The anomalies of the U.S. Constitution: what next?
July 3, 2002 6:50 AM   Subscribe

The anomalies of the U.S. Constitution: what next? Ok, not a serious 'polemical' post, more a request for your take on the mysteries which politics brings us...
- how come Wyoming has 3 Senators?
- how come DC has none?
- what other wierd stuff would you fix in the Constitution of your state, given the choice? (for my part, ditching the Windsors and embracing democracy would be a start...)
posted by dash_slot- (64 comments total)

 
Wyoming has 3 members of Congress. One Representative in the House and two Senators.
posted by ssmith at 6:56 AM on July 3, 2002


Minor technicality, but Wyoming actually has two senators (like every other state), and three representatives (understandable mistake for those not from the US). But the point is well taken. The DC situation is just an odd historical anomaly that doesn't necessarily make sense, but that's just "the way it is."
posted by pardonyou? at 6:56 AM on July 3, 2002


Ah, ssmith was too quick (and I realize my post could be confusing on the numbers issue, too).
posted by pardonyou? at 6:58 AM on July 3, 2002


The District of Columbia is unrepresented because the Founders didn't want any state to be home to the nation's capital. 'Twould be unfair advantage or something. DC isn't a state, and only states can have senators and representatives.
Florida's constitution bans Asians from owning land, according to an NPR report I heard the other morning. (This law is unenforced.) Also, Florida's constitution was amended recently to require construction of a muy fast train along the east coast. Those are two things I would change in my state's constitution.
I would change the U.S. Constitution to hold Election Day on a Sunday. Or Congress could make Election Day a national holiday.
posted by Holden at 7:00 AM on July 3, 2002


DC has no Senators because it's not technically a state, it's a territory (this is the same reason Puerto Rico, for example, has no Senators). There's a number of people who want DC to become a state so the residents can have congressional representation, as can be seen in the article.
posted by DyRE at 7:02 AM on July 3, 2002


Shazbot, beaten to the punch.
posted by DyRE at 7:03 AM on July 3, 2002


I think it's weird that the constitution for my sta -- er -- COMMONWEALTH doesn't specifically spell out that I am King, and all should worship me.
posted by crunchland at 7:19 AM on July 3, 2002


Holden, there has been a lot of talk of combining election day with Veteran's day and giving everyone that Monday off. Thing is, many critics think that people will just take a long weekend and not vote anyway.
posted by Ufez Jones at 7:21 AM on July 3, 2002


The Florida constitution does not contain an unenforced provision that bars Asians from owning land. I heard that NPR report, too, and it was sloppy journalism.

The Florida constitution, in article I, section 2, explicitly permits laws that ban those not eligible for citizenship from owning land. Note that it doesn't actually prohibit land ownership; it just permits such bans. And it doesn't mention Asians or any other ethnic group. Now, once upon a time, Asian immigrants -- not all Asians -- were not eligible for citizenship in the U.S., and this part of the constitution was indeed about banning Asians from owning land.

Was this racist? Sure. But the real situation is very different from the fantasy encouraged by that NPR story that there is a current unenforced ban on Asian land ownership in Florida.
posted by tino at 7:29 AM on July 3, 2002


Election day should be a national holiday, but I don't think it will happen anytime soon. Since the ones in office make the laws and they were voted into office during a time of low voter turn-out, they're a little leary of tweaking the system that put them in office in the first place.

They got elected without the help of a vote from average joe six-pack who couldn't make it to the pools due to a 12-hour shift. What incentive do they have to make it easier for him to vote? Any change in the actual voting constituency is perceived as a threat to their jobs.
posted by ttrendel at 7:59 AM on July 3, 2002


Actually, doesn't Wyoming sort of has three senators, since Dick Cheney is the casting vote in a 50-50 split? I know that's not what the post meant, but anyway.
posted by riviera at 8:13 AM on July 3, 2002


The parts of Washington DC that aren't used by the government should be remanded to Maryland. Arlington County, Virginia, was orginally taken from Virginia to be part of the District, but was remanded in 1847.

