Time to Rewrite the Constitution?


Alex Seitz-Wald has a column in the National Journal arguing that it is time to “blow up the Constitution,” start over and design a new system that is better suited to modern times. Noting that Thomas Jefferson believed that it should be rewritten every 20 years, he writes:

Clocking in at some 4,500 words—about the same length as the screenplay for an episode of Two and a Half Men—and without serious modification since 18-year-olds got the vote in 1971, the Constitution simply isn’t cut out for 21st-century governance. It’s full of holes, only some of which have been patched; it guarantees gridlock; and it’s virtually impossible to change. “It gets close to a failing grade in terms of 21st-century notions on democratic theory,” says University of Texas law professor Sanford Levinson, part of the growing cadre of legal scholars who say the time has come for a new constitutional convention.

Put simply, we’ve learned a lot since 1787. What was for the Founders a kind of providential revelation—designing, from scratch, a written charter and democratic system at a time when the entire history of life on this planet contained scant examples of either—has been worked into science. More than 700 constitutions have been composed since World War II alone, and other countries have solved the very problems that cripple us today. It seems un-American to look abroad for ways to change our sacred text, but the world’s nations copied us, so why not learn from them?

The notion that it’s “un-American” to look abroad for ideas on how to govern ourselves could only be offered by an ignorant and xenophobic ignoramus. Where do they think the founders themselves got their ideas about liberty and democracy? From French scholars like Montesquieu, Brits like John Locke and Algernon Sidney, from ancient Greeks and Romans like Cicero and Plato. And as much as I admire the revolutionary nature of the Constitution and its importance in influencing the world to become more free and democratic, I have little patience for the hyper-emotionalists and demagogues who pretend that it is a sacred document handed directly from Jesus to George Washington (in the King James Version, of course).

He notes that the American Constitution is no longer used as a model by other nations, including our allies.

Almost nobody uses the U.S. Constitution as a model—not even Americans. When 24 military officers and civilians were given a single week to craft a constitution for occupied Japan in 1946, they turned to England. The Westminster-style parliament they installed in Tokyo, like its British forbearer, has two houses. But unlike Congress, one is clearly more powerful than the other and can override the less powerful one during an impasse.

The story was largely the same in defeated Nazi Germany, and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, which all emerged from American occupation with constitutions that look little like the one Madison and the other framers wrote. They have the same democratic values, sure, but different ways of realizing them. According to researchers who analyzed all 729 constitutions adopted between 1946 and 2006, the U.S. Constitution is rarely used as a model. What’s more, “the American example is being rejected to an even greater extent by America’s allies than by the global community at large,” write David Law of Washington University and Mila Versteeg of the University of Virginia.

That’s a not a fluke. The American system was designed with plenty of checks and balances, but the Founders assumed the elites elected to Congress would sort things out. They didn’t plan for the political parties that emerged almost immediately after ratification, and they certainly didn’t plan for Ted Cruz. And factionalism isn’t the only problem. Belgium, a country whose ethnic divisions make our partisan sparring look like a thumb war, was unable to form a governing coalition for 589 days in 2010 and 2011. Nevertheless, the government stayed open and fulfilled its duties almost without interruption, thanks to a smarter institutional arrangement.

I’d be curious to hear from my readers how they would amend the Constitution in terms of the structure of government.

Comments

  1. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Oh, my goodness –

    I’m studying constitutions of China, Korea, Japan, South Africa, Australia, Canada, and the US this term, with a bit of the Brit and Kiwi constitutions thrown in at random intervals.

    I have **all the thoughts** on this topic right now.

    Sigh, if only I wasn’t stressing to the Nth about another assignment I have due today….

  2. thinkfree83 says

    I’d include a bill of social rights for things like a right to healthcare, a right to education, and a right to dignified employment with a living wage.

  3. says

    I’d be curious to hear from my readers how they would amend the Constitution in terms of the structure of government.

    We have the technology base to get rid of “representative” democracy entirely. It would make a great deal of sense to separate the actual crafting of legislation from the approving of it – restructure government so that the legislative bodies proposed and argued, and the people vote. Some kind of provisions for a popular “no confidence” or recall vote should be present for each branch including the supreme court. (Some would say that such a system might make it hard to get anything done, to which I say: “good” and “could it be worse than what we have now?”) Further, a direct democracy would completely do away with all the gerrymandering and the corruption it entails. I’d also take war-making powers completely out of the hands of the executive branch or the congress, and require a popular vote before troops could be committed. And, lastly, since the idea of government acting in secret is inherently undemocratic, I’d say that virtually every aspect of government would need to be completely open – especially subject to fiscal audit.

    I wouldn’t amend the constitution; I’d scrap it.

  4. says

    Agree with broken cynic (#3).

    Second thought: no gerrymandering.

    Third thought: popular vote, no electoral college.

    Fourth thought: the stuff they DID get right – 1st and 4th Amendment protections. (But need better mechanism to enforce them). Life tenure for judges.

  5. blf says

    the Brit … constitution

    The UK does not have a written constitution. There are series of conventions (and laws?) sometimes called a “constitution”, but I doubt even a well-educated British citizen would be able to locate a copy of whatever the consensus considers the de jour UK “constitution” or even answer basic-level questions about its contents, what has changed, why it has changed, or even how it can be changed.

  6. dingojack says

    broken.cynic – be careful what you wish for – you might end up with the balance of power in the hands of Lambie, the Brick With Eyes and Poo-Flinger of the Palmerosaurus block (each garnering <<1% of the vote).

    Marcus Ranum – the same kind of ‘crowd sourcing of ideas’ that gave us that filmic masterpiece Snakes on a Plane? @@

    Dingo

  7. steve84 says

    The Canadian Charter of Human Rights also far superior in the number of rights explicitly guaranteed. A lot of stuff Americans take for granted have been merely interpreted into it by the Supreme Court. Always after decades of contrary decisions.

    A big problem with the US government is the way the Senate is structured. 50 states and even the smallest one gets two senators (When the country was founded there were 13). That’s absurd. A far more sensible system would be something like giving each state at least 1 or 2 senators and then another one for each x million inhabitants up to a maximum of maybe 5. That way the bigger states have more power than the smaller states, but CA or TX wouldn’t completely dominate them.

  8. Mr Ed says

    I like #3 run off election and I like popular vote.

    I would like to see limits on campaign contributions limiting to individual human citizens.

    I would like to see some artful language that prevents or limits Gerrymandering.

    I would amend the 14th amendment that reads “Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States… ” to read “Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States,…” Justice Scalia has said that the intent of All persons is all men and if you wanted to include women you have to amend with the that intent.

  9. says

    In all onesty, I’d be reluctant to change anything in our Constitution — the problem isn’t how the law is written or how the machinery works, it’s the prevailing attitudes of the population, and changing the Constitution won’t change that. We’re not in trouble because our constitution is out of date; we’re in trouble because fear is trumping freedom and a powerful loony right are flat-out lying about what our basic laws really say.

    When you look at [South Africa’s] bill of rights, you start to realize how many rights Americans don’t have.

    Do the South Africans really have those rights? Adding rights to the Constitution sounds like a good thing, but it could be a recipe for paralysis if people start interpreting rights to make them conflict with each other; or if the rights claimed are somehow unenforceable (i.e., a right to healthcare where people simply have no resources for it).

    A constitution that does too little is meaningless. A constitution that tries to do too much could very likely be ignored, in whole or in part, every time the government needs to do something and certain interest-groups use a smorgasboard of new rights to stop it from going anywhere.

  10. Akira MacKenzie says

    Of course this is entirely academic. The powers-that-be have a vested interest in the current system and are not about to do anything to change it. Even if they did, you can be sure that the new constitution would only benefited the elite more than the previous document.

