US Senate, As an Unrepresentative Institution, Is a Bigger Threat to Democracy than the Electoral College

Today’s blog  examines the Electoral College and the US Senate as two antiquated Constitutional institutions that grossly undermine representative democracy by by allowing a significant over-representation of white, rural, conservative voters. The post identifies fixes to the Electoral College, but the Senate appears impervious to fixes. Chaco action announced for Monday, Apr.15.

The analysis of the Electoral College and US Senate follows a few Events and Actions. Note that there is a change in the time of the Chainbreaker presentation at the City Council TONIGHT and that after meeting with Chainbreaker leadership yesterday, it is clear that they are not looking to pack the house. Read on.

Events & Actions

IMPORTANT CHANGE IN PLANS.  Chainbreaker Collective Presentation at City Council. Wednesday, April 10, 7pm.[NOT 5 PM] Chainbreaker Collective and a group of local, allied groups will be announcing the start of the People’s Plan for the Heart of Santa Fe, but we are not trying to turn out a big crowd of supporters…that will come later. If it easy and you want to attend, Roxanne and I will be representing Retake and will gladly welcome a few more folks, but none of us will offer testimony.  But that will come later. .Retake will be providing a range of supports for this campaign with info to follow.

The New Mexico Environmental Law Center Legislative Debrief  Friday, April 12 from 9:00 – 11:00 am, Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Fellowship Hall, 107 W Barcelona Rd, Santa Fe.. Coffee and conversation focused on the first legislative session under Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Join Law Center executive director Doug Meiklejohn,  staff attorney Charlie de Saillan, and special guests:  Sen. Liz Stefanics (invited, not yet confirmed) and Rep. Susan Herrera (invited, not yet confirmed)  Get the inside scoop on the long session, what environmental bills passed –  or didn’t – and learn how your support for the nonprofit Law Center can have a  critical impact in our ongoing fight to protect New Mexico’s air, land, water  and communities.  Please RSVP by April 8th to Janiece Jonsin at (505) 989‐9022, or jjonsin@nmelc.org

US Congress Comes to Santa Fe. Hearing on Chaco, Monday, April 15, 10am, Roundhouse Room 307.  Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Vice Chair Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources are hosting a field hearing in Santa Fe, N.M., titled “Oil and Gas Development: Impacts on Air Pollution and Sacred Sites,” where Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will be among those testifying.  Ahead of the hearing, Committee lawmakers will meet with local environmental advocates, tour Chaco Culture National Historical Park, and hear from experts, elected tribal and local officials.

We’re thankful to Congresswoman Deb Haaland for her leadership on these issues and for Chair Raul M. Grijalva and Representative Alan Lowenthal for coming to New Mexico to hear firsthand from those most impacted. A new bill for Greater Chaco Landscape protection is soon to be introduced in the Senate and House thanks to Senator Tom Udall, Senator Martin Heinrich, Ben Ray Luján, and Congresswoman Deb Haaland.  Please join this public meeting to witness testimony and voice your support to protect Greater Chaco, our communities, and clean air and water in New Mexico.

New Energy Economy’s Legislative Debrief, Wednesday, April 17, 2019, 5:30PM – 7:00PM, Wednesday,  El Museo Cultural, 555 Camino de la Familia, Santa Fe (across the Railroad tracks from Farmers Market. Topics to be discussed include: Legislative Session Debrief; Unveiling our next bold initiative before the PRC to defend consumers, demand corporate accountability, and protect our environment; Upcoming Supreme Court Case on renewable energy bid-rigging practice by PNM  CLICK to Email your RSVP for April 17th convening and be among the first to hear about initiatives New Energy Economy is bringing forward this Spring and Summer.

From Rocket Docket to Moonshot!  A Recap of the 2019 New Mexico Legislative Session, Wednesday, April 17, 6:00 – 7:30 pm.  1420 Cerrillos, Santa Fe.  Featured speakers include House Speaker Brian Egolf and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth. They will be joined by a number of our other state legislators who represent Santa Fe County. Together we’ll review legislative accomplishments of 2019 and the outlook for 2020.

1 celebrateThursday, April 18, 5:30pm-7:15 pm, Center for Progress & Justice, 1420 Cerrillos, Santa Fe. Please note the slight modification in time.  We were contacted by the Sunrise Movement in Santa Fe as they were trying to organize a Green New Deal Town Hall with Rep. Deb Haaland and the only day she could make it in the near future was on April 18.  So we made some adjustments in the timing will integrate both events, with Retake’s Celebration and Volunteer Appreciation from 5:30-7:15 pm and the Sunrise Movement Town Hall with Rep. Haaland at 7:30.

