It was designed that way.
These are not bugs, as a coder might say. They’re features.
The Senate, for instance, is not a democratic institution. Senators weren’t even popularly elected until the 17th Amendment came along. It usually takes something more than a simple majority to pass legislation in the Senate, though that bulwark against governance by simple majorities is being eroded with each new diminishment of the filibuster.
Also, Senate seats are not apportioned by population. North Dakota’s roughly 762,000 citizens are represented by two Senators, as are California’s nearly 40 million citizens.
Votes in the Electoral College have a similarly uneven distribution. In the context of population, North Dakota’s three Electoral College votes are nearly three times as influential as California’s 55.
These institutions aren’t balanced. They were never intended to be.
In the present hyper-partisan moment, left-wing thinkers (including my fellow columnists Lloyd Omdahl and Mike Jacobs) see a problem in that. As presently comprised, the Senate and Electoral College tend to empower rural, and currently more conservative, parts of the country at the expense of more densely populated and liberal areas. Remember, in the last 32 years, just one Republican presidential candidate – George W. Bush in 2004 – has won the national popular vote.
If the Senate were apportioned by population like the House, if the last vestiges of the filibuster were destroyed, and if we elected presidents based on a simple majority of the popular vote, America would be a far more liberal country.
We’d also be far more polarized than we are already. Our politics would be even more populist. Our elections even more nationalized.
People like Jacobs and Omdahl would have you believe that’s fair since, you know, it would be more democratic.
Except, it’s not.
Where are America’s most dominant and largely left-leaning cultural institutions clustered? The entertainment industry? The news industry? Academia? In the very population centers that would be further empowered by a dismantling of the Electoral College and the Senate as they are currently constituted.
Again, that might look appealing to left-leaning thinkers like Omdahl and Jacobs, but would it serve our country well?
This isn’t about partisan politics, though I suspect many see it through that lens. It’s about ensuring that voices in places like North Dakota and Wyoming and Alaska aren’t steamrolled by the much larger majorities in places like New York and California. America’s founders put their fingers on the scale in favor of the country’s rural parts and it was intentional.
The system of government they designed often requires broad consensus across ideological and even geographical divides.
After all, what is the filibuster, even in its diminished state, but something of a mandate for bipartisanship?
What is the Electoral College’s tilt in favor of rural areas but a requirement that national candidates craft their campaigns to appeal to more people than just those living on the coasts?
Perhaps the largest contributing factor to the oozing wound that is the cultural divide in this country is that people who live in rural areas feel overlooked. Marginalized. Even reviled.
Ending the Electoral College and dismantling the Senate’s uniquely un-democratic designs would make that worse.
No reasonable person should want that.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.