  11. dingojack says

    Also Marcus who is gonna be the poor bastard that has the blog, text, twitter, facebook, bebo & etc. every American voter at 4am with the message:
    “Russians have outlawd us 4ever, bombing starts in 5 mins. What should USGov do now? :(
    OBTW Should we cut 0.05% of the Corporate Tax rates on capital gains with respect to negative gearing in secondary derivatives markets, (even if that will have supply-side consequences and put negative pressure on the underlying inflation, interest and short-term cash rates)* – or not – you choose”?**
    Dingo
    ———
    * Don’t try and work this out, it’s gibberish of the economics kind
    ** If I wanted that level of crap I’d play a nice game of Simcity (or some other ‘god game’)

  12. sqlrob says

    I echo the “No gerrymandering”

    The one I’m surprised I haven’t seen here yet is single subject bills. No more amending unrelated things on, and budget bills can only be allocation of money, no policy included.

    @steve84: The *point* of the Senate is to be unbalanced like that. It’s to force compromise. That’s why there’s two houses, one population based, one count based, not simply one. It’s a stopgap for Tyranny of the Majority.

  13. lpetrich says

    Did any of you people read the comments that that article got? They were so depressing. A bunch of right-wing yahoos who howled that the Constitution is a sacred document and that the article’s author was somehow pushing socialism. Some of them defended government gridlock as a Good Thing, and some of them denounced the Constitutional amendment for electing Senators by popular vote as unsupported by the Constitution.

    I asked if they wanted to go back to the original way of electing the Vice President, by making him/her the Presidential candidate who got the second most electoral votes. Obama-Romney, anyone? Some of them seemed to think that it was a good idea(!)

    As to government gridlock, that was tried by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in a big way. It had a very idealistic rule for its Parliament, the Sejm, the Liberum Veto. Any MP could cast a “no” vote and stop a bill in its tracks. It was worse than what the filibuster has become, much worse. The Commonwealth was successful for a while, stretching from Ukraine to the Baltic Sea and even briefly conquering Moscow (1610-1612). But it went into decline, and the Liberum Veto was *very* helpful to obstructionists, especially obstructionists bribed by foreign powers. When the Liberum Veto was abolished, it was too late.

    In the mid 18th century, Austria, Prussia, and Russia took big bites out of the Commonwealth, and it soon disappeared off the map. Poland would not reappear as a nation until the end of World War I.

  14. Alverant says

    I think any Constitutional changes I would make would likely cause an armed uprising. Things like:

    Expressly separating church and state and forbidding laws that were made to appease a deity (ie the “The only reason we need to ban something is God saying it’s bad” laws)
    Rewriting the second amendment putting real restrictions on firearm ownership and eliminating the phrase “right to bare arms”
    Expressly stating that all US citizens are equal regardless of religion, gender identity, sexual preference, etc
    Secular laws have priority over religious beliefs (ie no more religious exemption for not taking your child to the doctor)
    Eliminating the electoral college, elections will be done with the popular vote.
    Rights will be determined by sentience
    Allowing individuals to control their own bodies and destinies
    No capital punishment
    Cruel & Unusual punishment will be expanded upon for crimes that harm no one and white collar crimes

    Those are just off the top of my head.

  15. says

    Don’t do it. Us robots did, but the WarBots took over the Convention, and the next thing you know our new Constitution read, simply, “KILL ALL HUMANS”.
    Which is pretty awesome, actually. It only sounded bad until I said it out loud.

  16. borax says

    I’d scrap the electoral college, scrap the house of reps and scrap the senate. In the place of a bicameral house I’d install a single body of 200 representatives portioned by population among the states. A president or prime minister (title doesn’t matter) would be elected by popular vote. The president would have no actual powers, but would be a figure head. No war or military action could be fought without approval of the ruling body and all wars would have to be paid for by taxes. That’s just a start.

  17. Alverant says

    I’m not sure we can get rid of gerrymandering without reworking how the Senate and House work on a national and state level. It’s like promoting free speech while trying to make laws against trolling. If you have a freedom there are people who are going to abuse it. States are divided into districts for the purposes of representation. These districts have to change over time to reflect changes in the population. So how do you prevent gerrymandering while allowing for necessary changes?

  18. MyPetSlug says

    Call me a pessimist, but I have very little faith that America could get anything that important done in this political climate. It sounds great in principal. Put stronger guarantees on our freedom. Streamline the political process so we can actually get things done. But, at the same time pragmatists are trying to do that noble work, you’d have the Tea Party shouting for an end to federal income tax because it’s exactly like slavery. You’d have the anti-gay crowd trying to make equal rights for gays unconstitutional, for the children. And, of course, the religious fundamentalists would be trying to guarantee religious freedom only for themselves and deny it to others, because they know that’s what the founders really wanted.

    And with Fox News, I think it would be frightening how many people would agree with their message. Even if they don’t, with the importance of what’s at stake, every conceivable underhanded tactic would be tried to sneak things though. Some would just flat out lie about the what they’re proposing, like what happened with some anti-gay marriage state constitutional amendments, saying they would still allow civil unions when they were clearly meant to ban them as well. Others would try to insert vague or confusing wording to sneak things by later. And, on top of that, again, given the stakes, all you would hear from the right would be screams of Nazi, Hitler, Communism, Stalin and threats of secession if they don’t get their way. If anything divisiveness would reach new heights as each paranoid group of wingnuts would be convinced liberals/atheists/Muslims/gays are one step from putting them in concentration camps. Look at the fight over ENDA, which literally harms *no one*.

    I think the only chance would be to wait until after the Republican party implodes. If the hard right goes off and creates their Constitution Jesus Guns USA #1 party and Republicans can return to sanity. Maybe then?

  19. dingojack says

    You want to end gerrymandering*?
    Establish an electoral commission made up of public servants (with access to information from the Census Bureau) and take it completely out of the hands of politicians. Make attempting to interfere with such a bureaucrat a Federal offence with a long prison sentence, make reporting of any knowledge of said interference mandatory.
    Just my $0.02.
    Dingo
    ——-
    * sack that guy Gerry

  20. says

    MyPetSlug “…you’d have the Tea Party shouting for an end to federal income tax because it’s exactly like slavery. You’d have the anti-gay crowd trying to make equal rights for gays unconstitutional, for the children. And, of course, the religious fundamentalists would be trying to guarantee religious freedom only for themselves and deny it to others, because they know that’s what the founders really wanted.”
    Now you’re just being ridiculous. Those are all the same group.

  21. gshelley says

    Where do they think the founders themselves got their ideas about liberty and democracy?

    Rhetorical question I know but the answer is generally “the Bible”

  22. scienceavenger says

    Just get rid of districts altogether, there is nothing to be gained from drawing artificial lines on the map. Insititute proportional and ranked voting so third parties can get off the ground. Many of our problems stem from partisanship and the either-or fallacy. Voters should be thinking of nothing else when voting except who they prefer.

  23. says

    I’ve been saying we should scrap the Constitution for years, pretty much for the reasons articulated in the OP. This is what I would like to see:

    1. Something closer to a British-style Parliamentary electoral system with representative seating. I think the winner-take-all approach in the US Constitution makes a two-party system more-or-less inevitable. It also makes black and white, two-dimensional political thinking inevitable. The only real way to fix the problem is to root out the cause, so allowing more parties the opportunity to have a voice is a start.

    2. Expand some rights explicitly (health care, for one, welfare for a second). Severely limit the current 2nd Amendment.

    3. Limit the military. I’m not entirely sure how that would work, but something like “military spending can only be X% of the budget in times of peace.”

    4. Put more things that are currently the purview of the states in the hands of the federal government. I’m thinking of stuff like education standards, environmental regulations, and handling regulations of business. Stuff like Wisconsin cutting its corporate taxes to try to poach Boeing from Illinois and Illinois basically having to give away the store shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Stuff like West, Texas blowing up because Texas gives no shits about regulating and inspecting its fertilizer plants also shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

    5. Stronger protections of civilians in interactions with police/courts, by which I mean things like mandatory dash cams, explicit permission to record police officers, explicit rejection of stop and frisk policies and stronger (or, y’know, any) penalties for a police officer or prosecutor who is caught railroading an innocent person.

