With apologies to those who find themselves distraught over the evolving gender of Mr. Potato Head, I suggest we consider several ways in which, in America, the majority no longer rules. The filibuster is presently the most visible such roadblock to democracy.
A single member of the Senate may halt progress on a particular bill simply by saying, “I object.” Thereby, one senator dictates to the majority, unless 60 other senators vote to defeat that individual’s filibuster.
The filibuster was designed to allow full discussion, but now is a brick wall stopping it. In the 1950s, there was an average of one filibuster every two years. By 2010, the number had exploded to 137 filibusters for the 2010-11 congressional session. That is unhealthy for our nation.
Let us hope that Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., will embrace a change. (Sadly, Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., might have drifted beyond reasoning on this.) The Senate could go back to requiring those who filibuster to stand and speak their objections to the bill in question. That would be quite different from the present practice of a senator comfortably voicing the objection, then going to lunch.
Alternatively, as writer Norm Ornstein suggests, the Senate could have a lower threshold for defeating a filibuster, say, 40 or 41 votes. There might be other options. Certainly Manchin is correct when he says the filibuster should not be pain-free for either a senator who says, “I object” or for that senator’s party.
The Electoral College is another goblin that undermines majority rule. At the founding, the more slave-dependent (Southern) states balked at electing the president by popular vote. They feared that the heavily populated Northern states would routinely defeat the South’s preferred candidates in presidential elections. Thus, to encourage those states to endorse the Constitution, the population-based Electoral College was born, with slaves tallied as part of the population, although at the reduced rate of five slaves counting as three people.
Although the Electoral College cannot be disentangled from the legacy of slavery, there are additional reasons to dump it. Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump suffered from sickly mandates because each lost the popular vote. Moreover, a popularly elected president Al Gore probably would have taken action that might have prevented the attack of 9/11. And a popularly elected president Hillary Clinton would have treated the presidency as the most important job in the world, rather than reducing it to a tacky reality-TV show.
There is the counter-argument that small states, such as West Virginia benefit from the Electoral College system. However, a look at the focus of candidates’ attention reveals otherwise. In the 2016 election, 68% of presidential campaign events took place in just six swing states, each with a large electoral vote payoff: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan and Virginia. It’s that way in every presidential election.
The outsized role of the minority also rears its head in the gerrymandering of U.S. House districts, where boundaries often approximate the chalk outline of a run-over squirrel. In 2016, GOP House candidates received fewer than 50% of the votes nationwide but claimed 55% of the U.S. House seats. Again, the minority prevailed.
If we want democracy, we must eliminate or greatly modify the filibuster rule. And we must completely eliminate the Electoral College and gerrymandering of House districts. The rights of the minority will be maintained by the election of senators, where small-population states have as much representation as large-population states, as the Constitution provides.