I'd have a Constitional Convention with the goal or writing a new Constitution that got rid of the Electoral College, made it clear what a president could be impeached for (which would not include lying about blowjobs), cleared up the right to bear arms issue, and eliminated redundancies like the Prohibition amendment and the prohibition repeal amendment. We venerate the Constitution, but parts of it don't make any damn sense.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:18 AM on July 3, 2002


I object to making Election Day a national holiday on the grounds that there I am, relaxing, and I'm expected to go vote? No thanks, I'm trying to take a vacation here.
posted by luser at 8:22 AM on July 3, 2002


Ufez Jones and Luser, you have put forward convincing arguments. And Tino, you da man! Thanks for checking out the issue and explaining it carefully.
posted by Holden at 8:45 AM on July 3, 2002


Technically there are sometimes three people on the Senate floor from Wyoming casting a vote, but the VP cannot address the Senate during a debate, nor is he supposed to defend the interests of Wyoming before the nation's overall interests.
posted by clevershark at 9:10 AM on July 3, 2002


nor is he supposed to defend the interests of Wyoming before the nation's overall interests

I think more people are concerned about him defending the interests of his financial backers before the nation's overall interests.

< /easy snarky reply>
posted by Ufez Jones at 9:19 AM on July 3, 2002


Maryland doesn't want DC back.
posted by NortonDC at 9:27 AM on July 3, 2002


Washington DC: Taxation Without Representation
posted by Dean King at 9:30 AM on July 3, 2002


Alternately, Washington could take back Arlington.
posted by feckless at 9:56 AM on July 3, 2002


I'd have a Constitional Convention

I think the potential risks outweigh the potential benefits for such a convention, and could open a bag of worms. It is likely every political and pseudo political organization would seek to engrave their agenda into the Constitution and its Amendments. Also, what worries me the most, the written additions/modifications may not be written as meticulously as the Constitution originally was.

As far as gun rights are concerned, see U.S. v. Miller.
posted by quam at 10:44 AM on July 3, 2002


I'd have a Constitional Convention with the goal or writing a new Constitution that got rid of the Electoral College, made it clear what a president could be impeached for (which would not include lying about blowjobs), cleared up the right to bear arms issue, and eliminated redundancies like the Prohibition amendment and the prohibition repeal amendment. We venerate the Constitution, but parts of it don't make any damn sense.
I am not so certain we would not walk away from a new constitution with anything resembling our current freedoms. You would more likely end up with an official language, state religion, and a sacred flag law. What we have is pretty good, and I do not think you are selling your position by threatening to remove liberties we currently enjoy.
posted by thirteen at 10:46 AM on July 3, 2002


Or what quam said.
posted by thirteen at 10:47 AM on July 3, 2002


Heh heh, DyRE said "shazbot"...
posted by spilon at 11:50 AM on July 3, 2002


I want mandatory voting. If you don't vote, you get fined. Works for Australia.

As long as voter turnout is so pathetically low, this country is not a democracy at all.
posted by acridrabbit at 1:08 PM on July 3, 2002


Those who vote are the Nielsen families of the American political process.
posted by rushmc at 1:32 PM on July 3, 2002


I'm with thirteen -- I really do wonder what would come out of the sausage grinder if there were a new constitutional convention. To some extent we may wonder if there are improvements possible -- for the Founders, drafting a constitution was unprecedented; today, there is something of a constitutional science. A while back NPR (Worldview, I think, from WBEZ) ran a discussion about the process of developing an Afghan constitution, which will be interesting to watch, to say the least. As with the early US, they have major tensions to resolve. The US solved its debate between larger and smaller states advocating equal or proportional representation by what seemed, at the time, a horrendous kludge: doing both. In the end we can see, objectively, that while this satisfied both groups at the time, it also entrenched somewhat permanently a lesser advantage for less-populous states (while on the gripping hand -- it got the Constitution passed, and the republic survived). Ironically, this kludge is now seen as a model for balancing power, and the upper, so-called deliberative house is seen as a valuable variant in structuring a legislature.

