On fixing American democracy

(Note: this is as close as I’m going to come, I think, to a post about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, mostly because I still can’t think clearly about it. Check my Instagram for a minor tribute to her that I did, though.)

I turned eighteen in July of 1994, which means that my first presidential vote was for Bill Clinton’s reelection in 1996. Since I have been old enough to vote– and I am 44– there has been only one election where the Republican candidate for President got a majority of the popular vote. For some reason, though, there have been twelve years in that time where I had Republican presidents– because in two other elections, the winner of the popular vote did not win the Electoral college. And I’m not going to do the math to figure out the exact numbers, but during those years where I’ve been able to vote there has– I will use the word frequently— been situations where the balance of the Senate and the House did not reflect the number of votes received by the elected officials of that party as well.

The Republicans have been given a head start in our democracy for my entire adult life. The Republican agenda does not enjoy popular nationwide support, but their power in our government is aided by the Electoral College and a Constitution that says every state must have exactly two senators– a compromise that might have made sense in 1789 but no longer really does when California literally has nearly seventy times as many people as Wyoming but only eighteen times as many electoral votes.

The following things need to happen:

  1. Washington DC must be granted statehood as soon as humanly possible. Right now residents of our nation’s capital have literally no representation in Congress, and DC has around 200,000 more residents than Wyoming does. This isn’t fair. It needs to be fixed.
  2. Puerto Rico, with a population of 3.2 million, more than 20 states, has a more complicated statehood picture, which I admit I’m far from an expert on– my understanding is that there was a recent statehood referendum that won, but which many opponents claimed was a poor representation of the actual mood of the island. I don’t know if that’s a legitimate argument or not. I just don’t. I will phrase it this way, then: Puerto Rico should be granted the option of statehood, and hopefully we can have a cleaner referendum in the near future to see if they prefer statehood or independence. Either way, they’ve been a territory for far too long.

You may be pointing out in your head right now that this does not precisely solve the problem of the Electoral College, and furthermore does not really reflect the enormous advantage smaller rural states have in the Senate, allowing them to potentially block legislation desired by overwhelming majorities of Americans. This is true, and I don’t see a way to overcome that roadblock short of setting a ceiling for a state’s population and carving a few of the bigger states up, which doesn’t seem super likely. But we can limit the antidemocratic effects of the Electoral College without a Constitutional amendment.

How? By increasing the size of the House.

The Constitution does not specify how many seats the House needs to have, only that the number of citizens per seat should be no less than 30,000. I think we can all agree that a House with nearly eleven thousand members is untenable for a variety of reasons. But there is nothing in the Constitution that requires the number of House members to be 435. It used to be fairly routine to expand or change the number of House members– 21 times between 1790 and 1920, which is the last time it happened.

Which, okay, a lot of those were because we added new states. True! But I feel like a hundred years was a nice long run for 435 members and maybe expanding to, oh, twice that might be nice.

(Be aware, because people seem to think this is a good argument for some reason, that I don’t give one thin damn how many desks there are in the House chamber. That’s a building. We can renovate the motherfucker. We can build a whole damn new one if we want.)

And doubling the size of the House would, in turn, double the number of available Electoral votes, which– again– wouldn’t fix the problem, but would bring the vote of a Californian closer to being fairly counted than it is now.

Now, understand that there is an argument to be made that if California has seventy times as many people as Wyoming then it deserves seventy times as much representation. It’s probably even the cleanest argument, honestly, because everything else boils down to well, California needs to have closer to a truly representative vote … but not that much closer. But even if we just doubled the size of the House– and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have 8-900 voting members in an organization representing three hundred and twenty-five million people– we would in turn close that distance and the vote of a Californian would be closer to counting as much as it should. It’s not going to be perfect, because of the Senate, and we can’t fix the Senate (or at least I’m not aware of a way) without Constitutional amendments, which is outside the scope of what I’m talking about right now.

Our democracy, such as it is, and believe me part of me wants to put that word in quotation marks right now, needs to be more representative than it is right now. This won’t fix it, but it’s a place to start.