    6. Legalize pot.

    7. Single-payer nationalized healthcare.

    8. Carve outs of things that should be the government’s responsibility and cannot be privatized (prisons, the military, parking meters, etc.).

    9. Legalized gay marriage nationwide.

    10. Net Neutrality as the default state.

    I think that’s a decent start…

  24. Pierce R. Butler says

    An actual Constitutional Convention called in 2013 would lead to disaster, for obvious reasons.

    Let’s get our schools into excellent condition, run them that way for at least two generations, and then have a nice rewrite.

  25. steve84 says

    @sqlrob
    No. The point of the Senate was to shut up the states because they lost rights when the federal government was formed. So they whined around and to appease them they got outsized representation. That’s all there is to it. Again purely 18th century causes.

  26. flex says

    A bigger question, which was partially answered in the 1860’s is;

    Are we one nation or a collection of quasi-independent states?

    If we really are one nation, than we should be working to commonize quite a few laws. Things like:

    1) Marriage and divorce laws should be common across the nation.
    2) Age of consent laws should be common across the nation.
    3) Drinking ages should be common across the nation.
    4) Drivers licenses (proficiency and age tests) should be common across the nation.
    5) Drug laws should be common across the nation.
    6) Bar examinations and other professional accreditation groups should be common across the nation.
    7) Judicial sentencing requirements should be common across the nation.
    8) Laws of incorporation, laws establishing corporations, should be common across the nation.

    I’m certain there are plenty of other examples, and there are some things which make sense to leave with the states, like state taxes for state-funded infrastructure, it does cost more to maintain a Michigan road than an Arizona road. But incompatible laws from state to state does no one any good.

  27. Glenn E Ross says

    For the very reasons the current constitution does not work as well as it should, I don’t believe that a new constitution could be created that would be better.

    Money has too much influence; on elections through contribution to candidates and even more insidious, through the manipulation of public opinion using mass media. The topics and viewpoints that gain prominence throughout our body politic are almost monopolistically controlled by corporate and wealthy interests.

    I can’t imagine an orderly process for creating a new constitution that would not be subjected to the same manipulation by monied interests.

  28. Subtract Hominem, a product of Nauseam says

    • House of Representatives: Switch to 400 seats, proportional representation of nationwide vote by party. 4% minimum threshold to gain seats. DC and territories can vote. Geographic origin of representatives must roughly reflect that of voter support.

    • Senate: 3 senators per state to close that awkward 2-year span, 2 senators for DC, one per territory. All directly elected.

    • SCotUS: 13-year terms with optional renewal for additional (and repeating) 9-year terms if reconfirmed by Senate. Judicial review made explicit and enforceable. Expand to 11 members, but only allow 7 to rule on any given case, to cover for varying areas of expertise and instances where one or more must be recused.

    • Tie salaries of high-level elected and appointed officials to last year’s median national income ± some small percentage.

    • Place tight formal restrictions on methods private corporations and special interest groups can use to lobby, campaign, or otherwise disproportionately influence the government.

    • Ensure that effective tax rates are actually progressive.

    • Forbid military conscription.

    • What Geds said at 27.

  29. Synfandel says

    One way to eliminate gerrymandering is to eliminate districts. Let each voter vote for however many representatives his state is allocated in the House. The state then sends that many representatives of the state as a whole to Washington.

    Down sides:
    – Reduction of representative’s personal connection with a community.
    – Unwieldy ballots in large states.

  30. dingojack says

    Synfandel – and will that work exactly? What if the state containing Rivercity is allocated 100 seats and the good citizens elect 100 representatives, and Twerk City elects 100, and Suffragette City elect 100 and so on. Is it who ever gets to Washington first is elected?
    Dingo

  31. Alverant says

    #33
    I like the idea of districts because it does give a representative a connection to a group of people. Democracy only works if everyone has a say in government. If you eliminate districts you’re reducing the diversity of representatives. We need a district in an economically poor zone for example to make sure their interests are served. Otherwise we’ll still have districts, we just call them “states”.

  32. Jordan Genso says

    @21 Alverant

    So how do you prevent gerrymandering while allowing for necessary changes?

    Take the human element out of it (almost) completely. Have a computer calculate the “best” maps based on objective, quantifiable characteristics (number of “broken” counties, population variance between districts, length of the perimeter of the districts, etc), and then allow the elected officials to choose which map they like best based on those objective criteria, but don’t let the Legislature see the actual maps, only the numbers.

    With today’s technology, it wouldn’t be that difficult. Those objective criteria are conflicting in nature (you can always get a better population variance if you break more counties/municipalities), which is why more than one map would be created, with each criteria getting different weight for each map.

  33. sundoga says

    I hate the idea of run-off voting – it’s unfair, undemocratic and expensive. Simple plurality victory is the fairest of all election systems, because it ensures the person with the most support gets the most votes, gets the position. This stupid idea that someone needs a “majority” to have a right to govern is just propaganda for the big parties, who can afford to shepherd their chosen candidates through multiple rounds of voting – another way of eliminating the independent candidate.

    I would change the electoral college system. Not eliminate it – make it more what it was supposed to be, a point of equality for the states. Let each state have an equal number of votes, regardless of population size. (I expect New York, California and Texas to go apoplectic over that one). Leave it up to the individual state how to apportion those votes according to the popular vote there.

    I would support a change making it unconstitutional to add riders to bills.

  34. dogfightwithdogma says

    @4 Marcus

    … restructure government so that the legislative bodies proposed and argued, and the people vote

    So your solution is the tyranny of the majority?

  35. says

    The one I’m surprised I haven’t seen here yet is single subject bills. No more amending unrelated things on…

    Not a good idea. First, how do you define “single-subject bill” when it’s a bill dealing with a complex set of interrelated issues/events? And second, legislation is a process of compromise, and that compromise is often reflected in complex bills; I don’t think it’s a good idea to make compromise harder.

    …and budget bills can only be allocation of money, no policy included.

    Not possible: when money is allocated, its exact use has to be specified, otherwise accounting (and accountability) is impossible; and that means describing, at least in general, which chunk of money is intended to fund which policy or agency.

  36. eric says

    While I agree with many of the suggestions above, I’d offer one meta-suggestion instead: when you come up with version 2.0, have one or several states implement it for 10 years. Test run it, see how it works at the 35-million-person scale before adopting it at the 350-million-person scale. Because while there are a lot of change ideas I would agree are good, I’m also smart enough to realize that no single human being is probably capable of understanding and predicting all the unintended consequences of some structural change.

    I’ll use @4’s focus on more direct democracy as an example. California has that; they have lower barriers to getting ballot measures on a ballot and putting legislative policy to a general vote. Yet that system has not generally led to improvements in governance, and in fact per capita their budget is further off the rails than most. In the one 50-million person “pilot” of greater direct democracy that we’ve actually run, it hasn’t worked all that well. What this shows is the value of small-scale piloting: like Marcus, to me more direct democracy sounds like a good idea. I would not have expected it to lead to stupider laws and bigger budget deficits. Yet it does. So thank goodness we ran the test before implementing it across the entire US!

  37. Trebuchet says

    It occurs to me that under the British Parliamentary system, John Boehner would be Prime Minister of the USA.

  38. says

    eric “I’ll use @4′s focus on more direct democracy as an example. California has that; they have lower barriers to getting ballot measures on a ballot and putting legislative policy to a general vote. Yet that system has not generally led to improvements in governance, and in fact per capita their budget is further off the rails than most.”
    California’s unique. It takes half of voters to get a program (on a Prop), but (thanks to Prop 13) 2/3rds of both Houses to pay for it.

  39. Michael Heath says

    “It gets close to a failing grade in terms of 21st-century notions on democratic theory,” says University of Texas law professor Sanford Levinson, part of the growing cadre of legal scholars who say the time has come for a new constitutional convention.

