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Politics. Economics. Morality. Religion. And Everything In Between.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Two-Party System Part 2: Possible Solutions

I ended my last post with a few examples of politicians who had cracked the two-party system. These guys all had one thing in common: they were big fish in small ponds. They had enough name recognition, money, and/or campaign expertise that they didn't need the backing of a political machine to win elections. They may not all have been fantastic leaders of our nation or of their respective states, but they were alternative choices that did more than just extend the rule of the Republican or Democratic parties. To give more potential candidates, some of whom may really be transcendental leaders, a chance at running against the system, we have to replicate the conditions that allowed these aforementioned mavericks to succeed. Continuing with my fish metaphor, we need to shrink the size of ALL the ponds.

Here's an example of how we would do that. The size of the U.S. House of Representatives used to increase with the U.S. population until 1911, when House membership was permanently capped at 435. America's population in 1911 was 93,860,000, which meant that every Congressman, on average, represented 215,770 people. Today, the U.S. population is slightly greater than 311,000,000, which means that the average Congressman now represents over 700,000 people. This number looks even more outrageous when we consider that the Constitution originally specified that there should be one Congressman for every 30,000 people.

Granted, modern communication and transportation technology has greatly increased our ability to access information and stay connected with people and organizations that are important to us. Even though, we must remember that because most states restricted the franchise to property-owning white males around the time of America's founding, each congressional district would usually contain no more than 5 or 6 thousand eligible voters. Today's districts contain about 88 times as many eligible voters as our original ones did. If any of you think that the citizens of today are 88 times better than our forefathers at judging a person's character from a distance, then I have some Portuguese debt to sell you.

Capping the size of Congressional districts at 250,000 or so (a nice-sounding arbitrary number, I admit) would reduce candidates' dependence on mass communication for reaching voters. Candidates for the House would be able to build local relationships and address local issues instead of adhering to the dictates of a national party. The size of the House would increase to around 1244 members, which would have additional positive effects. It would become a more cumbersome and unwieldy body, harder to organize behind a common cause. This is a good thing since most legislation that comes out of Washington, in my humble opinion, either places unnecessary and harmful restrictions on private activities or wastes a great deal of taxpayer money. The sheer size and diversity of the House's membership would also help curb the tendency towards increased pork-barrel spending that would result from making Congressional districts smaller and their representatives more locally oriented. How would you like to try to convince 1243 people that your district REALLY needs that $300 million highway?

To find out how to reorient the Senate, we should look again to the Constitution. Originally, state legislatures chose the Senators from each state in the same way that parliaments elect a prime minister. In 1913, though, the 17th amendment declared that Senators were to be elected by the entire voting public of their respective states. This has made Senators even more beholden to party machinery and the mass media for public exposure, since their electorates are in most cases much larger than those of Representatives. If state legislatures were to choose the state's Senators once again, instead of a couple million people voting for someone they saw twice on TV, we would have at most a few hundred people choosing among candidates that they observe personally every day. Furthermore, people would once again have a reason to care about who their state legislator is since that legislator would have a hand in choosing the state's national Senator. As it is, though, a population that can directly elect all the members of every branch of national government save the Judiciary will far too often simply ignore state-level elections and get what it wants by going directly to the Feds. This destroys the authority and independence of the states, which upsets the delicate balance of our federal system.

Finally, I'd like to recommend that we restore the Electoral College to its traditional role in Presidential elections. Right now, every member of a state's electoral college delegation simply votes in lockstep with the others for whichever Presidential candidate wins a majority of that state's popular vote. Originally, electors were chosen by the state legislatures like Senators and voted for a Presidential candidate without any input from the general population. I'd like to reintroduce this form of election, albeit in modified form.

I would have the people of each congressional district choose an elector just as they choose a Congressman (though the elector will be necessarily a different person than their currently serving Congressman). Each state legislature would then appoint two more electors. This would reflect the longstanding tradition that the number of electors should equal the total number of senators and representatives combined. Thus, we would have 1344 electors. These electors would then hold their own election for the President of the United States some time later without any interference from the population. (Right now, electors are still technically free to vote for whomever they please, but in practice, they never do.)

To enable the electors to make a wise and reasoned choice, I would hold the elections for the Electoral College no fewer than 6 months before the Presidential election. This would give all of the candidates plenty of time to campaign directly to the 1344 electors. You don't need TV and radio to reach 1344 people; all you need is a phone and an email account. Virtually anyone who acquires the requisite number of signatures to appear on a presidential ballot would then become a viable candidate. In theory, we would not have to fear that the electors would make a reckless decision because they would have had to convince the people of their districts that they were the best qualified to make such a choice. This procedure, I believe, would spell the ultimate downfall of the two-party system, especially since candidates would regularly fail to achieve a majority of the electoral vote and many elections would end up being decided by the now more fractious and locally-oriented House of Representatives.

There are a number of problems with the system I have proposed. The most glaring one I can identify is that with the Presidential electors being so few in number and so visible, people and organizations will try to bribe the bejeezus out of them. Still, I think that these problems are not insurmountable and that this system for choosing our government would leave us with much better leadership than we have now. If anyone has any thoughts, criticisms, or recommendations, please feel free to comment.

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