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January 25, 2006 9:32 PM   Subscribe

"The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof...." The Seventeeth Amendement provides for the direct election of U.S. Senators. Originally, Article I Section 3 of the United States Constition provided that each state's senators be chosen by that state's legislature.

The Populist Party platform from 1892 on, called for direct senatorial election; and the Progressive movment made it, along with Prohibition (18th Amendment) and Women's Suffrage (19th), a cornerstone of reform. The 17th was ratified 8 April 1913, when the required 36th of 48 states, Connecticut, approved it. Utah, however, had rejected it 41 days earlier, on 26 February 1913. Although Utah never subsequently ratified it, the 17th Amendment, as part of the Federal Constitution, applies in Utah as in all U.S. States.

But in the name of re-invigorating States' Rights, some on the Right -- and some less easy to label -- have called for the repeal of the 17th Amendement. In 2003 Montana's Senate, after passing it out of committee, indefinitely postponed by floor vote a bill calling on Congress to repeal the 17th. Now, the President of Utah's 29-member State Senate [pdf], with 19 co-sponsers, thinks he's figured out a way around the Constitution's 17th Amendment. Debate on the S.B. 156 began yesterday.
posted by orthogonality (52 comments total)

 
(Previous Utah FPPs.)
posted by orthogonality at 9:34 PM on January 25, 2006


I can't think of a single good reason to repeal it.
posted by DoorFrame at 9:47 PM on January 25, 2006


honestly, ive thought for the last few years that the best reform to the senate would be effectively making half of the senators left up to state legislatures. That is, that voters from a particular state would choose one of their senators directly and the other would be appointed by the state legislature. In this way state governments have a strong presence in the senate.
posted by Kifer85 at 9:56 PM on January 25, 2006


Guess matt passed on the mandatory "more inside" pony, huh?
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:59 PM on January 25, 2006


I've always felt that the key to a good democracy is giving voters less say in who represents them.

/sarcasm
posted by papakwanz at 10:13 PM on January 25, 2006


not bein snarky - how would a repeal benefit the general population? wouldn't it consolidate more power into fewer hands?
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 10:26 PM on January 25, 2006


This took up the whole front page. Just sayin'.
posted by zek at 10:41 PM on January 25, 2006



Guess matt passed on the mandatory "more inside" pony, huh?


Pointless trifling. This (excellent) post is relevant. It's well researched. Currently, it's quite important. I'm shocked that the formatting is even worth commenting on. At least Don Quixote attacked real windmills: You're at war with the mini-golf variety.

Anyhoo: Yuck. That would be an even greater move from direct democracy, making our current representative democracy even less representative. To the majority goes all.
posted by sourwookie at 10:49 PM on January 25, 2006


I'd love to see this happen, though I find it very doubtful that it ever will.

If I lived in Utah, though, I'd be very insulted by this:
"We know more than voters do," Valentine said. "They don't get the chance to hear all that we do."
posted by madajb at 10:50 PM on January 25, 2006


I'd trade a repeal of the 17th Ammendment for direct Presidential election. The citizens of Utah should at least get something in return, like proportional assignment of votes in the electoral college (not that they'd actually want it).
posted by Loudmax at 10:55 PM on January 25, 2006


Surprisingly, Tocqueville thought that indirect election to the Senate (prior to the 17th Amendment) worked pretty well.
On entering the House of Representatives at Washington, one is struck by the vulgar demeanor of that great assembly. Often there is not a distinguished man in the whole number. Its members are almost all obscure individuals, whose names bring no associations to mind. They are mostly village lawyers, men in trade, or even persons belonging to the lower classes of society. In a country in which education is very general, it is said that the representatives of the people do not always know how to write correctly.

At a few yards' distance is the door of the Senate, which contains within a small space a large proportion of the celebrated men of America. Scarcely an individual is to be seen in it who has not had an active and illustrious career: the Senate is composed of eloquent advocates, distinguished generals, wise magistrates, and statesmen of note, whose arguments would do honor to the most remarkable parliamentary debates of Europe.