    Dr. Levinson’s actually an expert on the subject, not just an advocate. I found his book on the topic very stimulating: http://goo.gl/FM0ka2.

    MyPetSlug writes:

    Call me a pessimist, but I have very little faith that America could get anything that important done in this political climate.

    I’m an optimist who is dead set against a convention. We can’t trust conservatives to work in good faith and they certainly do not share the liberal values that established the current Constitution, ‘liberal’ in spite of its past and present flaws. I’m sure conservatives are just as opposed to non-conservatives participating in a convention.

    The three biggest changes I’d want to see is to end some voters having disproportionate voting power in both presidential elections but far more importantly, what some Senators enjoy.

    The second is a technocratic check against the majority. We need to hash out and more importantly – reveal, what’s popular vs. what experts understand and advise prior to government action. Perhaps by this check supplanting the current check against majoritarian power in the Senate – the cloture vote and filibuster and other stops individual Senators can now place against legislation.

    The third is delegating more power to the judicial branch as a check against the unconstitutional actions of the other two branches. Maybe even install the technocratic check against the passage of legislation in this branch.

  40. says

    California’s unique. It takes half of voters to get a program (on a Prop), but (thanks to Prop 13) 2/3rds of both Houses to pay for it.

    Or, as Bill Maher said, voter initiatives tend to fall into two classes: “Fund stuff I like,” and “Don’t make me pay for it.”

    And that’s not the only problem with “direct democracy,” in CA or elsewhere. For starters, voter initiatives can be orchestrated, and written, by well-funded PACs more easily than by actual people working from the grass-roots; and as a result, a lot of initiatives come from big business, with big ad campaigns to manipulate everyone into thinking it’s “the people” supporting it. And the LAST thing anyone can expect from the grass roots is well-written legislation.

    Also, if an initiative gets on the ballot that big business doesn’t like, they simply add MORE initiatives to the same ballot, just to keep voters confused as to which one they’re supposed to support.

    “Direct democracy” doesn’t work for shit. That’s why we had to invent representative government instead.

  41. jd142 says

    @37 – Runoff voting, also referred to as ranking voting, is much, much better at getting what people want. Assuming that’s the goal. :)

    Think of it as how you and your friends decide where to go for lunch.

    Alice loves pizza, likes dim sum, doesn’t mind tapas and hates hamburgers
    Bob loves hamburgers, likes dim sum, doesn’t mind tapas, and hates pizza
    Charlie loves hamburgers, likes tapas, doesn’t mind dim sum and hates pizza
    Dawn loves dim sum, likes pizza, doesn’t mind tapas and hates hamburgers
    Eve loves tapas, likes dim sum, doesn’t mind pizza and hates hamburgers

    If you and your friends talk it out, you get dim sum. Only one person loves it, but no one hates it. In a majority rules vote, you get hamburgers, which 3 out of 5 people actively hate. Instant runoff says no one got a majority of votes, so you eliminate the lowest vote getter (tapas) and recount to include Eve’s dim sum vote. Now dim sum and hamburgers are tied, with pizza the lowest vote getter, so remove pizza. Alice’s dim sum vote is counted, so now it is three votes for dim sum and two for hamburgers. Dim sum has a majority, so it wins.

    It encourages a move away from a two party system because little parties can count for a lot. It is a bad example for a lot of reason, but it means you won’t see a problem like Bush/Gore in Florida. If you assume that the Nader votes would have overwhelming marked Gore as their second choice, it would have been easy. Say what you want about Gore, but what would you give to never hear of a hanging chad again. :) Or maybe the libertarians would have pushed Bush over the line. There’s a reason I said it was a bad example.

    The end result is that most people get something they can live with and fewer people get something they actively despise. More ideas and views get floated because they don’t hurt the big name candidates. More people vote because they don’t feel they are throwing their vote away.

  42. says

    Let each state have an equal number of votes, regardless of population size.

    Seriously? Why the fuck should Rhode Island get the same number of votes as CA or NY?

    Leave it up to the individual state how to apportion those votes according to the popular vote there.

    Let the states control how (or whether) their people’s votes count? Fuck that.

  43. davidworthington says

    I would first make voting a positive right. While I would argue for an “everybody over the age of 18 gets a vote” I would probably compromise to “everybody over 18 and not currently serving a prison sentence.” Whether or not citizenship is needed for the vote would be an interesting question (as opposed to say, residency).

  44. Nihilismus says

    I could write constantly on this topic, which I have on a now defunct constitutional debate message board, but since this blog’s format doesn’t lend itself to extended discussion, I’ll try to keep things (relatively) concise.

    Usually, when someone thinks the Constitution is ineffective, it is either because they view it as inadequately protecting a right of the minority or inadequately reflecting the will of the majority. These things aren’t necessarily incompatible. But if the Constitution does not protect a certain right and the majority doesn’t care, there is little chance that a new constitutional convention will protect that right.

    Thus, the only constitutional changes we can realistically expect are those that are supported by a majority. We can save ourselves some effort by starting with changes that make the Constitution more democratic and more reflective of the will of the majority, so that future changes in the “will of the people” can be effectuated through simple legislation rather than constitutional changes.

    Yes, there are some people who, realizing their views are not accepted by a majority, would oppose making the Constitution more democratic. They might make the assertion that we should be a republic and not a democracy, ignorant of the fact that many of the framers had come to realize the terms as essentially synonymous by the end of their lives. A republic is run by the people as opposed to say a plutocracy. There really is only one way to know whether the “people” run it rather than a privileged minority, and that it through universal suffrage and one-person, one-vote-style democracy. People making the republic-democracy distinction are either confusing direct democracy with representative democracy, or are confusing federalism with unitary government.

    But I think that a majority of the population today would prefer us to be more democratic, so a proposed constitution that was more democratic would be more likely to be adopted. So the question becomes, how do we make the Constitution more democratic?

    We can get rid of the Senate and keep just one legislative house. There is really no justifiable reason in practice to give each state the same number of representatives to pass legislation that is national in scope. If the idea is to protect the reserved powers of the states, the historical reality is that the Senate has been unsuccessful in this regard. A clearer delineation of powers in the Constitution and courts willing to enforce it would work better. If the idea is to protect minorities from “tyranny of the majority”, equal state representation is a nonsensical way to accomplish this. Historically, civil rights legislation, designed to protect minorities, has had to have supermajorities of people in order to have enough Senators to pass.

    The “minority” protected by equal state representation is a specific group that just happens to be spread across the lower-populated states. They can protect their interests from the majority. But the “majority” changes from issue to issue – the minority protected by equal state representation stays the same. A minority that is concentrated in the higher-populated states does not have the benefit of blocking the majority. Thus, equal state representation protects some lucky minorities but not others. And as pointed at above, sometimes a privileged minority can prevent the majority from helping an oppressed minority. We wouldn’t give certain minority races increased voting power relative to other races, so why should we give people who happen to be spread across lower-populated states more voting power than the same amount of people concentrated in fewer higher-populated states?

    In addition to scrapping the Senate, we should get rid of districts entirely for the House, at least with regard to voting members. A district is essentially a location-based special interest group, whose border is either arbitrarily-drawn or intentionally-drawn to benefit a particular party (i.e., gerrymandered). Even if not gerrymandered, it leaves a minority in the district without a true representative, and it is possible for a majority of people in a larger geographical area to be the minority in a majority of districts, subverting the whole idea of representative democracy.

