Wednesday, June 13, 2007

It's worse than that:

E.J. Dionne writes:
... those who attack the system don't actually want to change it much. For example, there's a very good case for abolishing the U.S. Senate. It often distorts the popular will since senators representing 18 percent of the population can cast a majority of the Senate's votes. And as Sen. John McCain said over the weekend, "The Senate works in a way that relatively small numbers can block legislation."
Look at what it takes to block legislation (or a censure resolution). All it takes is a filibuster and a subsequent failure to invoke cloture. Invoking cloture reqires 60 votes. So if one side has 41 votes, that's enough to block legislation. All it takes is 41 Senators from 21 states.

Under a worse case scenario, Senators from the 21 least-populous states could block legislation. How many people are in those 21 states?

If you look at the List of U.S. states by population, we find that out of a total of 300 million for the country, there are 37 million in the 21 least-populous states. That amounts to 12.4% of the population, or one in eight.

But wait, there's more!

Taking this further, it's possible that in each of the 21 least-populous states, the senator was elected with a vote of 50% +1. Effectively half the population of each state. So it could take as little as 18 milliion people to elect enough senators to stop action on a particular bill. That's one in 16 people. And that explains, in part, how anti-democratic (and pro-plutocratic) the Senate can be.

One in 16 is all it takes.


You forget one thing: Voter participation is not actually a 100%.
Given that at times less than 50% of eligible voters cast their vote, the minority that can act as blockers is even smaller (even absent election fraud/theft)

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/13/2007 1:16 AM  

A cautionary note on this matter: while from our current perspective this may make the senate look "anti-democratic (and pro-plutocratic)", when the tables are turned, the power of the minority is something we might champion.

In support of your point, though, it's worth noting that the least-populous/most-populous divide often falls along the political split. It isn't just worst case scenarios and possibilities. Its what happens when one base tends to get more votes in large concentrations of the population and the other has a base in farmland regions.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/13/2007 4:40 AM  

anon2: I agree that concerns of the minority are important, and that the divide isn't as bad as the worst case. It's a matter of degree, and I think the current situation is too inbalanced. The post was inspired by the Senate's failure to invoke cloture on the Gonzales censure resolution.

I'm not opposed to filibuster or censure rules. But with the current distribution of Senate seats, some minorities wield power and other hardly at all. At a minimum, rural and agricultural interests are over represented.

By Blogger Quiddity, at 6/13/2007 6:18 AM  

But this is exactly what the founders wanted. Legislation passed in the heat of the moment is dangerous to the nation and to its citizens *cough* "PATRIOT" Act *cough*

The US government is _designed_ to make legislation difficult, to ensure that minorities are not trampled, to ensure that legislation is debated and compromises made.

And that's the way we should want it.

By Anonymous joel hanes, at 6/13/2007 10:38 AM  

joel hanes wrote, "But this is exactly what the founders wanted."

Nope. Madison, for one, didn't want the Senate.

"The US government is _designed_ to make legislation difficult, to ensure that minorities are not trampled..."

Yes, but the idea that the minority of rural-dwelling people should have _this_ much veto power is ludicrous.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/13/2007 9:30 PM  

Here in the UK, the only thing stopping the supposedly democratic House of Commons from turning this into a complete police state has been the unelected House of Lords, whose members actually appear to care about something in addition to party loyalty. This explains why NuLabour is so keen to get rid of them.

Keep that in mind when you're talking about the Senate. Of course, the Senate's elected. Maybe that's the problem.

By Anonymous Mike, at 6/14/2007 12:47 AM  

Mike wrote, "Here in the UK, the only thing stopping the supposedly democratic House of Commons ... "

Yes, it's democratically elected, but with the same idiotic "first past the post" system we have in the US.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/14/2007 1:07 AM  

Yes, it's democratically elected, but with the same idiotic "first past the post" system we have in the US.

True, but I don't know that, say, the Israeli Knesset, which uses proportional representation, has provided entirely sane leadership, either.

Basically, when party loyalty trumps civic responsibility, democracy doesn't work. And that seems to happen an awful lot.

By Anonymous Mike, at 6/14/2007 9:57 AM  

Mike: That's why some sort of two-party system is considered preferable by some (including me). I'm never impressed when very small factions get to call the shots, as appears to be the case in Israel.

There is no universal solution, since people are unlikely to ever agree on how they would like to see political power distributed. But I think a two-party system coupled with a fair distribution of seats works well. And as to the two-party system. Challenger parties should be encouraged, but not to compete along with the existing two, but to replace one of the two (as the Republicans did to the Whigs).

By Blogger Quiddity, at 6/15/2007 1:25 AM  

Proportionate representation with a moderate hurdle (e.g. 5%) seems to work relatively well. A "winner takes all" independent of actual percentage looks worst to me. In that case (nobody >50%) a second vote on the two leading candidates is a proven remedy (at least it keeps Nader from becoming a notorious election spoilsport).

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/15/2007 10:04 AM  

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