For the Afghans, a strong central government is very important to foil drug cartels, crime, corruption, and warlords, but the severe ethnic divisions and worries about power-sharing almost require a kind of federal system with a weak central government. Resolving this tension will be a key test of the longevity of whatever comes out of the constitutional committee.

Britain, of course, is undergoing a slow process of constitutional reform, mostly under the rubric of devolution -- which has resulted in the creation of a parliament for Scotland, an assembly for Wales, (somewhat coincidentally) an assembly for Northern Ireland, and local control for London, as well as the abolition of many quangoes and other unrepresentative bodies. The House of Lords has been tweaked, though not to the satisfaction of the long-term reformers, who'd like to see it become more like our Senate and the end of its ties to the peerage. Unresolved has been the question (it's named after some locality) of how an MP from Scotland can vote on (say) education issues for England proper when MPs from England proper may no longer vote on the same issues for Scotland. Thus a true federal system would seem the way to go -- but there is no momentum for a separate parliament for England, nor any desire, apparently, to formalize the relationships of the devolved regions in the same way that the states are represented in our constitution.

There really isn't any movement for major reform in the US right now, though -- most constitutional amendments proposed (and there are several each term of Congress) tend to focus on niche issues like flag-burning or abortion, that don't really properly even belong in a constitution. Some Dems are up in arms over the electoral college issue, but I would caution that it has perfectly good constitutional reasons for existing, and it wasn't really the reason things went the way they did. With no provisions for run-off elections, our system does not actually require a majority -- and we've survived minority presidents before. As much as I recognize the legitimate reasons behind the DC vote amendment movement, I realize full well it's intended to take advantage of the very disparities in the electoral system discussed above. (By adding three dependably Democratic votes -- two for senators, one for the representative -- it would increase the electorate by 0.2%, while increasing the electoral college by 0.5%. And that doesn't count the influence the elected would have in Congress.) These things cut both ways, you see, and over time they tend to even out.

And replying to acidrabbit seen on preview: As a left-libertarian, and speaking generally as an American, mandatory voting seems obscene. Those who choose not to vote participate in the outcome (there's a cute Dilbert strip about this). Insisting that uninformed people go to the polls doesn't seem like the way to ensure public participation -- there'd surely be more protest votes, and you might even occasionally get a goofball like Le Pen (or Ross Perot) elected somewhere. It's not really difficult to vote. America also has a regrettable history of using disincentives such as poll taxes to prevent participation -- say, by blacks. I don't see that the freedom to vote is meaningful if you don't have the freedom to stay home if you prefer.
posted by dhartung at 1:40 PM on July 3, 2002


Mandatory voting? That is not just.
posted by thirteen at 1:41 PM on July 3, 2002


Speaking as a left-libertarian, and a Nader voter, protest votes are a good thing in my book. We need more participation in politics in this country, and if that means third, fourth, and fifth parties, protest votes, and maybe a little chaos for a while, well then, I'm all for it. Anything to shake us awake.
posted by acridrabbit at 3:27 PM on July 3, 2002


Yeah, sure, back breaking deficits, kissing civil liberties goodbye, SeeNo-HearNo-SpeakNo global warming... all worth it for your little escapade.
posted by NortonDC at 3:39 PM on July 3, 2002


NortonDC, we've gone over this before, and we both think the other is dead wrong. Let's leave it at that.
posted by acridrabbit at 3:59 PM on July 3, 2002


I do not care who anybody votes for, and I would love if everybody voted, but a forced vote is tyranny. Bizarre tyranny yes, but still wrong and a violation of rights. Liberty.. remember.
posted by thirteen at 4:46 PM on July 3, 2002


There's a number of people who want DC to become a state so the residents can have congressional representation, as can be seen in the article.

Ah, but DC doesn't have to become a state, since the Constitution does not explicitly prohibit DC from having Congressional representation. It simply doesn't have it because it doesn't automatically pick it up by being a state.
posted by wackybrit at 6:32 PM on July 3, 2002


I want mandatory voting. If you don't vote, you get fined.

