Congress Returns (copy)

An American flag flies over Capitol Hill in Washington.

America is no longer a democracy based on the principle that the majority of the people decide who will run the government. Our country is now ruled by politicians whom the majority voted against — essentially, a dictatorship of the minority.

Donald Trump received 3 million fewer votes than his opponent. The U.S. Senate is controlled by Republicans even though Democratic senators were elected by 58 percent of the population. The right wing controls the Supreme Court because of four justices chosen by presidents who received a minority of the vote and confirmed by senators who represent the minority of Americans.

I would like to advance a few proposals to make our government more democratic.

1. Abolish the Electoral College and have a direct vote for president. The original rationale for the Electoral College was that voters didn’t have information about presidential contenders and it was better for them to designate trusted individuals from their states to pick a president. With modern communications, that rationale no longer makes sense.

2. Unpack the Supreme Court. Republicans denied Barack Obama, elected by the majority, his constitutional right to select a Supreme Court justice. Conservatives enjoy a five-justice majority on the Supreme Court because of four justices appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote. To make things right, add two justices to the court after the next presidential election to restore balance and fairness.

3. Reform the Senate. Currently, each state elects two senators regardless of population. That means the most populous state and the least populous state have the same number of senators. The founders meant for each state to be represented in the Senate. However, the disparity in population between the states in 1789 was dramatically less than it is today. Now, the voting power of a citizen in Wyoming, the least populous state, is 67 times greater than that of a citizen in the most populous state of California. My suggestion: acknowledge federalism by giving each state at least one senator, but then apportion the remaining senators based on population.

4. Grant statehood to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The Americans in these territories are denied voting representation in Congress and are treated as second-class citizens. The abysmal treatment of Puerto Rico after the recent destructive hurricanes is a striking example of why they deserve to be able to hold federal politicians accountable.

5. Get rid of gerrymandering. Computer technology enables congressional and legislative districts to be drawn with such devious precision that the will of the voters is thwarted. An analysis by the Associated Press found that in 2018, Republicans won 16 more U.S. House seats than their vote share would suggest due to unfair maps drawn by Republican politicians. Likewise, here in Wisconsin, rigged legislative maps meant that even though Republicans received only 45 percent of the vote for the state Assembly, they hold 64 percent of the seats. An easy solution: Use the Iowa model in which an independent, nonpartisan agency draws the maps.

6. Stop voter suppression and adopt automatic registration. Republicans are trying to perpetuate minority rule by suppressing the vote. According to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice, “After the 2010 election, state lawmakers nationwide started introducing hundreds of harsh measures making it harder to vote. The new laws range from strict photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions.” These law are aimed at those constituencies most likely to vote Democratic, including the young, poor, disabled and communities of color.

Engraved in our state Capitol are the words, “The will of the people is the law of the land.” It’s time that our government lives up to those words.

Spencer Black served for 26 years in the state Legislature. He was chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee and the Assembly Democratic leader. Since leaving the Legislature, Black has been vice president for conservation for the national Sierra Club and adjunct professor of planning at UW-Madison.

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