    There is also no particular reason to give the geographical location of a representative more importance over other attributes when the representative will vote on legislation that is national in scope. I think most people vote for their congressional representatives based on their policy positions and party affiliation. A proportional representation system (preferably a single-transferable vote system) of choosing a legislature would better reflect the actual makeup of views of the general population. If the people of a particular geographical region have an interest peculiar to that region, they can choose to vote for a representative that will focus on that region, and if they have enough votes to meet the threshold for a seat, they will still have a sympathetic representative in the legislature. This is how it works for any other issue, but districts give “location” more prominence in the makeup of the legislature than the people actually care about. If we wouldn’t give other special interest groups their own representative capable of voting on legislation with national scope, then we shouldn’t give location-based special interest groups – a.k.a. districts – their own representative either.

    However, I would be okay with the idea of having districts drawn so that there could be an ombudsman for the district who could propose legislation or otherwise have the ear of the voting members of the legislature. But the ombudsman shouldn’t be able to vote. Mainly, the ombudsman’s job would be to perform constituency services that some of the staff of current House representatives do now.

    With a single-transferable vote system for national legislative elections and no districts, we would likely become a multi-party democracy. It would probably eventually happen that no party would have a majority in the legislature, and thus, a coalition would have to be formed for each issue. Parties would work together better than they do now, since members of a majority on one issue might need members of the minority to reach a majority on another issue.

    We should do away with any kind of permanent filibuster or cloture votes that require more than a majority, but we could allow for something similar for a one-time “delay” of legislation for two week. This delay would allow a minority to get their message heard by other legislators and by their constituents, and thus, maybe the minority becomes the majority. But once the one-time delay is over, an up or down vote on the substance of the bill would occur if the majority of legislators want it to occur.

    I would prefer the chief executive to be appointed by such a legislature (subject to votes of no confidence), although I am not entirely opposed to the idea of a nationwide popular vote (subject to recall elections called for by the legislature). I am opposed, however, to giving the chief executive veto power. Vetoes can make any consensus in the legislature useless. While the legislature would represent multiple parties working together, the chief executive only represents one party and a veto gives him or her oversized legislative power. Any legislation the chief executive likes could pass with a slim majority, while anything they don’t like would require two-thirds, which gives a huge weighted advantage disproportionate to that party’s actual number of voters. Thus, if we want to truly reflect the will of the majority on every issue, we need to get rid of the veto power.

    Without veto power, the chief executive’s role would basically be limited to carrying out the legislature’s policies. I would suggest also that the ceremonial duties of “head of state” be given to another person, so that the chief executive can focus on the administrative demands of the job. The result, I think, would be that the people of this country would stop looking for a single, inspiring “leader” of the whole country (which to me has negative authoritarian implications), and instead view the government as all of us working together.

    I would be okay with the chief executive having the power to call for new elections of the legislature (before their normal terms would be up) when it appears that new issues have arisen since the last election that make the current majority of legislators unrepresentative of the majority of the population.

    As for the Supreme Court, one idea I’ve heard that I like would be to have fixed one-time 18-year terms, with appointment of a new justice every two years. Thus, every two years, a justice is appointed, who will serve for 18-years, and then step down. There would still be 9 justices, and theoretically their decisions won’t be influenced by politics the way an elected judge or a judge subject to reappointment would be. We thus would have a regular refreshing of the Court, while still preserving some consistency (on an 18-year scale). We wouldn’t have to worry that a vacancy will occur during the wrong time and be filled by someone who will be on the court 40 years – we will know that a new vacancy is only two years away. Vacancy caused by death or early retirement would be filled by a temporary justice, with an 18-year justice appointed at the normal point of the two-year cycle.

    The Supreme Court would still perform the important role of invalidating the actions of the other branches that conflict with the Constitution. This is the real check against “tyranny of the majority”, not the Senate or Electoral College.

    I would also like a forth branch of government that would be tasked with investigating waste, fraud, abuse, and criminality in the other branches of government, and with monitoring the elections with the same standards applied nationally. Some countries already have such a branch. The important thing is that, while the executive branch is normally in charge of law enforcement, an independent branch is needed to make sure the executive branch is holding itself to the same standards and that partisanship doesn’t interfere with the election process.

    One final thought for now: I would like for all the legislators to be limited, while in office, to an income equal to the benefits that current legislation provides for an indigent person. I’m not just talking about limiting legislative salary. I’m saying that the legislator can’t have access to any income, from any source, earned above the benefits level while in office. If they feel that it is not enough money to live on, they should raise the benefits level for everyone else. Nothing subverts democracy more than having our legislature filled with legislators who cannot understand the plight of the majority of people who are poorer than the legislators.

  45. khms says

    Lots of good and bad ideas above.

    I’ve been thinking about this (except for tying it to the US) for a while, but I’m far from having decided on The Right Solution™.

    So here are some of my current unfinished ideas.

    Voting. One one hand proportional voting is needed for proportional representation (accept no substitutes), so you need a party-based system. On the other hand, many don’t like the idea of the party deciding which people get voted in first. And if I prefer some parties to balance each other, I don’t like having to vote for only one.

    My current answer (which has the problem of being too expensive to count) is something like this: First, you can distribute points among parties. (However many you like, they get renormalized to percentages of one whole vote.) Second, you get to do something similar to people on party lists, independently for every party list. These first get normalized inside the party list, and then weighted by the percentage of your vote you gave to that party – the more you want that party to win, the larger your influence on their candidates. Those are then used in a slight variant of the Schulze Method adapted to fractional votes, with a presumed fall-back to the party-determined sequence for each voter, to determine the final sequence in which people from that party get elected. I don’t know if this needs a minimum percentage other than that caused by a finite number of seats. Make this a nation-wide thing.

    If you want regional representation too, to give voice to less-populated regions for example, have a second (preferably smaller and less powerful) chamber where Schulze-counted votes are for seats allocated for a fixed area (and unchangeable district boundaries – no gerrymandering!). No lists here, every area votes for their one seat.

    I’m unsure how to fix the justice problem – one one hand, you want judges independent so they’re free to follow only the law, but on the other hand, judges are human, too, and without some sort of check, are liable to implement their private vision of what the law should be. Maybe one could make judges’ career dependent on approval by some committee(s) staffed by other judges, maybe randomly selected. Or maybe something entirely different.

    Basic constitutional structure. I envision at least one more layer than usual today. On top is a short document that contains just the basic principles – we want democracy, human rights, no victim-less crimes, stuff like that, and explicitly no legal way to change it. Below that is a mostly traditional constitution that spells out how to implement these things, and is modifiable in one of the traditional ways for constitutional amendments. Below that are normal laws, and so on. The top contains the rule that every level dominates all the levels below it.

    I prefer the chief of the executive to be elected by the representatives. I like coalition governments. They keep politicians trained to compromise.

    I’d like some provision that whenever legislation is based on supposed facts, those facts have to represent the current scientific consensus, but am unsure how to word it to make it mostly immune against gaming the system.

    There’s more, but this is already long enough.

  46. dõki says

    Quoth Nihilismus #50

    A district is essentially a location-based special interest group, whose border is either arbitrarily-drawn or intentionally-drawn to benefit a particular party (i.e., gerrymandered). Even if not gerrymandered, it leaves a minority in the district without a true representative

    I like that you mentioned that, because I happen to live in a particularly conservative region of a country that adopts proportional representation. Without it, it would be very difficult for the minority of progressives scattered throughout this state to manage to elect any given representative. Needless to say, the conservative parties’ platforms usually include the establishment of electoral districts, where they could more easily entrench their candidates.

  47. says

    I want to have an opinion in here but I need some jargon and terms help. Can any of you point me at information? My primary area that I think should be addressed at a society level in any constitutional convention or re-write is the issue of people in positions of authority that are able to commit crimes, muck up economies, and generally hurt people and successfully avoid being held responsible for their actions. These would be people in politics, business or industry. For example the fact that individuals responsible for tanking our economy through clearly fraudulent activity (such as lying about the quality of investments…) have yet to be held responsible to a meaningful extent.