The Greeks did that whole mandatory voting thing. Their society collapsed, in the end. Anyway, we have a right to vote, as much as we have a right to abstain from voting. If I was forced to vote in every election, I would only vote for write-in candidates, namely Abe Vigoda, and myself.

As long as voter turnout is so pathetically low, this country is not a democracy at all.

I'm glad this country isn't a democracy, it was supposed to be set up as a republic, with power carefully balanced within the branches of the federal government, and between the federal government and the state governments. Democracy is merely a tool used for electing certain officials. Not everyone needs to participate in it. Besides, due to the current state of Congress, I am of the opinion that voting in national elections is essentially a waste of time. Political lobby groups are the most effective tool for change, as it stands today.
posted by insomnyuk at 7:27 PM on July 3, 2002


The Greeks did that whole mandatory voting thing. Their society collapsed, in the end.

Every society collapses in the end.

There are over thirty countries with compulsory voting laws.

I really can't say how well it fits in with American politics nor if it is generally a good idea constitution-wise, but in many places it works. There's nothing essentially wrong with it. The real question is application and punishment/reward. At the very least I would vote for a holiday on election days.
posted by skallas at 9:19 PM on July 3, 2002


There's nothing essentially wrong with it.

Unless you count the fact that a citizen is being forced to participate in the democratic process. I'm not sure how many times people need to hear this to fully understand that forced elections are undemocratic. It's common sense, but apparently there are quite a few people out there who don't get it...not voting is the same as voting. Each person exercises his or her right to choose their elected officials. If you don't vote by casting a ballot, your non-vote is a "vote" for the status quo.
posted by BlueTrain at 9:47 PM on July 3, 2002


I'm not sure how many times people need to hear this to fully understand that forced elections are undemocratic. It's common sense, but apparently there are quite a few people out there who don't get it...

Ah, we have the 'appeal to common-sense', which if it isn't in the list of logical fallacies, ought to be. In fact, what you're saying is 'I think 'forced elections' [an emotive spin on mandatory voting] are undemocratic, therefore they are undemocratic. I can't say why they're undemocratic, but it must be true, mustn't it, because I think it is?' (Which is actually begging the question.)

Please now explain why mandatory voting is undemocratic. Properly, this time.

If you don't vote by casting a ballot, your non-vote is a "vote" for the status quo.

No, it's not. Was 'not voting' in the 2000 Presidential election a vote for four more years of Clinton? If that's the case, how come Clinton's not President? He got twice as many 'votes' than either Bush or Gore.
posted by riviera at 9:59 PM on July 3, 2002


NortonDC, we've gone over this before, and we both think the other is dead wrong. Let's leave it at that.

I know. I have to settle for being proven right by current events.
posted by NortonDC at 10:02 PM on July 3, 2002


but apparently there are quite a few people out there who don't get it...not voting is the same as voting.

You're being short-sighted. Choosing none of the above is also not voting. What happens when the majority chooses none of the above? New candidates. Sounds like this system can be salvaged after all. The write-in also solves this little problem.

It also fixes other problems like, oh say, database cooking to keep people from voting. Police blockades to stop people voting. One could argue that a new or damaged democratic system could only benefit from this. Of course these horrible things could never happen in any free country. *snicker*

It's common sense

"Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen."
- Albert Einstein
posted by skallas at 10:10 PM on July 3, 2002


Let's try this the hard way.

democracy: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections

election: the right, power, or privilege of making a choice

free: enjoying political independence or freedom from outside domination

free: made, done, or given voluntarily or spontaneously

free: not subject to government regulation

free: mean not subject to the rule or control of another.

Amendment #1: or abridging the freedom of speech

OKAY. We, as United States citizens, have the right to be heard. If our voice is in the form of non-voting, so be it, but THAT is our right, our freedom...

To be forced to participate in this democracy is, in itself, an irony, and a course of action our government will not pursue. Whether or not you want to be forced to vote is irrelevant. Whether or not you feel that forced elections are democratic is irrelevant...why? Because YOU can't vote in the US. ;-)

And upon preview:

Choosing none of the above is also not voting.

