Representative Democracy Doesn’t Represent Us
Beto O’Rourke lost. Republicans took Indiana and North Dakota. The senate is looking redder than we found it when this election started. Democrats may have lost in the senate race, but we went down swinging, and like the 2016 election, we once again had the majority vote. And unfortunately, once again, the government doesn’t reflect that majority of the American people.
In the collective senate races this year, the Democrats led the popular vote by 9 percent, the biggest difference since 2008; yet, the majority of our senators are still Republicans. Our country is frequently called a democracy, but that is slightly disingenuous. Our country is a representative democracy, and because of that, our government, especially our senate, doesn’t represent us.
An electorate that has made it abundantly clear that it prioritizes issues such as health care reform and common sense gun laws finds itself yet again represented by a Republican Senate with no interest in providing those things. Why? The bulk of the United States population is concentrated along the coast, and the representative power of the middle of the country is bolstered by this fact.
We live under a directive issued by our founding fathers centuries ago – men who believed in rights only for land-owning white men. We have undone countless things that they created, so clearly, the founding fathers were fallible. Despite this, we still follow their proposed structure without question and they decreed that the Senate would be the most powerful part of our government. This decision shapes public policy to this day.
In the 18th century, the power given to the Senate didn’t have a lot of effect when it comes to the distribution of political power, but today, it results in massive imbalances giving more political power to voters in sparsely populated areas than those in densely populated areas. In this system, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana are so sparsely populated that they each have only one representative in the House, yet each have two senators. Contrast this with a state like New Jersey, which has 12 congressional districts and only two senators. Geographically, it is much smaller, but its population is much more concentrated.
A representative democracy should, logically, represent the needs and wants of its people; however, this is not the case here. These five sparsely populated states only have a large enough population to fill five of 435 seats in the House of Representatives. Despite making up just over 1 percent of the House, these states make up 10 percent of the Senate. This gives these states a highly disproportionate influence in the branch that our founding fathers gave the most power to.
The House is a step in the right direction; however, it too is flawed. Every 10 years, Congressional districts around the country are redrawn based on changes in population. This creates the opportunity for gerrymandering – drawing these House districts in a way that distorts racial, financial and political representation, breaking up or grouping together politically influential groups. The republicans who controlled the House in 2010 drew districts that diffused Democratic influence in the country. As a result, Democrats entered these midterms with an eight-point advantage on the generic ballot as to who should gain control of the house, but many individual races were within a few points of each other.
Because of gerrymandering, not even the branch of government that is supposed to represent the bulk of the population accurately represents us. Even with more voters, gerrymandering creates a situation in which the Democrats have to fight an uphill battle to win seats in the house. Instead of serving voters’ interests, gerrymandering makes it so our Representatives serve majorities that already exist by redrawing and bending the lines of our districts to benefit the standing majority.
The power balance created by the House of Representatives is logical, dividing political power based on population, not just giving two representatives to each state. If our senate were divided the same way, then our legislative branch would more accurately represent the interests of its people. We can’t be fairly governed if we are not represented fairly in the federal government. Giving a state like New York the same amount of power as a state with a quarter of the population of Queens is an affront to democracy as a concept. The most powerful branch of our government fails to represent the majority of our population and our “democracy” suffers for it.
The House may vote to impeach, but the Senate votes to convict; the House may represent the absolute population of the country, but the Senate has greater power. The Senate confirms Supreme Court justices. The Senate confirms ambassadors. The Senate has longer terms. As of 1:15 Wednesday morning, Nov. 7, 9 million more votes were cast for Democratic Senate candidates, yet Republicans retain control.
“We the people” have the opportunity to form a more perfect union with every election, but the desires of the people are rarely realized. Until the more powerful of the two governing bodies that make up our legislative branch represents the entirety of the nation fairly and justly, the goals of the many will be bogged down by the worries of the few.