    Nihilismus @ 50 comes closest with,

    I would also like a forth branch of government that would be tasked with investigating waste, fraud, abuse, and criminality in the other branches of government, and with monitoring the elections with the same standards applied nationally. Some countries already have such a branch. The important thing is that, while the executive branch is normally in charge of law enforcement, an independent branch is needed to make sure the executive branch is holding itself to the same standards and that partisanship doesn’t interfere with the election process.

    I have to be honest. Most of the time when I think about what our leaders get away with I have to make efforts to suppress instincts that when extended to the population could lead to an American version of the French Revolution. There are days when I have to convince myself that I don’t really want to see blood due to the fact that it’s clear that the folks lying and worse have no fear of consequences whatsoever.

    Another one of the flaws of our system is that it’s so complex that most voters have to abdicate some of their decision making to political parties (insert the powerful and corrupt here). What should be accurate summaries of “the other side” ends up being emotionally twisted hyperbole way too often, which is as much responsible for stoking the current combativeness as anything else. Most of my family members who are paranoid about “liberals” and “the left” are simply ignorant, full stop. Simplistic mental characterizations are replacing reality more and more in political discourse and this psychological dimension of our modern politics should be addressed.

  48. steve84 says

    @khms
    Germany has a mix of both party lists and individual districts. People get two votes. One for the party and one for a candidate in their district. Seats are then distributed half/half (ideally). In that way party lists aren’t bad, because they offer a way for candidates from small parties who can’t get directly elected.

    Districts are drawn by an independent commission and there are rules that they shouldn’t cut apart cities if it can be avoided.

  49. eric says

    @50 – I think I disagree with most of what you say. The 2 senators/state thing is definitely unfair, given the different sizes of the states. However, the reason for the two houses is to balance different interests; short-term benefits (the House, on a 2-year election cycle) vs. longer-term benefits (the Senate, on a 6-year cycle) as well as local constituent interests (House, representing districts) versus broader-based constituent interests (Senate, representing a state). Without both, you’d likely get legislation that was really, really bad to some locale even if it was generally good – which is the ‘tyrrany of the majority.’ Or you’d get the equivalent of Stalin- and Mao -esque five year plans – legislation designed to bring us to some really good state in the long term, but with really horrendous short term consequences. Eliminate the Senate, and you get the vice versa – legislation focused on short-term gains with no thought at all to the long term consequences. Or legislation that benefits a majority of small localities but screws larger geographical areas. You need both long-term and short-term considerations in good legislation. Two chambers with long- and short- election cycles gives you that.

    There is also no particular reason to give the geographical location of a representative more importance over other attributes when the representative will vote on legislation that is national in scope

    Yes, there is – to prevent the nation from completely screwing over some local neighborhood for the ‘national good.’ D.C. is the poster child for why you need local representatives. Congress screws with their local laws all the time precisely because D.C. has no (voting) representative to object or fight it. Your “ombudsman” idea is basicaly what D.C. has now, and it absolutely sucks for them.

    Thus, if we want to truly reflect the will of the majority on every issue, we need to get rid of the veto power.

    Personally, I don’t want to truly reflect the will of the majority on every issue. You know what that led to? The three-fifths compromise. IMO it is good to have a check on legislation that requires a supermajority in cases where the national representative (which is what the President is) thinks a law is egregiously bad. Speaking of the President’s role, his veto is not just about giving weight to a specific party, its about balancing yet another interest. While the house thinks about what’s best locally and the senate thinks about what’s best for their state, the president thinks about what’s best for the entire national voting block. He functions as the country’s representative.

    One final thought for now: I would like for all the legislators to be limited, while in office, to an income equal to the benefits that current legislation provides for an indigent person. I’m not just talking about limiting legislative salary. I’m saying that the legislator can’t have access to any income, from any source, earned above the benefits level while in office.

    Dear God no. You want the best and brightest in charge, not some punitive system that drives them away. We should ideally be reforming the system to attract smarter and more honest people to politics. Making politics unattractive to them is going to make the whole thing far worse, not better.

    Secondly, while my liberal side completely agrees with you that more empathy for the indigent is needed in our political class, I don’t see how this is going to accomplish that. The wealthy reps will simply gut it out for the power, the exact same way they gut out the long work hours and comparatively low pay etc. that they do now.

    And finally, on an ironic note, your system got rid of one of the “empathy checks” that is already in place. Requiring reps to live in their districts is exactly the sort of mechanism that can bring them to empathize with their represented population. But you ditch the idea of districts altogether, which means no legislator in your system has any personal reason to give two s**ts about the quality of life of the people living locally around him (or her).

  50. himurastewie says

    I’d like to see a ‘no compete’ clause added to any elected official’s terms of use for their office. If you oversee or regulate a specific area of the private sector, you’re not allowed to accept a job from a private employer in that sector upon leaving elected office for a period of say, 5 or 10 years. It doesn’t prevent big business from working to install one of their own into high office, but they must survive the election process to get there. It does, however, prevent monied interests from dominating an elected official’s policy decisions simply because they know they can’t leave into a cushy job in a sector they helped to oversee as soon as they decided they’ve had enough ‘public service’.

  51. lpetrich says

    jd142 #47, here are some interesting sample ballots: Voting & Social Choice — Lab 1 People vote on which beers are their favorite, but their individual preferences are all very different. Each method discussed yields a different beer: first past the post (plurality voting), top-two runoff, sequential runoff (instant runoff voting), the Borda count, and Condorcet’s method.

    Let’s see how your example works.

    First past the post: hamburger

    Instant runoff voting (sequential runoff): everything but hamburger gets one top vote, so they all drop out, leaving hamburger

    Borda count: dim sum, tapas, hamburger and pizza tied

    Condorcet methods: dim sum beats all the others in dim sum vs. each one competitions

    Schulze, Copeland, Kemeny-Young, Ranked Pairs: dim sum, tapas, pizza, hamburgers

    Minimax (all three methods): dim sum, hamburgers, tapas, pizza

    Single transferable vote for 2 choices: hamburgers, dim sum

    Methods that start with top preferences all get hamburger, while those that start with all preferences get dim sum. That’s because the lunchgoers split the non-hamburger vote.

  52. Nihilismus says

    @55 eric

    @50 – I think I disagree with most of what you say. The 2 senators/state thing is definitely unfair, given the different sizes of the states. However, the reason for the two houses is to balance different interests; short-term benefits . . . as well as local constituent interests . . . versus broader-based constituent interests . . . .

    As long as both houses are decided through proportional representation, I have no problem with bicameralism. One could have longer terms than the other, but I would like some way for the new elections to be called early in the event that both houses reach gridlock or are otherwise dealing with issues weren’t in the national consciousness when the last elections occurred. As for geographic area, I would prefer one house to be composed of nationally-elected representatives. The other house, if we must have one, could be elected statewide, with each state having a number of representatives proportional to their share of the nation’s population, and with representatives being chosen through a proportional representation system like STV. I would not advocate for a district-based house.

    D.C. is the poster child for why you need local representatives. Congress screws with their local laws all the time precisely because D.C. has no (voting) representative to object or fight it. Your “ombudsman” idea is basicaly what D.C. has now, and it absolutely sucks for them.

    DC is a special case because the Constitution currently give Congress full power to decide all their laws, whereas the same Constitution reserves to the state governments the power to decide other local city laws. Having a voting representative would not change much if most of Congress still disagrees with the DC representative.

    But as I explained in my original post, even with nationally-elected representatives, the people of a geographic region equivalent to a modern district could pool their votes together to make sure they get at least one politician who will satisfy the voting threshold of an STV system. Just as a current district representative might have a hard time convincing the rest of Congress that their local constituents need something in particular, so too would a representative elected by a voluntary geographic coalition. If municipality interests in general are affected by proposed legislation, the various organizations that already exist to represent those municipalities can sponsor their own candidates. There’s no reason to give those organizations a leg up over other special interest organizations by arbitrarily grouping people into artificial borders to vote for representatives.