They aren't "choosing" none of the above because they want to, but because their govt. is hypothetically forcing them to vote. See above.
posted by BlueTrain at 10:25 PM on July 3, 2002


"[an emotive spin on mandatory voting]"

I see. Kind of like mandatory jail time. Or mandatory taxes. The fact is, they all demand forced participation. There is nothing incorrect or even over-emotional about correctly explaining the reality of mandatory voting [perhaps a communitarian euphemism]: it comes down to the government forcing its citizens [ultimately at the point of a gun] to participate in the voting process.

C'mon, the Pledge of Allegiance is only mandatory, lets not get over-emotional with all this talk about coercion and the use of force.

I don't think mandatory voting is undemocratic , since the Greeks practically invented democracy and used mandatory voting. I don't see the point of this argument, especially since the term 'undemocratic' is neither good or bad, in my opinon. Democracy is merely a mechanism.

My problem is that mandatory voting is anti-freedom.

"Of course these horrible things could never happen in any free country."

Yeah, like the massive voter fraud that occurs in metropolitan districts. I guess you're right, it would fix a lot of problems. If all citizens were forced to vote, and we knew how many citizens there were, then we could throw out all the illegal votes cast by non-citizens, dead people, and the magical multi-voters (sometimes called Teamsters). Not to mention the homeless and illiterate people coaxed to vote for cigarettes. I still chuckle when I think about the Florida election, where the Dem activists told their hordes to "punch the second hole", thinking it was Gore, but voted for Buchanan. How ironic, how poetical. But I guess if all that 'reform' stuff happened, Democrats would stop getting elected.
posted by insomnyuk at 10:31 PM on July 3, 2002


BlueTrain,

The United States: Mixed Government. Not a democracy. Contains elements of a democracy, monarchy, and an oligarchy. Examples: popular voting, president, congress. See Republic for more.

See I can play the dictionary game too!
posted by skallas at 10:40 PM on July 3, 2002


Oh, and back to the original topic of the post- I think rewriting the Constitution would be utterly disastrous. The degree of politicking that goes into a single piece of legislation would occur at a Constitutional convention, even if the Congress was not there (as they should not be, if it were to ever happen). The lobbyists would certainly be there. They are so good at what they do that Congress couldn't pass a resolution affirming the current Constitution without funding road building programs in at least West Virginia and Massachusetts.

Rather than re-write the constitution we should just abolish the 16th and 17th amendments. That would be a good start.
posted by insomnyuk at 10:44 PM on July 3, 2002


The lobbyists would certainly be there. They are so good at what they do that Congress couldn't pass a resolution affirming the current Constitution without funding road building programs in at least West Virginia and Massachusetts.

Which only proves how sick it is that people make a living, ney, a good living, off of doing said bullshit.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:48 PM on July 3, 2002


Ufez, lobbyists come in many different flavors. How about limited congress's ability to attach riders to everything that passes through the house and senate? If I leave an open-relay for spammers, the spam is also my fault.
posted by skallas at 11:02 PM on July 3, 2002


A mandatory vote would be a good way to get me to stop voting.
posted by thirteen at 7:14 AM on July 4, 2002


I see that our libertarian tag-team still hasn't accounted for why Clinton wasn't re-elected with an overwhelming mandate from the non-voters. Guess what, twit twins: your government forces you to be subject to all sorts of laws. Doesn't not being able to choose which side of the road you drive strike against your freedom?

But I guess if all that 'reform' stuff happened, Democrats would stop getting elected.

Not if Katherine Harris were in charge of the count, mate.
posted by riviera at 7:18 AM on July 4, 2002


libertarian tag-team
Are you including me in that? I only ask because I assumed Blue Train is a Republican.
posted by thirteen at 7:27 AM on July 4, 2002


Now you made me go back and read! ^_^

No, it's not. Was 'not voting' in the 2000 Presidential election a vote for four more years of Clinton? If that's the case, how come Clinton's not President? He got twice as many 'votes' than either Bush or Gore.

