Authoritarianism by the Numbers: A really inconvenient truth!
D. Frank Robinson
Electoral reform projects seek to change the way that public desires are reflected in elections through electoral systems. Reform projects can include measures designed to reform political parties (typically changes to election laws); to redefine citizen eligibility to vote; to change the way candidates or political parties gain ballot access; to alter the methods for defining electoral constituencies and election district borders; to design or implement new ballot systems or new voting equipment; to tighten scrutineering (by the parties or other observers); to ensure safety of citizens voting; to limit the influence of bribes, coercion, and conflicts of interest; to regulate financing to candidates; to encourage participation and to provide alternative vote-counting procedures altering the rules by which the winners of legislature and executive offices are determined, e.g., runoff voting, instant runoff voting, approval voting, citizen initiatives and referenda, recall elections, or proportional representation .”
Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_reform (05/05/2007)
“Democracy is, at its essence, self-rule. It is the way in which free people govern themselves. But in societies in which large populations are distributed over great distances, town meetings are impractical as a means of making policy decisions on a national scale. In the modern age, when those policy decisions often involve matters of great complexity, public referenda, even at the state level, may be similarly impractical. Thus, democratic societies have developed systems of representative government, in which citizens choose from among their neighbors those men and women who will make decisions for them. How well that system of indirect democracy works, and whether or not its decisions are considered legitimate, depends, ultimately, on the validity of the elections by means of which representatives – Presidents, members of Congress, governors, mayors, state legislators – are chosen.
Every election season produces a rash of complaints that something is just not working right. A President may take office despite the fact that the majority of Americans preferred somebody else (it has happened three times in this country’s history). Turnout may be very low. Citizens may be considered ineligible to vote because they have lived too short a time in a particular community. The polls may close before workers can get back to their home precincts from their jobs, often many miles distant. Elections may favor people with the contacts (or the personal resources) to outspend opponents by huge margins, and they may serve to advance the policy preferences of people with enough money to make substantial contributions to candidates who will advance their interests.
Or perhaps none of these criticisms is valid. The task force will consider the full range of criticisms -- and proposed improvements – in the American election system. Its recommendations will be in the form of a report to organizations involved in the study of electoral reform, (including the constitution project’s election reform initiative and the center for voting and democracy), as well as to the Congressional leadership.”
Mickey Edwards served as a member of Congress for 16 years. He has been a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, and a regular weekly commentator on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered”. He taught for 11 years at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
The purpose of this series is to discuss the merits of the only remaining not yet ratified Constitutional Amendment of the original twelve proposed by the first Congress. The amendment concerns the number of Representatives for apportionment of among the States and increasing the size of the U.S. House of Representatives to establish a proportionality closer to that intended by the ratifying delegates and the First Congress.
The merits will be evaluated using the criteria recommended by The Constitution Project in 1997. The pending amendment states:
After the first enumeration required by the first Article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which, the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons. (Emphasis added.)
(1.) Does the proposed amendment address matters that are of more than immediate concern and that are likely to be recognized as abiding importance by subsequent generations?
The Constitution clearly indicates the importance of a minimal proportionality between the Representative and the number of constituents. The original ratio was 1:30,000. In the state convention debates to secure ratification of the Constitution objections were raised that (1) there was insufficient provision to ensure that as the nation grew, the size of the House would continue to be large enough to give the people's Representatives their due influence in the national government and (2) that the districts would remain small enough in population to give the people due influence upon the Representatives. To overcome these objections and secure ratification, promises were made that the first Congress would draft an amendment to make clear that the number of Representatives would increase with the general population and the districts would not become excessively large in population. To fulfill those promises the first of twelve amendments to overcome the many objections was drafted to address the apportionment of Representatives. The compromise ratio was 1:50,000. The ten ratified amendments are known as the Bill of Rights. The original second amendment was ratified in 1992, 203 years after it was drafted and is now designated as the 27th Amendment.
What could be the 28th Amendment was proposed by the first Congress on September 25, 1789, as the first First Amendment. It addressed one of the arguments most frequently advanced against the Constitution. Historians generally agree that the architect of this amendment was almost certainly James Madison serving as a Representative, but there were other fingerprints on it as we shall see.
The authors easily agreed that no matter the population every state shall have one Representative. Then they negotiated a rule which set a minimum population of 30,000 for any additional Representatives for any state in the Constitution. The population number is arbitrary, but it was an agreeable bargain for them and it's still a provision of the Constitution.
What the authors never intended was to set a fixed maximum number of Representatives. Even though the 'first' amendment was intended to make this explicit it was left unratified, but it was not seen as a serious problem. The importance of representational proportionality was acknowledged in practice for a century thereafter because the membership of the House was increased repeatedly after each Census - until the beginning of the 20th century. Then Congress stopped increasing the number of Representatives. By deliberate inaction they guaranteed that the population 'served' by every Representative would increase – less representation with more taxation. The authors carefully measured compromise was reversed into a progressively more authoritarian blend by diluting representation more and more. Just what the ratifying delegates had anticipated and denounced. Because the apportionment amendment was never ratified, no subsequent Congress needed confront the issue by proposing an amendment to repeal it. Why did the Congress at that time want to abandon any proportional restraint? How did all subsequent Congresses get away with it? Is it time to force the Congress to confront what they have done?
To be continued...