Thank you, Katrina vanden Heuvel, for your excellent article “Just Democracy” [July 21/28]. I’ve waited many years for this kind of concise examination of our presidential elections, including the pros and cons of our outdated Electoral College. At last someone has intelligently called attention to the “800-pound gorilla in the room” and given us the opportunity to consider ways to make the elections better reflect the will of the majority.
As a sponsor in the Illinois Legislature of many of the reforms discussed in “Just Democracy,” I felt the list was very good but incomplete. No mention was made of consolidation of local elections or unicameral (one-house) State Legislatures.
Most states have separate elections for municipalities, school districts, community college districts, water and sewage districts, etc. These elections usually have very low turnouts dominated by Republican-type voters. The separate elections are costly and usually financed through property tax. Combining them not only saves precious tax dollars but creates more media and voter interest, spurring greater turnout.
How does a unicameral State Legislature enhance people power? Example: changing Illinois’s current Senate of fifty-nine and 119-member House to a single legislature of 177 members would reduce the population of each district from 105,254 to approximately 60,000. This would make legislators closer to the people, more accountable and less dependent on big-money special interests because it would cost less to campaign.
By saving money these reforms can appeal not just to democracy advocates but also to moderates and conservatives.
Illinois State Representative, 71st District
“Just Democracy” is excellent in many ways, but a call for “radical democracy” it is not. Our basic constitutional structure guarantees that we are far from such a democracy (assuming that a “radical democracy” is actually desirable). There is a fine criticism of the Electoral College, but it is scarcely the most undemocratic feature of our system. And the proposed fix, the Fair Vote proposal, by which the largest states agree to throw their electoral votes to the candidate who comes in first, does not guarantee that the “winner” will be supported by a majority. Only a runoff system would guarantee that the winner could plausibly claim majority support.
As I argue in my book Our Undemocratic Constitution, the most important deviations from democracy include, for starters, the Senate (which gives Wyoming equal voting power with California); the presidential veto (which allows a single person, who may well not have a convincing claim to majority support, to render irrelevant the wishes of anything less than an unusually strong supermajority in both houses of Congress); and an amendment process that makes the US Constitution the hardest-to-change constitution in the world. The difficulty of amendment may help to explain why even someone as devoted to democratic change as vanden Heuvel is so limited in her proposals.
University of Texas Law School
New York City
“Just Democracy” benefits and suffers from its many ways “to build a more perfect union.” A dozen groups with their different worthy causes almost inevitably fail to achieve the critical mass necessary for success. Let’s improve the odds for at least one winner, starting with the popular presidential vote amendment(s), before advancing en masse to other critical causes.
MARC I. EPSTEIN
Katrina vanden Heuvel urges us to popularly elect our Presidents by de facto eliminating the Electoral College and basing our choice on the popular vote. This policy would effectively disenfranchise voters with a strong voice in certain states but far less of a voice in the nation (blacks, Latinos, farmers, autoworkers, etc.). In a contest based purely on the majority of votes, presidential candidates would feel under no obligation to address the concerns of voters whose percentage of the national vote is relatively insignificant, even if they are a significant proportion of voters in a particular state. The founders of our Republic placed in our Constitution many safeguards against a tyranny of the majority; the Electoral College is one of the few that remain.
Our democracy has not failed us. We have failed our democracy. The guys who drew up our Constitution left us with a perfectly good set of blueprints to follow. We have clearly forgotten that we, the people, are the foundation upon which our system rests. Over time, we have slowly abdicated our responsibility to govern through representatives. Now we must become actively involved or watch our beloved system sink even further.
A People’s Impeachment?
I am in total sympathy with Elizabeth Holtzman’s call for impeachment [“Impeach Bush Now,” July 21/28]. Alas, our elected representatives are not going to cooperate in this effort, for whatever inexplicable reasons. Surely, though, this nation contains people with the talent, resources, skills and desire to create and disseminate a People’s Impeachment proceeding, which, even without the power of the subpoena, could provide for our time and for history the story of the Bush Administration. It needs to be told. Although such an effort would not be finished by January 2009, it would, more than any date could, provide a fitting end to the disastrous Bush era.
New York City
After reading Elizabeth Holtzman’s masterfully cogent and persuasive editorial, I only hope that if President Obama has the opportunity to nominate a Justice to the Supreme Court, he will nominate her.