My View: Is U.S. democracy disillusioning the governed?

Leigh Pomeroy

When I was young I was inspired by the history of the creation of our Constitution: a story of brave men, and behind them brave women, who took the ideas of the enlightenment and from them crafted a form of government that was wholly unique in human history.

But my enthusiasm for that history has waned over the years.

First, as we lived through the horrors of the Vietnam War, a foreign policy debacle that continued through two Democratic presidencies, which ultimately ended in disaster under a Republican president.

Later, my faith in our government was again challenged in 2003 when our leaders chose to wage war on Iraq under false pretenses, a decision regrettably supported by members of both parties, which exacted a devastating human and economic toll.

Today, my faith in our constitutional system is challenged once more. Due to the vagaries of our Constitution, crafted out of compromise, we now have a fifth president in office who did not win the popular vote.

This fact is stunning enough, yet the presidency is not the only branch of government where a minority of voters can determine the outcome of an election. The Senate is a perfect case study.

For example, in Wyoming, each senator represents 284,000 people, while in California, each senator speaks for 20 million people. In fact, the 22 least populous states have roughly the same population as California, yet the 22 are represented by 44 senators, yet California only has two. And we call this representative democracy?

If we had a true representative democracy, both the Senate and the House would more or less reflect the national vote. Taking the presidential vote in 2016, in which Hillary Clinton won with roughly 66 million votes while Donald Trump tallied around 63 million votes, the House of Representatives might have gone for the Democrats over the Republicans by 222 to 213 seats.

Instead, because of gerrymandering, district size, and local political preferences, the House went to the Republicans, 241 seats to the Democrats’ lowly 194 — a discrepancy of 28 seats from what the presidential popular vote represented.

In 2018, things turned around a bit. In this case, without a presidential candidate leading the ticket, the result reflected more of a local preference, with Democrats overall winning about 60.3 million votes (or 53% of the total) and Republicans getting roughly 50.5 million votes (or 44% of the total) nationwide. (Note: The remaining 3% of the vote for the House went to minor party candidates.)

This popular vote share resulted in 235 Democrats and 199 Republicans being elected to the House, a 54% to 46% split. This indicates that in 2018, gerrymandering and voter suppression aside, the House of Representatives more or less truly reflected the will of the voting public.

Returning to the 2016 election, just how did Donald Trump win the Electoral College when he fell about 2.8 million votes behind Hillary Clinton? The blame rests with the likewise unrepresentative Electoral College, where each state gets a number of electors equal to the sum of its congressional representatives and senators.

This means that Wyoming, the least populous state, gets three electors, or one elector per 189,000 people, while California, the most populous state, gets 55 electors, or one per 727,000 people. Again, we call this representative democracy?

The Founding Fathers created a system that called for governance by the majority but with strong protections for the minority. This is well and good. But in today’s world, as evidenced by the makeup of the executive branch and the Senate, the minority now rules.

Could the Founding Fathers have seen this coming? Could they have foreseen the huge population differences that would arise between the three largest states — California, Texas and Florida — with a total of 89.6 million people, and the three smallest — Wyoming, Vermont and Alaska — with a total of 1.9 million people?

Could they have foreseen that assigning two senators for each state and creating an Electoral College that did not reflect the will of the people would result in rule by the minority and a wholesale questioning of our governmental systems?

We hold the Constitution sacrosanct, yet we must keep in mind that our current political situation is the consequence of adhering to that Constitution, now 230 years old.

My disillusionment with the current state of governance stems from the fact that either our Constitution has failed us, or a minority of political players have taken advantage of the weaknesses inherent in that Constitution and played them to their advantage.

I’m not sure what the answer is. Are you?

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