“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The Preamble to the US Constitution is not law – it is an introductory aspirational statement that articulates the intent and values of the framers concerning the nature of America’s republic and democratic character. Contrary to conservative “originalist” constitutional interpreters who regard the Constitution as a static document, progressive constitutional scholars understand that the Constitution is imperfect and that much was left unaddressed in 1787.
Five values under-gird our American constitutional system – a democratic government, effective governance, justice, liberty, and equality. With these values in mind, the current state of our electoral system obviously needs reform. The Congress has an opportunity to address many of the imperfections now that both houses of Congress and the presidency are in Democratic Party hands.
There are a number of bills that the House of Representatives passed in the last term but were blocked from consideration by the Senate by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Now, however, the new Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can bring these bills to the Senate for consideration and a vote and President Biden can sign them into law (see https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2019/3/8/1840627/-Voting-Rights-Roundup-Democrats-pass-historic-bill-to-ban-gerrymandering-and-secure-voting-rights).
In addition to the many remedies in our electoral system that these bills seek to address including our undemocratic Electoral College system, partisan gerrymandering, Citizens United, excessive money in politics, and voter suppression, the Senate is decidedly a non-representative body. The vote totals in the last three elections covering all 100 Senate races show how this is true:
- 2020 election – Democratic candidates earned 44.1 million votes; Republican candidates earned 42 million votes.
- 2018 election – Democratic candidates earned 53.1 million votes; Republican candidates earned 35 million votes.
- 2016 election – Democratic candidates earned 45.2 million votes; Republican candidates earned 39.3 million votes.
- The total number of votes cast for Senate in these 3 elections is 258.7 million votes. Democratic candidates won 142.4 million (55%) over Republican candidates who won 116.3 million (45%). That’s a difference of 26.1 million votes and 10% of the total, a Democratic “landslide.” Yet, the Senate remained in Republican hands with a Republican Party majority until this year. Today, despite the wide discrepancy in the popular vote, the Senate is split evenly at 50-50 with a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris.
It’s time that the electoral reform bills passed by the Democratic Congress be moved forward for consideration and a vote in the Senate to be signed into law by President Biden. Among the top priorities ought to be the reform of the Electoral College system to make it representative of the national majority popular vote, granting of statehood to Washington, D.C. (700,000 residents) and Puerto Rico (3.2 million residents), and elimination of the Senate filibuster to be replaced by a simple majority vote.
These reforms would go a long way to fulfill more completely the democratic values as articulated in the US Constitution’s Preamble and thereby have a major impact on public policy and Joe Biden’s presidency.