I have never heard of anyone suggesting that a non vote was really a vote for the continuation of the current occupant. I have no desire to find links for what I believe to be common knowledge, but I think the non-voting majority has been around for quite some time. Clinton would have lost to the first Bush if that were the case, and that Bush would have lost to Reagan (since we are now electing 3 term presidents) When this would have stopped I do not know, but I suspect we would be Discussing how President for life Ford was handling the war on Terror.
posted by thirteen at 7:36 AM on July 4, 2002


Skallas' link is a good one. The crux of the argument for mandatory voting: "...participation at elections is ... a citizen's civic responsibility." And, "...if democracy is government by the people, presumably this includes all people, [so] it is every citizen's responsibility to elect their representatives."

And finally, "A flourishing democracy presupposes citizens who care, who are willing to take part, and capable of helping to shape the common agenda of a society."

Today is a fitting day to ponder things like civic responsibility and the meaning of democracy. Too bad most Americans will do little more than wave a flag.
posted by acridrabbit at 7:43 AM on July 4, 2002


I have never heard of anyone suggesting that a non vote was really a vote for the continuation of the current occupant.

Exactly. Which is why BlueTrain's "If you don't vote by casting a ballot, your non-vote is a "vote" for the status quo." needed slapping down. In fact, I'm with acridrabbit: citizenship is rather like having an American Express card. Membership has its privileges, but it also has a number of requirements. I don't see why turning up to the polling station -- on a mandated public holiday -- shouldn't be one of them, even if it's simply to register a vote for 'none of the above'. The crux is this: apathy leaves the will of those who do not vote to be interpreted by those who receive votes, and I find that appropriation of the popular voice in itself undemocratic. Not voting doesn't really send a 'fuck you' to those who are elected, because they can work around it, campaigning to secure the barest percentage they regard as essential to victory -- consider Bush's targetting of West Virginia et al with steel tarrifs, and Gore's targetting of minorities. Placing your cross in the 'Fuck You!' box just might.
posted by riviera at 7:54 AM on July 4, 2002


"Vote for me and I will scrap mandatory voting" sounds like a good one time method of getting elected. Do people need to be forced into carrying out their responsibilities? Is something thrust onto someone truly a responsibility? No it is a burden. I do not understand the allure of wanting to be the person who remove choice from people's lives.
posted by thirteen at 8:03 AM on July 4, 2002


Exactly. Which is why BlueTrain's "If you don't vote by casting a ballot, your non-vote is a "vote" for the status quo." needed slapping down.
Apparently I did not read far enough back. I thought that was your creation. My apology.
posted by thirteen at 8:05 AM on July 4, 2002


Ah, but what of those who live in a democracy but who do not follow the idealogy of democracy? It's not as if you can choose what country you want to live in these days, so you're end up stuck in whatever country you were born in. One should not be forced to vote if one does not believe in voting.
posted by wackybrit at 8:37 AM on July 4, 2002


If you create a fine for not voting, then only people rich enough to habitually pay the fine will have the option not to vote.
posted by kindall at 8:44 AM on July 4, 2002


If you create a fine for not voting, then only people rich enough to habitually pay the fine will have the option not to vote.

Those rich enough to habitually pay the fine, I suspect, are also those to whom the ability to vote is least important.
posted by riviera at 8:56 AM on July 4, 2002


the whole "mandatory voting is undemocratic and fascist" is silly. to think that you would have to be libertarian to the point of anarchism. we have a social contract with the government, this contract is not responsibility-free on the citizens part. if you want to call responsibility burden, fine, but it's not an undue burden. we have laws, you have to register to drive, not just anyone can drive, you have to go to jury duty when summoned, you have to keep the government informed of your current address if you're a male in recruiting age. do these things curtail our freedom in any way? absolutely, but the government does things in return. we have decided that it is better to have safe streets than let anyone drive, to have a system of justice based on peers rather than closed secret courts, and defense of the country rather than freedom to abstain from serving.

is it so strange to say that we should trade a few days every four years for a more representative government? is a representative government less important than licensed drivers?

