Democratic Irony of the US Constitution
Democracy is defined as “a government by the people,” especially referring to “rule of the majority” and “given to them directly or indirectly through a system of representation” by Merriam-Webster. It is the most popular government throughout the world, manifesting itself in different forms. Democracy is one of the five founding principles of America; so why is America not a democracy? Because the Founding Fathers were concerned they would be stripped of their power by voters and implemented protections in the Constitution to hold their power. The colonial electorate was seen as uneducated slobs who didn’t know what was good for them, so systems such as the electoral college were written in to ensure that the power laid in the hands of the educated. The way the Constitution treats voters in America is undemocratic.
The first way the Constitution hurts voters in America is the systematic implementation of the two party system through the Electoral College. The requisite 270 votes needed for presidency forces voters away from third parties, blocking them from realistically being able to win the votes needed for the presidency, even though the third party may have nominated a more appealing candidate. This is a problem because a democratic system is supposed to reflect the will of the people. The electoral college does not reflect the will of the people because it forces you to vote against the candidate instead of for the candidate, even if you don’t like either one. In 2016, for example, a study by Pew Research indicated wide dislike for both Trump and Clinton. As much as 53% of Trump voters were casting their ballot in opposition of Clinton, and 46% for the converse (Mazmanian). There were options for both conservatives and liberals in the form of Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, but nobody could justify voting for them; in fact, a vote for one of those two candidates would have had the opposite effect desired by voters. If a conservative voted for Johnson as a result of his dislike for Trump, he would be indirectly supporting Clinton with his vote not supporting Trump. Conversely, a vote for Stein is supporting Trump by not supporting Clinton. If the scenario played out and people did vote for a candidate who more accurately represented their beliefs, we could have had a four candidate race, all of whom have a legitimate shot at winning; however, this scenario would never play out in the current system. The system forces voters to support a bad candidate in their eyes as a block on worse one. This is undemocratic because voters are not expressing their beliefs in the political system to their full extent. The will of the people is not being properly expressed.
How it works
The will of the people is also being suppressed through gerrymandering. Gerrymandering disenfranchises minority party voters. The whole point is to make competitive districts noncompetitive and secure seats for the district-drawers. A survey conducted by Campaign Research Center said a whopping 71% of Americans oppose partisan gerrymandering. Specifically, partisan gerrymandering is the drawing of districts by the party in power in favor of the drawers (Common Cause). This makes the outcome already determined before voters head to the polls in those districts, which is something the United States often criticizes in other countries. Surprisingly, Americans don’t even know they have been swindled by the establishment. The same CRC poll showed 55% of the respondents had “not heard of any recent incidents of gerrymandering” (Common Cause). This lead-sheep-to-slaughter system is the very thing America decries in other countries. In 2003, George W. Bush went so far as to start a war to implement democracy in Iraq. He reasoned there was an “axis of evil,” and Iraq needed to “heed the democratic demands of the Iraqi people” or it would lose all “legitimacy” (Reynolds). How strange, considering America doesn’t meet the democratic demands of the people, yet Bush didn’t call America and “axis of evil.” Article 1, Section 4 reads, “the manner” of elections “shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations,” which allows the party in power to draw the lines any which way they please. The unchecked power the legislative holds over elections given by Article 1, Section 4 is extremely undemocratic in that it allows legislation to draw lines as they please.
The third undemocratic treatment of voters comes back to the Electoral College, but this time for its unfairness numerically. The electoral college weighs people differently in big versus small states. According to the Washington Post, one voter in Wyoming is valued the same way as four voters in California, by population representation in the Electoral College (Lu). One of the other five founding principles of the United States is equality. Why does it make sense that one Wyomingian vote counts for four Californian votes? It doesn’t; but New Jersey sure thought it did in 1787. Article 2, Section 1 states that electoral votes from the state must “equal the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” New Jersey was the biggest proponent of the Senate during the writing of the constitution, a body which egregiously proportions power to small states. The use of the Senate seat number in the Electoral College compromises it’s democratic power because the Senate unfairly values small states, in this case Wyoming. Equality is one of the things people like to say is one of the ideals they are proud to hold as an American; after all, “all men are created equal.” But all men aren’t created equal under the electoral college. It isn’t democratic to weight different people more than others.
The electoral college is disproportionately valuing people’s votes and discouraging freedom of expression, while gerrymandering is rigging the elections. All of this is possible under the Constitution. It is a wonder all of these problems still exist; after all, America is 242 years old and has had 114 different congresses. It’s because the people who make the laws are the people who benefit from this system. Why would Republicans do something about gerrymandering when they are benefiting from the system? Why would Democrats repeal the Electoral College when their image is growing old and stale in the eyes of some people? The disenfranchised members of the population aren’t ever in a position to change the system affecting them, because they can never get a representative into the discussion. The way the Constitution treats voters in America is undemocratic.