A Republic, not a Democracy

September 1st, 2008
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private] v6-9-My VoiceAt the time of the first United States elections in 1789, only white, male property owners over the age of 24–roughly 10%-16% of the population–could vote. Since then a trickle of changes and enfranchisements have followed. First, in 1820, a religious prerequisite for voters was dropped. In 1850 the land-ownership requirement was waived. Then in 1870 the XV amendment extended voting rights to black men. Half a century later, in 1920, the XIX amendment granted women the right to vote in national elections. Last to be given suffrage in national elections were the Native Americans in 1924.

Today, and since 1870, it is the women who are the most underrepresented group in US congress. While the 13% (42 of 435 congressmen) strong African American population has 9.5% of seats in congress only 13 women, or less then 3% of the total, are in congress. Women, however, are the voting majority at 51%.

In 2004 elections, 10% of the voting age public couldn’t vote if they tried. Aliens, disenfranchised felons and persons who are considered “mentally incompetent” are not eligible to vote in US federal elections. The first Tuesday in November tradition disenfranchises millions of voters who work long hours, two jobs, and can’t make it in time to pooling stations.

This 2008 election cycle the Democratic party primary was exhilarating and exhausting. Voters in long-forgotten states and states ceded to other party states (Wyoming, Puerto Rico, North Dakota, for example) had a chance to meet Democratic challengers first hand. Few Americans realize why this actually happened. For the first time in its history, the Democratic party followed a proportional allocation of electoral college votes in states’ primary elections. A candidate winning 50% plus one vote in Florida didn’t carry the state’s 25 electoral college votes, but only 13 to the challengers 12. Fair, isn’t it?

Yet voters shouldn’t get used to this electoral abnormality. This November 6 elections will be a throw-back to 1789. Since then, Americans have been living not in a flawed democracy, but in a republic ruled by two parties’ status quo. The US electoral system-a winner-takes-all system–is a de-facto dictatorship of two political parties which are unwilling to, and will likely never, cede their power.

America has a dysfunctional election system which no small measures can change. A jolt, however, a situation in which 75-80% of eligible voters refuse to vote, could do just that. The “your vote counts” call, however, serves to ensure that the public continues to participate and support an election process that they know instinctively doesn’t empower them.

American voters are afraid to vote their conscience, calculating that during a close November election voting for candidates from Green Party, Libertarian, Socialist, Natural Law, etc. would be a “vote thrown away.” Sizable numbers of US electorates don’t vote with their conscience either, but rather out of fear of consequence where their conscience could take them.

The 2000 presidential election was the fourth time, after 1824, 1876 and 1888, that a candidate with fewer popular votes won the national elections. In 1992 Ross Perot and his billions of dollars managed to get 18.9% of popular vote didn’t pick up a single electoral college vote. Thanks to the winner-takes-all system Bill Clinton won that year with only 43% of the popular vote. If 57% of people who voted for someone other than Clinton had had a chance to vote in run-off elections, it is likely that there would have been another result. The winner-takes-all election process is an undemocratic and dangerous system to have.

One glimmer of hope is given by two states: Maine and Nebraska. You will not see presidential candidates campaigning there for one reason: these two states allocate their electoral college votes proportionally, based on the popular vote winner of each of the state’s individual congressional districts. In addition the statewide popular vote winner receives two additional electoral votes. Complicated, but fair. [/private]

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