Toward Better Representational Systems
The Current System
There are three branches in the United States Federal Government. The Legislative Branch is responsible for composing and maintaining the laws of the land, the Executive Branch is responsible for ensuring the laws are followed, and the Judicial Branch is responsible for interpreting and applying the law. All three branches are must perserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.
In the Federal Legislature, the House of Representatives is charged with representing the will of the People and the Senate with representing the will of the States. In practical terms, this responsibility is implemented with differing allocations and selection methods for representatives versus senators.
In the House, each state is alotted a number of representatives relatively proportional to it's population determined by a per decade census. The total number of representatives in the House is currently fixed at 435 and each state is given at least one representative. Representatives are re-elected every two years, far more often than the senators, so that they are more in touch with the contemporary views of the People. Selecting these representatives is up to each individual state. In many cases, the state is divided into nearly equally populated districts that are each given a single vote. The people in each district vote to determine how the district as a whole should vote, generally using a First Past the Post voting system. Furthermore, ballot access is typically limited to only a small number of political parties.
In contrast, each state is alotted exactly two senators who are re-elected every six years. The method of selecting these senators has been left to the individual state. Some appoint their senators through a vote from their state legislative body while others elect their senators through a popular vote. Again, ballot access is typically limited to the main political parties.
The President stands as the top-most authority in the Executive Branch, commanding the military, police, intelligence agencies, diplomats, postal workers, and a host of other federal agencies. The President and Vice-President are elected as a team by the Electoral College in a First Past the Post vote. After which they appoint the rest of the administration.
The Electoral College is group of electors about equal to the number of representatives (435) plus the number of senators (100). Each state is alotted a number of electors relatively proportional to it's population and selecting these electors is left up to each individual state. Typically, cadidates are nominated by each political party then selected using a popular vote First Past the Post election. In 48 states, the winning party gets all of the elector slots.
The Judicial Branch is a hierarchy of 94 district courts, 13 courts of appeals, and the Supreme Court at the top. The Supreme Court hears cases to determine not whether someone is guilty of breaking a law, but whether the law is in line with the Constitution. The judges of these courts are appointed by the Executive Branch.
In 2010, the Citizens United v. FEC ruled that corporations corporations are people and money is speech. This opened the flood gates to corporate campaign contributions and lobbying causing significant economic inequality.
First Past the Post Voting System
The First Past the Post voting system is tearing our country apart. A study of the 2012 French election against different voting systems showed that First Past the Post rewarded polarizing candidates.Baujard, Antoinette, et al.
Who's favored by evaluative voting? An experiment conducted during the 2012 French presidential election.Electoral Studies 34 (2014): 131-145.
But its not enough to just look at the 2012 French elections. Every year, political discussions in the United States get more bitter, resentful, hateful, and aggressive. According to a study from 1994 to 2014 by the Pew Research Center, candidates are elected further toward the extremes of their party every election.
And if that's not enough, xkcd did a full study throughout all of the United State's history. You'll notice that in 1932, a majority of the candidates were center left or center right whereas now most are far left or far right. There are political upheavals that disrupt this trend before 1932, but it always starts over.
Tactical Voting and the Spoiler Effect
In First Past the Post, you end up voting against the candidates you don't want instead of for the candidates you want. In the first election, there is no voting history, so everyone votes for the candidate that best represents them and the election is fair. But in subsequent elections, voters are driven away from the unsuccessful candidates that best represent them and toward more successful candidates that don't represent them as well. Over time, the system decays into just two parties.
Echo-Chambers and Filter Bubbles
Every online tool has to filter information in some way. Users have yet to really be able to control how that information gets filtered. The result is that these tools try to show us what it thinks we want to see by what we click on first. This means that we are no longer challenged by opposing points of view and many of us are more cut off from the world than before.
The apportionment of electors to the states empowers the people in some states while inhibiting those of others. States like Texas, California, Florida, and New York have about 700,000 people per elector whereas Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska have only 200,000 people per elector. This means that people in Wyoming, Vermont and Alaska have 3.5 times the voting power as people in Texas, California, Florida, and New York.
This ultimately makes it possible to win the presidential election earning half of the electors while having 22% of the popular vote.
Structure of Legislative Branch and Representative Apportionment
The Senate is supposed to represent the Will of the States and the House of Representatives is supposed to represent the Will of the People. However, neither really serve those functions. It would be more accurate to say that they both represent the will of the majority in each state. The difference is that the Senate gives equal voting power between states while the House weights a state's voting power by its population.
The primary assumption behind this structure is that people in the same geography will always have the same wants and desires and face the same problems and people in different geographies will always have different wants and desires and face different problems. Realistically, this assumption is faulty.
There are many factors that could cause two people to share wants, desires, and problems. They could belong to the same economic class or race, live or grow up in the same area, belong the same philosophy or religion, work the same job, share the same sexuality, have similar genetics, talk with eachother online, or share some other feature not in this list. Further, they could each have friends or loved ones that share one or more of these features. These same factors could also make them different. So the assumption that geography is the sole determiner for wants, desires, and problems is a faulty one.
Even if geography where a sole determiner of these things, an enormously inequal share of the voting power pie is given out to an extremely small percentage of the population. The same problem seen in the Electoral College is also is reflected in the House of Representatives where it is possible to elect a controlling interest with 25% of the popular vote. The Senate, on the other hand, is just absurd, requiring only 9% of the popular vote for a controlling interest.
