A recent Opinion section contained a letter from FairVote’s executive director concerning “Wiping out bias in elections” for the U.S. House of Representatives. I had to read it several times to get around the swamp of irrelevant facts before concluding that FairVote wants to do away with one of the most important safeguards written into our Constitution. In short, FairVote wants to do away with small, local congressional districts (because they are politically “biased”) and replace them with some kind of larger districts where several representatives would be elected by some kind of proportional voting scheme. Neither the letter nor their website provided lucid information about what that scheme might be. Regardless of the details, it’s a really bad idea.
The older I get, the more awestruck I become by the genius of our Founding Fathers. They wanted “a more perfect union,” and from all accounts it was a difficult and sometimes bitter political process. We should all give thanks that they did so well. Would today’s crop of politicians come even close? Anyhow, they made both good and bad political decisions. The worst of the bad was accepting slavery to get the Southern states to join in the union. It was morally wrong and they knew it, but it was a political expedient. The best of the good was the system of checks and balances that they built into the structure of our government. The executive, legislative and judicial branches – each with different responsibilities and powers – were each also empowered to prevent the other branches from going too far.
In the legislative branch, our Congress contains the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate was designed to give each state in the union an equal voice by having two elected Senators. The House of Representatives was designed to give voice to the differences within the people. It currently has 435 representatives (up from the 65 specified in the original Constitution) divided amongst the states in approximate proportion to their populations. It may come as a surprise to FairVote’s supporters, but this design was chosen precisely because it will likely produce non-uniform (“biased”) districts. Farmers in Iowa have very different needs and perspectives than bankers in Boston. Short of having every adult vote on every bill, the only way to assure that these needs and perspectives have a chance of being represented is to have many small districts. FairVote’s plan – whatever the details might be – is a step in the other direction. They’re looking to turn the House of Representatives into a Super Senate. In my opinion, that would be a catastrophe for the nation. Minority viewpoints and needs would disappear from our legislative process.
Finally, I’ve felt disenfranchised by the presidential election process recently. Since the president is actually elected by the Electoral College, “swing states” (determined by political polling) get all the attention. Thus, minority views in swing states get addressed – any views in the other states get ignored. FairVote advocates for presidential elections decided solely by popular vote. Sounds fair, but where’s the safety mechanism. If the 2004 election taught us nothing else, Florida alone could determine the outcome of an election – and they still can’t seem to run a reliable election. I would advocate for something in the middle: Leave the Electoral College process in place, but follow the lead of Nebraska and Maine – allow the state’s Electoral vote to be split rather than winner take all. It is within the power of each state to do this.
The writer lives in Pawleys Island.