During our celebration at 5:30, we will also update you on our analysis of the Roundhouse Session and how you/we/Retake can continue our work. While no doubt we achieved some important wins, as our Report Card will reveal, we have a great way to go….and we are starting to get a clearer picture of what we need to do to prepare for future legislative sessions.  We will also announce the date and time for an input session where we want to have everyone who was part of the Roundhouse legislative session, come together to provide input into how our process worked and how it can be improved.  Join us.

Please RSVP for the 18th by writing to Paul at Paul@RetakeOurDemocracy.org. While the event is FREE, an RSVP is required by April. 16.  Sooner is better. Much better.  We are ordering salad and pizza and need to prepare sufficient tables with table cloths and china (ok, no china). We want to avoid one-use plastic and paper products, so we are asking that you bring your own implements for eating and drinking and the event is BYOB with wine and beer permitted.  Join us!!!  AND WE REALLY NEED TO START GETTING RSVPs.

Thursday, April 18, 7:30pm.  Green New Deal Town Hall with US Rep. Deb Haaland, Center for Progress & Justice, 1420 Cerrillos, Santa Fe. Join Rep. Haaland, local student activists, non-profit leaders, and an array of local elected representatives including Sen. Peter Wirth, City Councilor Renee Villarreal, and County Commissioner Anna Hanson.  Find out more about the Green New Deal, how it could benefit New Mexico, and how you can support it. The event will immediately follow the Retake Our Democracy Roundhouse Celebration.

Two Most Un-Democratic Institutions: The Electoral College & the US Senate

Vox posted a fascinating article yesterday, describing how the fundamental principle of one-person, one-vote is undermined by both the Electoral College and the US Senate. Vox concludes that the Electoral College poses a much less substantive challenge to democratic principles and that those challenges can be fixed relatively easily through the National Popular Vote initiative. That initiative got a boost yesterday when the Oregon Senate approved the NPV,, meaning that once their bill is signed, Oregon will add seven electoral votes to the total resulting from states approving the NPV. With Oregon’s seven electoral votes the initiative will have reached 196 electoral votes leaving it 74 short of achieving the 270 electoral votes needed.  At that point the NPV would become law once approved by both chambers of Congress and signed by the President. This last hurdle is made far more challenging by the undemocratic dynamics that govern the composition of the US Senate, as described below.

The US Senate.  So what is so undemocratic about the US Senate?  Vox offers this answer: “The Senate gives a big advantage to voters in small states, because every state gets an equal number of Senators.Thus, California’s 39 million people get two senators in Washington, while two Senators also represent states like Wyoming (577,000 people), Vermont (626,000 people), and Alaska (737,000 people). In 2013, the New York Times pointed out that the six senators from California, Texas, and New York represented the same number of people as the 62 senators from the smallest 31 states.”

As a result of the above, voters living in small states are significantly over-represented and voters in larger states are significantly under-represented. What’s more, small states tend to be rural, conservative and far less culturally diverse than the larger states.  The result is a serious over-representation of Fox-driven ideology in one of our two chambers of Congress. In New Mexico, we just experienced how our Senate could be an impediment to good progressive bills becoming law. But here, unseating a relatively small number of conservative Democratic Senators could address this impediment.  The US Senate is a much tougher challenge as the US Constitution prohibits making adjustments to how  state Senate representation is achieved and challenges to conservative Senators in Kansas, Wyoming, Montana, etc. is much more difficult that challenges to NM State Senators.

The only ‘fixes’ to the Senate challenge offered by Vox is the addition of Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico as states, with each of these jurisdictions being comprised of large majorities of communities of color. But this wouldn’t significantly improve an entrenched, ideologically disproportionate system. The Vox article points to the more substantive fix to be to either abolish the Senate altogether or eliminate its authority over key decisions, like approval of judicial appointees and shifting that authority to the more democratic House. The problem here, of course, is that the Senate would have to vote to cede its own power, not a likely scenario.

The Vox article is well worth a read, as it describes very clearly some of the other undemocratic practices that are part of how the Senate operates and how this can further undermine representative democracy. A link is provided at the end of the post.