The way districts are drawn has a significant effect on the outcome of the presidential election and the elections for the House of Representatives. Furthermore, these districts are drawn by the currently elected party in order to extract the most benefit.
Many of these problematic systems are enshrined in the Constitution which means that making any changes would require a Constitutional Convention. However, it is getting clearer every year that changes must be made as the United States falls further and further in international rankings. I propose the following adjustments to get us back on track.
Corporations are not People
There are already several movements to get a constitutional amendment to reverse the decision of Citizens United. Some are listed below.
The Campaign Voucher program allocates some public funds for campaign contributions. Each person is sent a certain amount as a voucher which they can donate to campaigns as they see fit. Making this program exclusive, meaning the only way to donate to a campaign, would solve many of the inequality problems regarding campaign contributions.
For an example of a non-exclusive Campaign Voucher Program in action, see Seattle's Democracy Voucher Program.
The Approval vote ballot looks the same as a ballot for First Past the Post. However, instead of voting for only one candidate people can mark as many candidates as they like. The votes are all added together and the candidate with the most votes wins. This minute change makes all of the difference.
The study of the 2012 French election found that the Approval voting system rewards unifying candidates. This means that discussing politics will no longer be a cultural faux pas. The hate and frustration associated with politics will dwindle and we can get back to being reasonable.
Also, it is impossible to vote tactically. There are no forces pushing people to vote against their own best interests. This means that we can have choice at the voting booth once again.
Why not Instant Runoff?
A more commonly expressed alternative is Instant Runoff. While Instant Runoff does solve the Spoiler Effect, it ultimately fails to eliminate tactical voting and still decays into a two party system.
Why not Range Voting?
Another expressed alternative is Ranged vote. Approval voting is a type of Ranged vote system where the range is either 0 or 1. The main problem with the Ranged vote is that it fails to eliminate tactical voting. In order to increase their changes of their candidate getting elected people will tend toward the extremes of the range. Eventually, the Ranged vote ultimately collapses into an Approval voting system so the damage is minimized, but why deal with that in the first place?
National Popular Vote
The hierarchical election systems were designed at a time when communication with different districts meant riding on horseback for a month. It made sense to send a single representative who would vote for you instead of expecting them to remember the number of people who voted for each candidate. However, in the modern age, communication is instantaneous and these institutions only serve to increase representative inequality among the population. It is necessary to replace all of these hierarchical systems with flat popular votes.
Idealogical Representation and Balance
I would like to introduce a few alternative legislative systems that share several basic tenets.
The first is that we want to avoid both tyranny of the majority and tyranny of the minority. The basic structure that I will lay out is designed to allow both the majority and minority to check the other and balance eachother out.
The second is that state boundaries have no place in the Federal Government. The process of determining legislation should not be a battle between arbitrary geographical boundaries. A geographical partitioning only serves to empower some while disenfranchising others.
This is where Idealogical Representation comes in. Instead of representatives being allocated to states, they are allocated to idealogies and state boundaries no longer play a role. During the election, the ballots are handled as usual. People would vote in an Approval voting system and we would tally up all of the votes in a flat vote across the nation for all candidates.
First, the candidate with the most votes is selected and given a seat. Then, the people who voted for that candidate are removed the the voting pool because they now have a representative. Then, the votes in the voting pool are re-tallied and the next majority winner is selected. This proceeds until a specified number of candidates have been chosen.
Functionally, this gives the majority one representative, the next biggest minority one representative, the next biggest one representative and so on until all of the seats are filled. The more available seats there are, the more minorities are given representation and the more variety there is in that representation.
There are many possible ways to modify this election method. Instead of removing the voters from the pool entirely, multiply their vote by a fraction to reduce their voting power. Or once elected, weight representative voting power by the number of people that support them. Or, instead of selecting just one, use Proportional Representation.
Instead of a two-house structure, just have a single legislative branch that uses Proportional Idealogical Representation. This would balance the voting power of all idealogical groups by the number of people in each group. A group of minorities could over-rule the majority by forming a coalition.
Minority and Majority House
The Minority House will use a flat Idealogical Representation, giving power of that house to the minority idealogies. The Majority House will run a national Approval Vote and just select all of its candidates from the top of the list giving power of that house to the majority. In this system, no coalition of minorities could over-rule the majority. Instead, both the minorities and majority would have to agree on every law.
Determining Law Jurisdiction
The concept of a state is not a useless one. Today, states represent a structural solution for effectively governing people across a wide expanse of different geographies. However, one of the primary problems with this kind of hierarchical governance structure is how to determine which level of governance should solve particular problems. Where does the jurisdiction of the Federal Legislature end and the jurisdiction of the State Legislature begin? Theoretically, this was solved by giving each state representation as an entity in the Federal Legislature. Though ultimately, this structure tends toward moving power up the ladder and into the national ball park.
At the moment, there is no well-structured mechanism for determining at what level of government something should be discussed. I propose that when 66% or more of the lower level entities sign a law saying a specific issue should be discussed at a higher level of government, then that issue moves up the ladder. If an issue is already a national issue, then if less than 50% of the lower level still have such a law in place, the issue gets sent back down the ladder. This uses hysteresis to ensure stability in government programs while still allowing lower government entities to retain power.
Ultimately, there are a lot of issues with the structure of our government. However, I believe that I have highlighted some of the more important ones in today's political climate.