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We’re not a democracy

By Chris Voccio

Big changes are coming to the way elections are held in New York State. The lawgivers in Albany recently passed various “reforms” to make it easier to vote.

Many of these changes are intended to foster greater voter turnout. That sounds like a noble goal, increasing voter turnout as though it is an inherent good, regardless of what it yields.

But please remember that when we hold elections, we’re essentially hiring people for public office. The hiring process, whether conducted by a business owner hiring an employee, or an electorate “hiring” a City Councilman (or President, Senator, Governor, etc.) should result in hiring the best employee, or the best public official.

So does increasing the number of people who vote automatically improve the hiring process? Will we get better public servants if more people vote? Perhaps.

If the additional voters are knowledgeable, if they have good judgment, then I would say, yes, adding these additional voters to the rolls is a good thing.

But what if these new voters aren’t up to speed on the issues? What if they couldn’t name their governor, nor their mayor? What if they don’t know that their city council exists, let alone what it does? Worse, what if they don’t really care about any of this? Does adding people in this category to the voter roles improve the hiring decision?

Not everyone is civically engaged. Not everyone wants to be. We need to do a better job on this front, and I’m not sure pushing more people to the polls will help in terms of civic engagement.

While the word democracy is bandied about a lot, the United States is not a democracy but rather a Constitutional Republic, and Article 4, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution specifically states that each state shall also be a Republic. The United States is not a democracy, neither is New York. That’s a good thing.

Prior to the Seventeenth Amendment of 1913, United States Senators were not elected by the populace, they were elected by their state legislatures. The Founders wanted to keep checks on pure democracy, so they put various mechanisms in the Constitution to guarantee our system of republican (lower-case “l”) government survives.

The Electoral College is another such mechanism. While some misguided souls want to do away with it, the electoral college is yet another element the framers of the Constitution gave us to preserve our republic.

The Founding Fathers wanted limits placed on democratic impulses and carefully created a miraculously complex system. They gave us three branches of government. The first with two houses, one which wasn’t intended to be democratically elected and with staggered six-year terms. The second branch is elected through the electoral college. The third branch is unelected, with lifetime appointments. Not very democratic. Thank heavens.

Adding to this complexity is the relationship between the federal government and the states, although this is changed over the years.

All of this was designed to be slow, deliberative and sometimes messy. We often complain about gridlock, but the framers of the Constitution deliberately engineered it that way.

So when we hear people talk about the joys of democracy, when we watch New York State seek more ways to get more people to vote, please remember that while this sounds glorious it may not improve the quality of our government.

That can only be done by getting knowledgeable, thoughtful people with sound judgment to the polls. Unfortunately, none of the reforms recently passed will do that.

On another related note, one of the changes that the folks in Albany made will change the timing of campaign volunteers gathering ballot-access petition signatures. In this past, we would be knocking on your door in June or July, when mild warm breezes might flow into your home as you signed various petitions.

Starting this year, we’ll be knocking on your door in February or March, as icy gusts ferociously whip into your nice warm house. Please forgive the dedicated campaign volunteers for coming during this frigid time of the year, and please remember this was ordered by the powers that be in our state capitol.

 

Chris Voccio is a Niagara Falls City Councilman and can be reached at ChrisVoccio@gmail.com


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Artvoice

Artvoice

News and art, national and local. Began as alternative weekly in 1990 in Buffalo, NY. Publishing content online since 1996.

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  • New York has enacted the National Popular Vote bill.

    the bill is 64% of the way to guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes and the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by changing state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes.

    It simply requires enacting states with 270 electoral votes to award them according to the nationwide, rather than the statewide, popular vote.

    All voters would be valued equally in presidential elections, no matter where they live.
    Candidates, as in other elections, would allocate their time, money, polling, organizing, and ad buys roughly in proportion to the population

    Every vote, everywhere, for every candidate, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election.
    No more distorting, crude, and divisive and red and blue state maps of predictable outcomes, that don’t represent any minority party voters within each state.
    No more handful of ‘battleground’ states (where the two major political parties happen to have similar levels of support) where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 38+ predictable winner states that have just been ‘spectators’ and ignored after the conventions.
    We can limit the power and influence of a few battleground states in order to better serve our nation.

    The bill would take effect when enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes—270 of 538.
    All of the presidential electors from the enacting states will be supporters of the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes among all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guaranteeing that candidate with an Electoral College majority.

    The bill was approved in 2016 by a unanimous bipartisan House committee vote in both Georgia (16 electoral votes) and Missouri (10).

    Since 2006, the bill has passed 36 state legislative chambers in 23 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 261 electoral votes.
    The bill has been enacted by 12 small, medium, and large jurisdictions with 172 electoral votes – 64% of the way to guaranteeing the Electoral College and the presidency to the candidate with the most popular votes in the country

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