As a libertarian, I don’t bow my head in reverence, as so many do, at the very mention of “democracy.” Much more important than the concept of democracy is the concept of minority and individual rights, which should not be suppressed, even if ninety-nine percent of voters agree they should be.
(By the way, please don’t write any vapid comments about our having a “republic” rather than a “democracy.” “Republic” is Latin for “rule by the people,” and “democracy” is Greek for “rule by the people.” You will occasionally have some earnest conservative try to explain to you that we live in a “republic”, not a “democracy,” because we choose representatives, rather than vote on every conceivable law–a system that exists nowhere except perhaps some Cantons in Switzerland.)
One of the biggest problems I have with democracy is the “winner take all” concept. Thus, in a presidential election, the candidate getting fifty-one percent of the electoral vote wins it all, while the candidate getting forty-nine percent gets nothing. In effect, those who voted for the slight loser get no representation.
The Constitution, as it was originally written, actually addressed this issue. In the original Constitution, the candidate getting the most electoral votes became President, while the candidate getting the second most became Vice-President. In this system, those favoring the second-place finisher at least got some small measure of representation. The Vice-President, rather than being just a member of the winner’s team, was usually the President’s rival. In his Vice Presidential role, that rival could, quite possibly, sway public opinion and steer an all-powerful president away from rash, power-drunk activities.
Suppose, for example, that G. W. Bush had won the 2000 election, but Al Gore got the “consolation” prize of the Vice Presidency. Would Bush have had such an easy time propagandizing the country into a pointless, bloody war of aggression on the far side of the globe, if he had to contend with his most vociferous rival constantly pointing out the flaws in his proposals?
Suppose John Kerry had become Vice President in 2004. Would a stronger movement to impeach Bush have arisen over the high crimes and misdemeanors of illegal wiretaps, torture of prisoners, and deliberately misleading a country into a disastrous war?
There is something terribly wrong with a system in which fifty-one percent of those who bother to vote get representation, while forty-nine get exactly nothing. Of course, usually only fifty to sixty percent of eligible voters actually bother to vote, which means that twenty-five to thirty percent of registered voters actually determine the winner. And remember also that a large percentage of adults don’t even bother to register. So in reality, probably twenty to twenty-five percent of adults determine who gets represented, and who doesn’t.
A concept that deserves consideration is giving some amount of representation to voters who side with the minority. Instead of having just one representative in a district (for example), we could increase the number to three, with the top three vote-getters being the representatives.
This would encourage new, dynamic political parties, rather than just the tired, safe, stultifyingly boring Republicans and Democrats. Maybe some of those adults who don’t bother to register would be motivated by being able to vote for someone they actually admire, rather than the fellow who can best scheme a way to triangulate to fifty percent.
Maybe instead of having to vote for the lesser of two evils, you would actually be able to vote for someone who actually mirrors your views. Leftists, for example, instead of having to vote for a Democrat, could actually vote for a Green Party representative, and have a chance of actually getting something. The same would go for libertarians and constitutionalists.
As the system is now set up, if you are a Democrat living in some districts in Utah, you may as well not vote at all. The same holds for Republicans living in some districts near San Francisco.
But, if there were legitimate, real power-sharing, more people would actually be motivated to vote, and vote their conscience.
Next: Why Have Just One Executive?