    There are still good reasons for keeping districts drawn to manage constituent services and to get citizens access to their voting representatives. Perhaps even the ombudsmen could have guaranteed floor time and could force votes on certain legislation, but I would still be against them having voting power themselves, because geographical interest does not trump various other interests that voters have when selecting their national representatives.

    Personally, I don’t want to truly reflect the will of the majority on every issue. You know what that led to? The three-fifths compromise.

    Actually, the framers representing the majority of the population at the time did NOT want to have to compromise. They would have preferred that slaves not be counted towards the slave state population for the purposes of proportioning House representatives because the slave states would not have allowed the slaves to vote. Had the majority had its way, the slave states would have had fewer House representatives and the Senate have been proportional to population. The reason for compromising was because the slave states would have walked away from a union, which for economic and foreign policy reasons was viewed as potentially disastrous by the non-slave states. It was an ultimately unsuccessful compromise, since we eventually had to have a civil war over the slave issue.

    If you aren’t reflecting the will of the majority, then you are giving a particular minority a privileged status. Whether it be based on how they are spread out geographically, or some other method, a particular minority would have a power that other (perhaps more deserving) minorities would not have.

    And there is no monolithic “majority”, but the majority changes on each issue, composed of different people each time. In a two-party system, people are essentially forced to vote for the party with whom they agree the most, even though there might be several issues on which they disagree with that party. The party which gains a majority of seats in the legislature then will try to enact all of its policies, despite the fact that some of them don’t have the support of the majority of people.

    A better system would be one where voters could vote for a much more closely-aligned party and expect them to win a proportionate amount of seats, and where new coalitions of legislators will have to form for each issue, greatly increasing the likelihood that the final vote represents the people.

    IMO it is good to have a check on legislation that requires a supermajority in cases where the national representative (which is what the President is) thinks a law is egregiously bad. Speaking of the President’s role, his veto is not just about giving weight to a specific party, its about balancing yet another interest. While the house thinks about what’s best locally and the senate thinks about what’s best for their state, the president thinks about what’s best for the entire national voting block. He functions as the country’s representative.

    Why should one person represent the whole national interest? I would much rather have the national interest represented by a proportionately-elected body, composed of diverse representatives deliberating with each other. What makes the President any better at determining whether a law is egregiously bad than the body that voted on it after debate? In reality, the President would choose to veto or not veto based on his own partisan interest, which would give his party disproportionate influence.

    The better check on egregiously bad legislation is having explicit rights written into the Constitution, super majority requirements for amending said rights, and a court system that can invalidate legislation and executive actions that conflict with those rights.

    You want the best and brightest in charge, not some punitive system that drives them away. We should ideally be reforming the system to attract smarter and more honest people to politics. Making politics unattractive to them is going to make the whole thing far worse, not better.

    Which is why I would not advocate scrapping Congressional salaries altogether – just limit it to indigent benefit levels. Smart people already serve in public interest jobs, motivated by the common good. And while there may still be some people who would do it for glory and power, at least the power cannot be used to allow them to give themselves lavish lifestyles while in office by voting based on what perks lobbyists can offer or what will affect their own private businesses and portfolios. Such power-hungry people would be deterred, while smart and idealistic people would still participate.

    Not much can be done about the money needed to run a campaign and get the candidate noticed, and not much can be done by poor people to get their voices heard among others offering campaign money. Lobbyists will still have the ear of representatives while in office, but at least by requiring the representatives to live on indignant benefit levels, corporate lobbyists will have less influence and poor people without lobbying money can still have their interests noticed.

    Requiring reps to live in their districts is exactly the sort of mechanism that can bring them to empathize with their represented population. But you ditch the idea of districts altogether, which means no legislator in your system has any personal reason to give two s**ts about the quality of life of the people living locally around him (or her).

    A representative can empathize with whomever his or her constituents are, regardless of whether they are grouped into a district or not. There are some disadvantaged minorities who are so spread out as to not have a majority in ANY district, and yet there are enough of them to get some representatives in an STV system. Such representatives would indeed “empathize with their represented population” – the represented population of the geographically-dispersed minority.

    Again, there is no reason to force representatives to represent small, contiguous land-based interest groups rather than interest groups united on other policy issues. A group of people from the same region, who otherwise disagree on a whole host of other issues, could voluntarily form an interest group devoted solely to local issues, sponsor a candidate, and all vote for that candidate so that he or she might get enough threshold votes to make it to Congress. Likewise, a dispersed minority could form their own single-issue interest group, sponsor a candidate, and vote for that candidate so that he or she might meet the threshold. Why should people motivated by local geographical interests have an easier time them people united by other interests?

  53. lpetrich says

    I agree with most of the reform ideas that people have suggested here, but it must be pointed out that state-by-state proportional representation in the House does not violate the Constitution.

    I’ve collected various measurements of functionality, like the Economist magazine’s Democracy Index and the Fund for Peace’s Failed States Index. I’ve also collected government systems and lower-house election methods. Comparing them across nations, the highest-quality democracies are mostly parliamentary ones, and many of those have proportional representation or semi-proportional systems. Of the higher-scoring nations, first past the post mainly persists in the US, the UK, and Canada.

  54. Kimpatsu says

    I really wouldn’t cite Japan as an example if I were you. Its lawmakers and politicians regularly use the US-imposed Western-style constitution to justify racism and xenophobia. They play a clever trick in which the world for “people” (as in “we the people”) was translated as “minzoku”, but “minzoku” is in tern defined as the Japanese RACE, so if you are the wrong skin colour, no legal rights or protections for you. Less than two years ago, a prosecutor in Kyushu quit his job following an attack of conscience and blew the whistle: according to the Japanese government’s interpretation of the constitution, “foreigners have no rights”. And all of this is justified by pointing to the American template for the Japanese constitution. After all, if it’s good enough for the Americans…
    Just thought you’d like to know.

  55. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Off the top of my head. Let’s consider some baby steps, some constitutional amendments. Furthermore, I think that all of my amendments except the ninth are merely restoring the original and well understood intent and plain meaning of several already existing US amendments. (Ex: The harm principle amendment is basically the US 9th amendment.) The only really novel amendment is the election amendment, and even I think that we should probably go further. However, I’m too ignorant on elections and the relevant game theory to do anything but wild mass guessing.

    Harm principle amendment: Let us remind the government of the goal of limited government doctrine. And let us enforce this onto the government.
    “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.” “The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others.” A low bar of “rational basis” shall be the standard of review for laws aimed at preventing negative external harms, such as murder, theft, pollution controls, etc. A higher standard of review shall be used for laws aimed at promoting positive externalities, such as incentivized vaccations.
    “In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” The standard of review for laws aimed at preventing self-harm or promoting self-benefits shall be the highest standard of review. Furthermore, an individual may sign a consent form to gain legal access to any drug, medicine, chemical, etc., which has been deemed too harmful by law, and only being declared legally insane abridges this right. (TODO, not far enough? TODO better phrasing?)
    This shall apply against the federal government and the states.

    Separation of church and state redux amendment: Religious and spiritual harm and religious and spiritual benefits shall not constitute a “negative harm” nor a “positive externality” for the purposes of the harm principle amendment. Such justifications shall be illegal justifications for laws under the harm principle amendment, “[…] thus building a wall of separation between church and State.” This shall apply against the federal government and the states.

    Free speech redux amendment: The following harms shall not constitute a legitimate state interest for the purposes of abriding the freedom of speech. The following harms shall not constitute a legitimate interest in any civil suit.
    Mere blasphemy. Mere depression and any resulting voluntary actions of the depressed person. Mere embarrassment or damage to reputation (defamation laws withstanding). Mere hatred and incitement to hatred. Mere obscenity. Mere offense. Mere outrage.
    For all criminal and civil defamation cases, truth is an absolute defense, and a good faith and reasonable regard for the truth is an absolute defense.
    Sometimes speech can cause other legitimate harm in the long term. For example, certain speech may promote a “rape culture” which makes rape more common. All laws based on such arguments are illegal, except laws which fulfill the following criteria: 1- The abridged speech must be reasonably expected to cause the legitimate harm. 2- The legitimate harm must be specific. It must be a specific thing at a specific point in time. Example: Being trampled when someone yells fire in a crowded threatrehouse is a specific harm at a specific point in time. The increased rate of rape ala “rape culture” arguments is too indistict to fulfill this criterion. 3- The speaker is malicious and knows the speech is materially false, or the speaker is malicious and being purposefully misleading.
    This shall apply against the federal government and the states.

