies to report foreign efforts to spread online disinformation and propaganda and address the use of bots on social channels.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. What am I missing? Let me know in the comments.