(i personally don't agree with the draft, just giving examples, of things that americans have decided, and things that may have been decided differently had we had a more representative government)
posted by rhyax at 10:48 AM on July 4, 2002


"the whole "mandatory voting is undemocratic and fascist" is silly. to think that you would have to be libertarian to the point of anarchism."

First of all, I never said it was undemocratic, that was someone else.

In fact, anyone who is a libertarian or anarcho-capitalist is generally opposed to a pure democracy. So if I'm describing something as undemocratic, usually thats a good thing. I'm more concerned with liberty than democracy, and the freedom to be equal in rights but inequal in status, unless of course you think equality of condition is a right. Mandatory voting is essentially forcing people to the voting booth at the point of a gun. If you don't pay the fine for not voting, they send the cops to collect, and if you still don't pay, off to jail you go!

"Guess what, twit twins: your government forces you to be subject to all sorts of laws. Doesn't not being able to choose which side of the road you drive strike against your freedom?"

I assume you are referring to thirteen and BlueTrain (who is not a libertarian!). I never agreed with that whole not voting thing is really voting for the status quo. I agree with you on the road issue. The government should not own any roads or issue any licenses, all roads ought to be privately owned. The State can impose all kinds of tyrannies on you (including conducting the drug war with the state highway patrol) when they control completely the primary mode of transportation.

"Today is a fitting day to ponder things like civic responsibility and the meaning of democracy."

The meaning of democracy is simple: mob rule. We used to live in a republic, which is becoming more democratic as each year passes. I think the system is broken, and actively participating in it requires you to generally vote for someone with compromised principles who is essentially supporting a system which you may philosophically oppose. I prefer to 'vote' by donating time and money to charities, and supporting groups which stand up for my rights, such as the NRA (which I will be joining shortly). It is very dangerous to assume that it is your civic duty to change society through force (legislation by elected representatives). That is the attitude which leads to tyranny of the majority, the inevitable end result of a true democracy.

we have decided that it is better to have safe streets than let anyone drive, to have a system of justice based on peers rather than closed secret courts, and defense of the country rather than freedom to abstain from serving.

I don't see the connection between the draft (modern day slavery) and defense of the country (a voluntary choice). I signed up for selective service, but if I ever get drafted, I'll be the first one to cross the border, after renouncing my American citizenship (I'm a dual citizen, Canadian and American). Many citizens have a threshold, at which point they will no longer abide government tyranny. But the problem is, most people don't even know what tyranny is anymore. The founders went to war over taxes, for crying out loud.

"Those rich enough to habitually pay the fine, I suspect, are also those to whom the ability to vote is least important."

Yes, because they can influence the system in ways that really matter- lobby groups, political think tanks, and campaign money. The whole issue is about money, and even if every citizen voted, the vote-buying process (we like to euphemize into 'campaign trail') would still continue .
posted by insomnyuk at 11:25 AM on July 4, 2002


In fact, anyone who is a libertarian or anarcho-capitalist is generally opposed to a pure democracy. So if I'm describing something as undemocratic, usually thats a good thing. I'm more concerned with liberty than democracy, and the freedom to be equal in rights but inequal in status, unless of course you think equality of condition is a right.

Hear, hear!

An old saying says something like, "One determined fool makes a better leader than ten arguing geniuses." Of course, this is silly taken to its extremes, but I agree with this in principal. Let people who are actually good at their jobs run the country.. not who we 'think is best'.

People often vote for the more interesting person, or the person with the nicest ideas. The person with a firm grip on reality, and a clear understanding of how to fix our problems generally loses. It's all about presentation in a democracy, rather than skill. Meritocracy all the way, I say!
posted by wackybrit at 5:44 PM on July 4, 2002


we have a social contract with the government

I do not have a contract, or an obligation, or a responsibility of any kind. I entered into none of this. See, I just happened to be born here. People talk in these terms as tho I am shirking a duty, but the truth is that almost all contact with the government is a burden, and an unfair one at that. I accept what I have to through gritted teeth, and avoid everything that can be done so without affecting me too much. I think a lot of people do, which is why it is so disappointing to see some people adding even more dross to the system.

is it so strange to say that we should trade a few days every four years for a more representative government?

