By Roger Bowen
President-elect Joe Biden had to win 4 million votes more than President Trump got in order to win the Electoral College (EC), while Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 with “only” about 3 million more votes than Trump got. Sadly, Trump believes that both elections were “rigged” by fraud perpetuated by poll workers who were likely Democrats.
What happened to “one person, one vote”? Why has the EC become the enemy of democracy and an ally of the Republican Party? Why in this election year did the 26 states with the smallest populations, representing only 18 percent of the population, control the U.S. Senate? Why do most states allow incumbent legislators of either party to self-deal by gerrymandering voting districts in order to bolster their own electoral advantage?
These are some of the issues addressed by the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, which seeks to “reinvent democracy for the 21st century.” The implicit goal of the commission is to promote legislative reform by revising crusty institutions that may have worked well in the 18th century but that weaken democracy in the 21st century.
Asking these questions on the cusp of the Biden-Harris administration makes good sense. The nation is dreadfully divided: red-blue, urban-rural, rich-poor, religious-nonreligious, male-female, etc. President-elect Biden reminded all of us that the so-called “other” is not the enemy because they are Americans. Kumbaya, Joe.
One of the commission’s recommendations is for Congress to mandate that voting in federal elections be a requirement of citizenship. Some nations already do this and can boast of a 90 percent voter turnout. Yet more is less for the GOP since a distinct majority of Americans, Democrats and independents, are the majority and might well prevail electorally for years to come.
The commission also recommends same-day voter registration at polling stations. While clearly supportive of wider voter participation, the essence of democracy, again this reform has not been embraced by the GOP for the reason suggested just above — it will bring out more Democratic voters.
The same result may be expected if another of the commission’s recommendations goes forward — making the date for federal elections a holiday and moving it to Veterans Day. This would honor our veterans as well as pump up voter turnout. Yet, again, the GOP does not favor large voter turnout, which tends to favor the Democratic Party. Similarly, the commission wants to make voting easier by opening more voting centers and permitting voters to vote early and by mail. Some states already do this, but they tend toward the Democratic Party, which is another reason the GOP might protest.
Greater transparency in order to minimize possible corrupt influence over candidates from dark money donors who have their own agenda for promotion of corporate interests or of grossly partisan policy is another commission recommendation. The commission claims this would have to be done by a constitutional amendment. Reversing Citizens United, which opened the floodgates of big-donor dollars to obliging candidates, might suffice (although the stacked GOP Supreme Court is unlikely to be equally obliging).
Such reforms recommended by the commission make eminent sense if, that is, we want a more perfect democracy. But they all — and there are a number of other commission reforms that curious readers should examine — do not promise a “more perfect union.” Systemic racism, environmental degradation, income inequality, cultural differences, varying views on America’s relationship with the international community and, above all, the political insecurity of the GOP, tragically manifested in the insecure ego of Trump, mean that there exists no quick nor easy fixes.
Biden and Harris need all the help they can get in post-Trump America. A good first step would be for Trump to muster grace and bow to tradition by congratulating the new Democratic administration and ensuring a peaceful transfer of power. Kumbaya, Roger.
Roger Bowen is a student of politics living in Prospect Harbor and former president of the State University of New York at New Paltz.