Monday, December 21, 2009

Eliminating the Tyranny of the Minority

There has been a lot of buzz recently on whether the Senate should modify its rules about the filibuster. Despite the fact that nearly every poll indicates that the American people overwhelmingly are “pro-health” in that they support the Medicare for All option, the Senate has been held hostage by a vocal and virulent minority. Doing the math from the 2008 state-by-state population estimates as listed in Wikipedia, in the worst case, if senators from the 20 least-populous states decide to filibuster a bill, they would represent 18% of the total population. This hardly seems fair or even reasonable.

Of course, the make up of the Senate is inherently non-democratic. Wyoming, the least populous state has the same number of Senators as California, the most populous. Each Wyoming voter has 69 times more clout in the Senate than her counterpart from California. In the 1790 Census (the first census after the ratification of the Constitution), this ratio between the most and least populous states was 13:1, albeit using the “3/5” rule when counting slaves. I wonder if the Founding Fathers would have established such an unfair and undemocratic system if they could foresee such a disparity.

If the Senate feels it needs to retain the filibuster (and there are reasonable grounds to argue that some sort of filibuster is necessary), they should change the rules for cloture as follows: Cloture may be invoked if Senators representing 60% of the Electoral Vote are in favor of cloture. Each Senator’s vote would be weighted by ½ the number of Electoral Votes in his or her state. This would still skew the power toward those states with smaller population (because each state has a minimum of 3 Electoral Votes, regardless of its population), but would help eliminate the “tyranny of the minority” that we see today.

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