The Electoral College is relatively consistent with the one-person, one-vote principle in that Electoral College numbers are comprised of the total number of House and Senate representatives in each state. Certainly, this tilts the scale for smaller states who receive three, four or five electoral votes while only having one, two or three US House Representative and two Senators. But at least in this context, California, New York and other large states have a reasonably representative number of electoral votes. The problem with the Electoral College is similar to the problem with gerrymandering, in that the Electoral College affords disproportionate influence in states where very slim popular vote margins result in all the electoral votes from that state going to the winning candidate, despite narrow wins.

From Vox:  “Evaluating which voters have an advantage in the Electoral College is similar to evaluating a gerrymander. In both, you are looking at the outcome of a series of winner-take-all “districts.” In a gerrymander, voters have more influence (and fewer wasted votes) if they win a lot of districts by a small amount, while their opponents are packed into a small number of districts where they win overwhelmingly. In the Electoral College, voters get more influence if they win states with a lot of Electoral Votes by small margins, while their opponents are packed into states where many votes are wasted because they win by huge margins.”

We saw how this played out in the 2000 and 2016 elections where despite losing the popular vote,the GOP won the Electoral total and the elections by achieving narrow victories in states holding a lot of electoral votes. From Vox: “In 2000, George W. Bush won Florida, Ohio, Tennessee, New Hampshire, and Nevada all by less than four points — Florida famously by only a few hundred votes. In 2016, Donald Trump won Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin all by less than two points, while Hillary Clinton ran up massive majorities in big states like California and New York (30- and 22-point wins, respectively). The Democrats’ Electoral College disadvantage was caused by narrowly losing states with a lot of electoral votes and running up large margins in states they won.”  But, at least here, the passage of the NPV would address this misrepresentation of the voters’ will.

In sum, while we are well on our way to fixing the Electoral College. We need a handful more states to approve the NPV and for the Democrats to win the House, Senate and presidency, something very possible in the next 4-8 years. The Senate is another and far more intractable challenge.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

 

Click here to read a really fascinating article covering the challenges to democracy posed by the Electoral College and the US Senate.

3 thoughts on “US Senate, As an Unrepresentative Institution, Is a Bigger Threat to Democracy than the Electoral College

  1. I appreciate this post. I believe there is no reason to have a bicameral legislature, federally or at the state level. Any BS about the Senate being the more deliberative body is just that. The Senate is a throwback to the House of Lords and a privileged aristocracy. But as you and Vox say, it is unlikely to vote itself out of existence. And a full on constitutional convention in this political climate is fraught with peril.

    As for the Electoral College: I admire the NPV movement, but I would prefer keeping the electoral college, modified. I suggest that states be required to cast their votes proportional to the popular vote. So, for instance, in New Mexico, if one candidate gets 60% of the vote, and the other 40%, then our state’s Electors would cast 3 votes for one and 2 for the other. The Democratic Party currently has similar rules for its Presidential Nominating Convention (let’s not talk superdelegates now- that is a separate conversation!).

    Part of my desire for this modification is to end the two party system. I believe that we need to shift to a parliamentarian system as nearly every other democracy has. For a voter to be given only two choices is really only one step better than being given only one choice, after all. It’s no wonder that so many people don’t participate in elections when it doesn’t seem to them that either candidate represents their views.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

    • There are good reasons why no state awards their electors proportionally.

      Electors are people. They each have one vote. The result would be a very inexact whole number proportional system.

      Every voter in every state would not be politically relevant or equal in presidential elections.

      It would sharply increases the odds of no candidate getting the majority of electoral votes needed, leading to the selection of the president by the U.S. House of Representatives, regardless of the popular vote anywhere.

      It would not accurately reflect the nationwide popular vote;

      It would reduce the influence of any state, if not all states adopted.

      It would not improve upon the current situation in which four out of five states and four out of five voters in the United States are ignored by presidential campaigns, but instead, would create a very small set of states in which only one electoral vote is in play (while making most states politically irrelevant),

      It would not make every vote equal.

      It would not guarantee the Presidency to the candidate with the most popular votes in the country.

      The National Popular Vote bill is the way to make every person’s vote equal and matter to their candidate because it guarantees the majority of Electoral College votes to the candidate who gets the most votes among all 50 states and DC.

      The bill keeps the Electoral College, modified.

  2. Pingback: A Stirring Call to Save Chaco from Retake Reader, Hearing Today 10am + Powerful Video on Dudley St., MA | Retake Our Democracy

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