    Search and seizure redux amendment: Because people missed the memo last time, including several US Supreme Courts, let us rectify that. This amendment is not to be interpreted as a balancing act between the inconvenience of private parties from being searched and seized against the legitimate interests of the government. Instead, the primary focus is a balancing act between limiting government power in the interests of preventing tyranny against the legitimate interests of the government.
    To that end, we again state that the government must have probable cause in order to perform a search or seizure. By definition, probable cause must be specific to the particular person or place to be searched or seized. By definition, probable cause must include the specifics of what is expected to be found, and thus disallowing fishing expeditions.
    Warrants shall be obtained before the search or seizure. However, in legitimate cases where it would be extremely burdensome, or there is a good faith and reasonable expectation that evidence may be lost or tampered with before a warrant can be obtained, then the search or seizure may be performed without a warrant. However again, even in such cases, a warrant must be obtained after the fact.
    Border exceptions shall be allowed at the discretion of the congress. However, any border exceptions shall apply only to the border itself, and not to any travel, people, or places inside of the border.
    Exceptions shall be allowed at the discretion of the congress or the states in cases of risk to large infrastructure or large gatherings of people. However, any such exceptions shall be narrowly tailored to the real world risks. This is intended for airports and potentially subways. This does not include mere highways. (TODO ?)
    This shall apply against the federal government and the states.

    Exclusionary rule amendment: Because the only sufficient deterrence against government misuse of search and seizure power is the exclusionary rule, the exclusionary rule is now enforced by constitutional amendment. This shall apply against the federal government and the states.

    Selective removal of qualified and absolute immunity amendment: If any agent of the federal government or the states acts in a grossly inappropriate manner in matters of law enforcment, then that agent shall be vulnerable to civil suits as an ordinary citizen. (TODO, maybe need to make this stronger?)

    House election amendment: The house of representatives of the federal congress shall be elected in a single national election modeled on the election rules of the Israeli Knesset. Specifically: Everyone gets one vote for a registered party. Part of the registration process of a party is to register and publish an ordered list of representatives of that party. The votes are pooled nationally, and every party receives a number of seats in the house proportional to the number of votes for that party, where the seats are filled in the order of the list of representatives for each party. (TODO needs to be fleshed out. The purpose of the election amendment is to break political parties. For a detailed exploration of what is wrong with strong political parties, look no further than George Washington’s farewell address.)

  56. Scott F says

    1. Eliminate gerrymandering by giving an explicit limit to the ratio between the area and perimeter of a congressional district. Make redistricting a Federal activity, to be performed in a random fashion by computer, within 10 days of the approval of the Census numbers.
    2. Come time for redistricting, identify the population of the least populous state as the size of every congressional district. That way, every representative would represent the same number of people. That means that the number of Representatives would vary (likely increase) from decade to decade, but that would be preferable to Wyoming (for example) having a much larger percentage of Representatives than their population would warrant.
    3. Establish a Ranked Voting method for all elected offices. A combination of ranked voting and uniform districts would put an end to the two party system. It would make 3rd, or even 4th party candidates completely viable.
    4. Eliminate voting for judges, making all judgeships appointed positions, with terms of office varying, depending on the rank of the court.
    5. Make explicit that, as entities created by law, Corporations are not people, and do not have the Rights reserved to Citizens. Explicitly withhold *all* Rights from Corporations, except for those explicitly granted by law (such as contract rights and certain property rights).
    6. Eliminate the Electoral College, providing for the direct, popular vote of the President and Vice President.
    7. Eliminate the Debt Limit.
    8. Make explicit that elected officials and government employees are not exempt from any, otherwise applicable laws, with the possible exception of certain laws wrt emergency responders in the line of duty. Any laws which exempt elected officials or government employees are unconstitutional.
    9. Public speech is, by definition “public”. As such, individuals have a right to know who is speaking.
    10. Corporations are forbidden from making political contributions, or political donations, or from contributing in any manner to any political race (including 3rd party “issue” ads), with the exception of non-profit “Political Corporations” whose sole purpose is to allow Citizens to pool their political donations. All donations to such Political Corporations are public speech, and therefore public record.

  57. Scott F says

    11. [Something from Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, and as seen in Israel.] Every Citizen earns the right to vote by donating no less than one year of personal service to the Country, either through the military, or through a government sponsored or sanctioned service organization. Because of the separation of Church and State, Religious service or service to a religious organization does not qualify, and the Government may not qualify a Religious organization as a sanctioned service organization. Attending college is not a substitute for service. A Citizen may not be denied the right to serve their minimum term of service. “Personal” service is required, to avoid people paying, or paying others to “serve” their time by proxy. When serving, a Citizen earns the same wage and benefits as for a corresponding position in military or federal civil service. (In part, this helps provide for a common “core” of shared experience, with the intent of reducing barriers between groups of people. It would also help provide for the equivalent of a modern CCC, providing the government a workforce to implement civic investments in infrastructure, and for the common good. For example, care for the elderly, child care, construction or maintenance of civic infrastructure, etc.)

  58. M'thew says

    Pierce R. Butler, #28:

    Let’s get our schools into excellent condition, run them that way for at least two generations, and then have a nice rewrite.

    Sounds to me like chicken and egg.

  59. JasonTD says

    thinkfree83 @2

    I’d include a bill of social rights for things like a right to healthcare, a right to education, and a right to dignified employment with a living wage.

    right to education: Absolutely. Education is key for ‘success’ in life, pretty much no matter how you define success, and also to have a population informed enough to make good decisions about the direction of government. Many state constitutions include this already. There is still the question of what would constitute an adequate education under such a right, though.

    right to healthcare: I can agree with this as a basic concept, but again, there is still the question of how much healthcare would someone be entitled to? Health care is always going to have a cost that someone needs to pay. Decisions will always need to be made on how to allocate limited resources.

    right to “dignified employment with a living wage”: Um, no. The government should not be in the position of guaranteeing people a job. One, there has to be some incentive to provide your own means of making a living. Two, there has to be actual demand for a person’s labor at that ‘living wage’. Government policy can certainly have an impact on the rate of unemployment and on the wages paid for unskilled labor (through the minimum wage, for example) and on the ability of people to endure periods of unemployement through benefits, but those are things that should be debated through ordinary legislation, not through a constitutional guarantee.

  60. dõki says

    quoth Scott F #63

    Every Citizen earns the right to vote by donating no less than one year of personal service to the Country

    I estimate it would take around 3 seconds after the passing of this amendment for some Republican strategist to figure a way to make sure no minorities would ever “earn” the right to vote in Red States.

    quoth JasonTD #65

    right to “dignified employment with a living wage”: Um, no.

    It’s been considered a human right for quite a while, though. (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 23)

  61. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    [UN’s] Universal Declaration of Human Rights

    Do note that it contains a few crocks of shit. I recall several passages that unduly limit freedom of speech. Another bit that says the parents have the right to keep their kids ignorant and indoctrinated. Another bit that’s one of the usual stock-phrases that the religious right uses to attack homosexuality. Probably a few other things that I’ve forgotten about. So, yea.

  62. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Scott F
    To avoid the problems of voter discrimination, how about the following? I was just throwing it around in my head. What about something like compulsory service and don’t tie it to voting at all? Just make it criminal to avoid the service if the facilities or monitors are available and you refuse to show up, like truancy or something. Offhand, that might work.

Leave a Reply