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Populist #16

by Franklin Friday, Nov. 18, 2005 at 5:49 PM

On Defects in our System of Elections

Read Previous Papers here

In the last few numbers of this discussion, I have attempted to begin a close examination of some of the many deficiencies of our current system of federal government, with a many of these papers focused on showing the true nature of our central government; being of, for, and by the few, rather than the People. It is a long-established maxim that the few must be watched, checked, and often resisted. Tyranny has always shown a tendency to be in close amity with those individuals in power. Human history has also shown us that if we drive this power from kings, it quickly jumps to dictators, to military leaders, to popular icons, to presidents, and to senators and legislators.

When power is kept in the hands of the few, not acting to limit them is just one small step away from giving absolute power to one person; and nearly as dangerous. In a sufficiently numerous representation, the abuse of power is a known grievance, and has a much lesser inclination and potential. Among the few, such an abuse of power is easier to achieve, and is often operated to the personal aggrandizement of those who abuse it.

Once power is transferred from the many to the few, all subsequent changes are extremely difficult. In our situation, the central government, being beneficial but to the few in power, has been extremely skilled and adept in preventing any measure which could lead to a change in their level of power; and we know that nothing can truly produce such a change but great pressure and perseverance by the People.

It is the true principle of free government to disseminate law-making power among the People, and to modify the form of government so as to draw people of every class of society into the legislature. We must now, therefore, on every foundation, fix our government on proper principles. I can recognize just one rational method of proceeding relative to this task; and that is to continue to examine it with freedom and honesty.

In free governments, the forms of elections are crucial; and it is an essential part of our social compact as a people and a nation to determine when, by whom, and to whom the vote is to be given. Whenever it is found that the regulation of elections has not been carefully and specifically fixed constitutionally, we constantly see legislatures and parties working to modify the form, preventing competition, and essentially changing the spirit of the government in order to increase or stabilize their own power, or simply correlate with their own partisan motives.

At this time, I find it imperative to ask; in choosing our elected public servants, must the choice be by a plurality of votes, or a majority?

I see nothing in the Constitution which determines whether the choice should be solely by a plurality or a majority of votes. This, in my mind, is by far the most important question in the business of elections. When we say a representative, a senator, or a president is to be chosen by the people, it seems to logically imply that this person will be chosen by a majority of them. But, in the federal government, elections have almost never occurred in this manner.

In examining our federal structure, when I previously observed that our elections are not set on proper principles, I had thought of a problem of much more probable and extensive evils; the exclusions of properly structured district elections, and the choice by majority. It is with this, that I am reminded of the following words of experience and wisdom:

"Where the law of the majority ceases to be acknowledged, there government ends; the law of the strongest takes its place, and life and property are his who can take them."

"The genius of our ruling class is that it has kept a majority of the people from ever questioning the inequity of a system where most people drudge along, paying heavy taxes for which they get nothing in return."


It is easy to see that there is an essential difference between elections by pluralities and by majorities; between choosing a person in a small or limited district, and choosing a number of people famous to the people of a large state. And while we are almost ensured of proper and unbiased elections by majorities in such districts, we have no absolutely no security against fraud, conspiracy, influence, and corruption in states or large districts when electing by pluralities.

When a choice is made by a plurality of votes, it is most often made by a very small and even inconsiderable portion of the people, who show up and give their votes. Alternatively, when the choice is made by majority, the winner is never supported by so few as half of the people. In our current system, we must, therefore, accept the person who simply received the most votes, whether they have three-fourths of the vote, one quarter, or just one tenth. An evil such as this could never have happened in a place where all the voters meet in one location, and consider no person as elected unless they have a majority support of all the voters.

Under a candid and logical examination, it is clear that those who receive votes from just a small portion of the whole cannot truly have the support and confidence of the People. We must then question how it can be possible for our system of government to create what can be considered a government of, by, and for the People!

As stated previously, but directly related to correcting this glaring defect in our federal system, I see no way to fix elections on a proper footing, and to make a fair, equal, and secure federal representation, except by increasing the number of representatives in the federal legislature; so as to have one representative for each district in which the people will have the ability to choose by a true majority.

Perhaps this could be made practicable, and we could accomplish this fairly easily; by first of all ensuring that our districts are of a proper and moderate size; possibly one representative for every twenty-thousand citizens. By establishing such small-district elections, we exclude none of the nation's best people from being elected; and we fix what is, in my mind, much more important than simply great talent; I mean a close resemblance between the representative and their constituents; and being elected by a majority, the representatives are sure to be the choice of more than half of the People, and thus, more inherently responsible to the People, and cautious in action.

By increasing our representation in such a manner, we not only make it more democratic, but we also make it more secure, strengthen the confidence of the People in it, and ensure a greater propensity that the representatives will act in the interest of the People. This will also enable the People to essentially change, for the better, the principles and forms of elections.

We must also ensure that access to the ballots is simple, and voting can be done without considerable effort by the People; possibly by increasing the time to cast votes from one day on a Tuesday, to a period of five days, from Tuesday through Saturday; keeping the ballot secret until a majority choice is made; and if no one receives a majority, the voters will then have the opportunity to examine the characters of those in the forefront, and proceed to repeat their vote at a future date, until one person shall have that majority. Although these concepts may be considered radical, I do feel that they might possibly be our best guardian for a true representation, and thus, a bulwark for freedom; but, this is best left for another time, and I do intend to undertake a further examination of this and other possible solutions in future papers.

Before leaving here to begin my next paper, which I will present to you on December 1, 2005, I urge you to recognize the historical right of the People to alter our form of government as we see fit; and offer you as a reminder, the words of Thomas Jefferson,

"We may consider each generation as a distinct nation, with a right, by the will of its majority, to bind themselves, but none to bind the succeeding generation, more than the inhabitants of another country."


In the spirit of liberty and prosperity,


Franklin

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