I am inclined to answer yes, and have never missed a vote. That said, I have no fear any of this will come to pass, or will even survive a casual mention by anyone who has the slightest chance of getting it discussed. Going back to your quoted question, I can only imagine what Thomas Jefferson might have responded to such a query. Dog bless America!
posted by thirteen at 10:58 PM on July 4, 2002


being a citizen of a country is a bit like being a share-holder in a company. if you don't go to the annual meetings or use your voting rights, then how can you complain if the company loses all your investment?
if the democratic system has failed so badly in a country that less than 50% of those eligable to vote do so, then you have to ask what has gone wrong. making voting a mandatory part of life for citizens of democracies would not be neccessary if the democracy in question were functioning correctly. that people are dissaffected with the political system to the extent that voting is seen as 'not changing anything' should be ringing alarm bells for anyone concerned with democracy.
thirteen - you sound like someone who is not content with the system, ( i don't like to use information from other threads, but... ) i understand that you do not believe in taxation, the welfare state or any government regulation of business. i would argue that you have to accept your responsibility to society as a whole if you wish to be part of it. you enjoy countless benefits from the simple fact that you live in a stable society on a day to day basis.
posted by asok at 11:29 PM on July 4, 2002


"if you don't go to the annual meetings or use your voting rights, then how can you complain if the company loses all your investment?"

Unfortunately I don't own shares in the government (although its a decent analogy). All I really own is myself and my property. You might be making a good argument for voting here, but remember that the Declaration states:

"That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

If I really think the government is tyrannical, voting may not be the best way to alter or abolish it. Again, your argument may be a good reason for a citizen in a free society to vote in that it protects his interests, but I do not see the connection then with mandatory voting. If voting is in his interest, then why force him to vote?
posted by insomnyuk at 11:52 PM on July 4, 2002


But I do vote. I have voted in every election (except primaries) since I turned 18, so I believe I have every right to complain. I have no problem with my position, as it is fair and honorable. I force no one to do anything, and I do not claim to know what is best for others. That would be the opposition's job. If the fine thing does not work out, maybe escalating non-voting to a death penalty offense will turn the screws a bit more. In the end no one will escape the plan to save us from free will.

Asok: You have not nailed my belief system, but I suppose you are close enough for purposes of discussion. Lets say I do not accept societies burden. Then what? How would I not be part of it? There is nowhere to deport me to. That argument is the same one that is used to sell every crummy thing coming down the line. "What time do I show up to mandavote, where do you want me to be to give my urine sample, How much do I owe for the microchip implanted into my child." The countless benefits do not impress me much, and they are nothing I should be overly grateful for. One: I am more than likely going to consider most of the things you consider blessings to be curses. Two: I paid a ridiculous amount of cash for these mostly unwanted services. Society can be stable without the crazy talk of what I need to sacrifice to get along.

Try this on for size, Society is Microsoft Word, and you want to add another feature that makes coffee.
posted by thirteen at 12:07 AM on July 5, 2002


If voting is mandatory, even stupider people will vote. Let's let stupid people remain non-voters.
posted by Holden at 10:16 PM on July 5, 2002


asok: if the democratic system has failed so badly in a country that less than 50% of those eligable to vote do so, then you have to ask what has gone wrong.

What makes you think that the system has failed if only a minority vote? Maybe it means exactly the opposite: that most people are happy with the circumstances of of their government, and don't have any great interest in politics.

If you look at societies that have been the most highly politicized, in which politics is on everyone's lips, many people belong to political clubs, and who wins the next election is a matter of great concern to everyone, not just to professional politicians and their retainers, you will find they are societies like revolutionary France, or the Weimar republic. Those were not good times in which to live.

<hypothesis>
A high interest in politics is the sign of a dangerous and unstable culture, or at least one undergoing radical and often violent change. Societies that are prosperous and stable aren't very political.
</hypothesis>
posted by Slithy_Tove at 11:26 PM on July 5, 2002


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