In A True Democracy, The Popular Majority Must Count
When Donald J. Trump is sworn in as President on January 20, 2017, he will join George W. Bush as the second president in this century to lose the popular vote. At current count, voters cast nearly 2.7 million more votes for Hillary Clinton than for the president-elect, beating him by about two percent of the national total.
In a real sense, Trump will be a minority president. The same may be said of the incoming Senate leadership. When the 115th Senate is sworn in on January 3, 2017, its 52 Republican Senators will form the majority — but those Republicans polled 10 million fewer votes than their Democratic counterparts. In the House of Representatives, although Republicans polled five percent more overall than their Democratic counterparts, they gained a disproportionate 47 additional seats due to gerrymandering.
Soon after taking office, President-elect Trump has promised to nominate a right-of-center Supreme Court Justice. The Senate will likely confirm his nominee, along with Trump’s rightward-leaning cabinet choices and future nominees for the Federal bench.
When that happens, a large but nevertheless minority party will gain control over every branch of the federal government.
Moreover, this control could become a self-reinforcing stranglehold. In 2013, the conservative Supreme Court majority vitiated the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County vs Holder; in the wake of that decision, 14 states enacted voter suppression laws in 2016 alone. Indeed, on the day before this year’s election, the North Carolina Republican Party issued a press release boasting that “African American early voting is down 8.5 percent from 2012.”
It is sometimes said that ‘blue’ voters, concentrated in coastal cities, are living in a bubble. No, they are living under minority rule. Viewed from a bird’s eye distance, the map of the US does appear largely red. But on the ground many liberal positions enjoy broad popular support. Sometimes the map doesn’t reflect the territory.
Across a range of critical issues, minority rule confronts the reality of majority opinion. According to the non-partisan Pew Research Center, a clear majority of Americans supports legal abortion. Two thirds believe climate scientists should play a major role in environmental policy decisions. Nearly nine out of ten Americans favor expanding renewable energy. More than 60 percent oppose a wall on the Mexican border, while 55 percent support gay marriage. Nearly three quarters favor raising the federal minimum wage. The Gallup poll found that 58 percent support a federally funded healthcare system that provides insurance for all. A majority favor stricter gun controls.
Somehow the rights of the majority must be restored, but progress is very slow. Although voter suppression measures have been overturned by some courts, many restrictive laws stand. A few states — including California, Washington, and Arizona — have promised to create independent districting commissions to draw fair Congressional districts, free of gerrymandering, but those efforts face significant opposition.
But quietly gaining bipartisan support is a reform to bind the Electoral College to the popular vote. A growing movement called “National Popular Vote” is designed to enable states that collectively control 270 electoral votes to cast those crucial ballots for the winner of the nationwide presidential ballot. So far, 11 states including California and New York have signed on — which means 160 electoral votes are already committed, well over half of the 270 votes needed for the compact to come into force. No constitutional amendment is required for the compact to be effective.
Endorsing the National Popular Vote would be a critical first step toward reshaping our electoral system. Reform from the top will encourage future Presidents, all elected by a true majority, to address the other distortions to our democracy, including gerrymandering, voter suppression laws, and the unfettered flow of money into politics. So reforming the Electoral College is the keystone of broader democratic change.
Such democratic improvements have a long history in our country. When George Washington was elected, in some states many citizens – including free blacks, women, the poor, Catholics and Jews – were excluded from the ballot. Yet over the years, through hard fought battles and even a civil war, all these Americans won their right to vote. We can take confidence from this difficult history, knowing that electoral reform, though slow and difficult, has proven inexorable.
The fight for equal enfranchisement must continue. Without it, our government’s mandate at home and our legitimacy abroad grow weaker.
No one should mourn the passing of the Electoral College when it finally goes by the wayside. Politicians from both parties – a group that appears to include President-elect Trump, at least according to his own previous tweets – have already endorsed a direct popular ballot. For all Americans who value democracy, whether they support Donald Trump or are joining protests, the unifying call to action is to restore the irreducible essence of democracy: that the vote of each citizen counts.
Marc Feigen is CEO of Feigen Advisors, a CEO and board advisory firm.
IMAGE: Voters wait in line at the San Diego County Registrar of Voters during the U.S. presidential election in San Diego, CA, November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker