Federal Electoral Reform through Popular State Level Action

Constitutional convention

Realists must admit that regardless of how obvious the need for electoral reform in the United States at the federal level, the possibility of attaining it seems virtually impossible given the special vested interest in the current system by sitting members of both houses of Congress.  Of course, “realists” is the term favored by pessimists to describe themselves.  They describe optimists as dreamers but dreamers who make their aspirations reality are then called men or women of vision.  Which should we be?

We have an obvious problem: a dysfunctional system of governance at the federal level predicated on calcified and undemocratic electoral systems resulting in an entrenched duopoly.  Our system, which was once the world’s most progressive has, over time, become anachronistic compared to others.  In most places, “representative democracy”, really a form of elective oligarchy, has been replaced by participatory democracy which supplements representative democracy with more direct forms of democracy such as recall, referenda, plebiscite and initiative.  Indeed, most or our own state governments, much more democratic than the federal government, have adopted participatory in place of representative democracy.

At the federal level, the Supreme Court has denied the right of Congress to “delegate” legislative functions such as referenda and plebiscites, etc. to the people incongruously finding that mechanisms for participatory democracy are constitutionally verboten, apparently not understanding that according to the federal constitution all political power originated with the People and hence, its return of portions of such power to the People would not be “delegation”.  Still, notwithstanding the foregoing, the federal constitution makes absolutely clear that a great deal of responsibility for selecting electoral mechanisms for federal officials, especially with respect to the House of Representatives and the Electoral College, is vested with state governments and state governments, in most cases, do provide vehicles for participatory democracy, inclusive with respect to amendment of their own constitutions.  Given that capacity, it is possible in many, perhaps most states, to amend their constitutions through citizen initiative.  Some examples of what might therefor be accomplished include:

  • Changing the method for selection of presidential electors from the currently prevalent “winner take all” system to systems based on proportional representation, e., electors allocated based on the percentage of votes received by candidates (see reference to “single transferable vote” below). That would facilitate even minor party representation in the electoral process although it would retain the Electoral College’s bias in favor of less populated states.
  • The elimination of gerrymandering and promotion of real democracy by providing for the election of members of the House of Representatives in multi member rather than single member districts, or even on a state wide basis, in each case using proportional representation (the Irish Republic model of single transferable vote is recommended[1]). Each party’s representation would be in proportion to the percentage of the vote received rather than in single winner take all and the Hell with the rest systems currently in place.  That would provide minorities and minor parties with real Congressional representation.
  • The creation of a process for citizen initiative of state calls for a federal constitutional convention (long, long overdue).

Decisions pertaining to all of the foregoing are allocated to the states in the federal constitution.  Of course, electoral reforms analogous to the foregoing providing for proportional representation within the state governments themselves could be just as easily accomplished.  The main threat might come from our entrenched judiciary but that might prove problematic to the judiciary as it might tempt voters to reconsider whether or not the judiciary really is truly independent, something which might in turn result in a positive reevaluation of the judiciary’s role by its own members.

If the foregoing reforms were implemented, then arguments requiring voting for lesser evils would become much less persuasive and we could break out of our current calcified duopoly and emerge as a much more democratic, multi-party state.  As is too often the case, while we are great at complaining about things as they are, we are much too reticent to take the initiative and really look for solutions.  In this case, they are fairly obvious.

So, ….

If we can break away from the all too successful distractions of the MSM and major political parties that seek to keep us at each other’s’ throats, let’s get to work and make it happen.  Perhaps with minor parties and independents taking the lead.

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen).  Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at wacalvo3@autonoma.edu.co or guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.

[1] The single transferable vote (STV) is a voting system designed to achieve proportional representation through ranked voting in multi-seat organizations or constituencies (voting districts).[1] Under STV, an elector (voter) has a single vote that is initially allocated to their most preferred candidate and, as the count proceeds and candidates are either elected or eliminated, is transferred to other candidates according to the voter’s stated preferences, in proportion to any surplus or discarded votes. The exact method of reapportioning votes can vary.  The system provides approximately proportional representation, enables votes to be cast for individual candidates rather than for parties, and—compared to first-past-the-post voting—reduces “wasted” votes (votes on sure losers or sure winners) by transferring them to other candidates.  Extract from Wikipedia article linked.


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