This week, the president will give his State of the Union address. It would seem that one of the most essential aspects that could be noteworthy about the status of the country is the health of our democratic processes. What will Pres. Obama say - and more importantly, do - about the weakening of our democracy?
There are many reasons to be concerned about this. In last November's election, the total votes for the Democratic candidates in all the nation's Congressional districts for seats in the House of Representatives was greater than the total votes for Republican candidates - yet because of gerrymandering the Republicans took a significant majority of seats in the House. Gerrymandering has also given Republicans disproportionate numbers of seats in state legislatures.
That doesn't count the number of voting age citizens who didn't vote because of voter suppression / intimidation, or the denial of voting rights to millions of former prisoners.
The president is still elected through the Electoral College, which sometimes selects a candidate who did not have the most popular votes.
The super-rich are now allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money to try to influence our elections. It is worth noting with the rich trying to buy, gerrymander and otherwise fix our elections that the Civil Rights Act forbids the use of poll taxes, but the Constitution was never amended to outlaw it.
The US Senate gives an equal number of seats to every state rather than making the number of seats proportional to the population. And Senate rules allow a small minority to block action by the majority with the use of filibusters.
There are other areas that deserve our attention:
* Scientists have proposed - but the government has ignored - voting systems that more accurately reflect the majority's wishes. For instance, by letting voters indicate their most preferred candidate and the candidate they would prefer if their first choice didn't get enough votes.
* Citizens can't directly pass federal laws through ballot referendum as can be done in some states. Perhaps, citizens should also be allowed to directly vote to break Congressional logjams, filibusters and such.
* Elections don't give true democracy if voters don't know what the candidates truly stand for. "Campaign promise" often means an empty promise to get elected. Misleading voters during a campaign should have legal penalties.
* After Watergate, Nixon's hand-picked replacement, Pres. Ford, gave Nixon a blanket pardon. Hand-picked replacements shouldn't be able to pardon their benefactor, and pardons should be for specific crimes not for crimes the pardoner may not know about.
* At best, the Constitution lacks a clear provision permitting the federal government to produce goods and services when it is in society's best interests.
The Constitution was written at a time when most citizens were forbidden to vote. Woman and slaves were excluded. Various states had laws restricting voting based on religion and/or property ownership. We are faced with archaic provisions imposed on us by a minority. Yet, to amend the Constitution requires super-majorities in both the House and the Senate, and then approval by 3/4 of the state legislatures. A simple majority isn't allowed to change the rules made by a minority. With gerrymandering, the influence of big money and the other restrictions listed above, it's effectively necessary for something like 80% of the people to want an amendment in order to have a reasonable chance of getting it passed. That's a serious matter for those who want a genuine democracy.
Existing law makes fixing these serious problems difficult. However, those who truly stand for full democracy should be loudly bringing attention to the issue and doing their best to build momentum to achieve it.
We can't keep waiting for elected officials to do the right thing. Regular working people are going to have to join together to fight for fuller democracy.