How comes this strange contrast, and why are the ablest citizens found in one assembly rather than in the other? Why is the former body remarkable for its vulgar elements, while the latter seems to enjoy a monopoly of intelligence and talent? Both of these assemblies emanate from the people; both are chosen by universal suffrage; and no voice has hitherto been heard to assert in America that the Senate is hostile to the interests of the people. From what cause, then, does so startling a difference arise? The only reason which appears to me adequately to account for it is that the House of Representatives is elected by the people directly, while the Senate is elected by elected bodies. The whole body of the citizens name the legislature of each state, and the Federal Constitution converts these legislatures into so many electoral bodies, which return the members of the Senate. The Senators are elected by an indirect application of the popular vote; for the legislatures which appoint them are not aristocratic or privileged bodies, that elect in their own right, but they are chosen by the totality of the citizens; they are generally elected every year, and enough new members may be chosen every year to determine the senatorial appointments. But this transmission of the popular authority through an assembly of chosen men operates an important change in it by refining its discretion and improving its choice. Men who are chosen in this manner accurately represent the majority of the nation which governs them; but they represent only the elevated thoughts that are current in the community and the generous propensities that prompt its nobler actions rather than the petty passions that disturb or the vices that disgrace it.
posted by russilwvong at 11:02 PM on January 25, 2006


not bein snarky - how would a repeal benefit the general population? wouldn't it consolidate more power into fewer hands?
The idea was that congressmen should represent the masses, but that the senate was supposed to be the legislative body representing the state governments. At first blush, it's hard to imagine how the interest of a state would differ from the interests of that state's citizens. But here are some example arguments:

Deficit spending by the federal government would be significantly less, if not entirely non-existant if senators were appointed. Why? When state governments run deficits, they have to sell bonds (just like the federal government). However, state bonds are more expensive debt instruments because they have to compete with federal bonds (which are seen as a lower risk). Voting to allow the federal government to deficit spend generally goes against a state's own financial interests (it costs your state lots and lots of money). If state governments had a direct say in federal spending, they would have an incentive to avoid deficits.

Taxes. State governments would have incentives to keep federal taxes lower (why send money out of your state to Washington which will be spent outside your state?). Similarly, pork barrell spending is less palatable when the money is being taken from your own coffers.

The interests of a congressmen are often quite different. Deficit spending is great if you're a congressman - you get more money for popular programs without actually forcing voters to pay for it! Genius! Pork barrel spending is great too - it's YOU bringing federal money back to YOUR state (and paid for by future generations through deficit spending).

The first alliegience of a senator who is appointed by a state government should be to that state government. If the senator has to run a political campaign, they are indebted to the lobbyists and campaign contributors who helped finance their election (and who can make or break a re-election).

Issues. If you're appointed, you don't have to run a political campaign and therefore don't have to pander to hot button issues or the lowest common denominator (political campaigns often distract from real issues and warp the public debate). To be a little glib in making the point, you don't see Supreme Court nominees running ads comparing other potential nominees to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein (as Republican Saxby Chambliss did to Vietnam Vet Max Cleland who left limbs in Southeast asia)

Of course, this is not to say that there aren't downsides to having a state government appoint your senator for you, e.g. if the state government is corrupt, the senate seat goes a crony. But the counter to that would be that state residents would then have a greater incentive to pay attention to their state governments and keep them tolerably honest.

Now, whether you vote Democrat or Republican, both candidates almost invariably are more beholden to their campaign contributors than to the voters.
posted by Davenhill at 11:40 PM on January 25, 2006


This democracy stuff was getting old, anyway.
posted by chasing at 11:41 PM on January 25, 2006


As a Kah-li-FOR-ni-an, one of the few institutions that I hold in lower regard than the house of Representatives is my state legislature. With a few exceptions, it seems to be made up entirely of oily hacks who have instituted such charming practices as "taking a walk" when anything remotely controversial comes up for a vote.

I'm sympathetic to arguments that the Senate is inherently undemocratic (because low-population states like Montana and Rhode Island get the same amount of votes as high-population ones like Texas and California). On a pragmatic level, though, I can't bring myself to push for reform at a time when the Senate seems like one of the few things holding the government back from plunging into a nightmarish Orwellian abyss.
posted by whir at 11:57 PM on January 25, 2006


What kind of people would a state legislature choose? Would they choose "eloquent advocates, distinguished generals, wise magistrates, and statesmen of note" as de Tocqueville observed? I'd bet instead that these new Senators would have the same individuality as Electors to the Presidential College; they vote the party line faithfully or they're out. It would kill the Senate as a separate body.
posted by stevis at 11:59 PM on January 25, 2006


Davenhill, nice explanation of the ramifications. I'd initially thought it was a simple powergrab but your breakdown made it alot clearer that its not so simple. I'm still naturally suspicious of any initiatives to change the Constitution and even more so when they come from the Right.

I think I'd just as soon they didn't mess with it or anything else for the next three years or so.
posted by fenriq at 12:00 AM on January 26, 2006


Well worth the front page real estate. Thank you.
posted by brundlefly at 12:18 AM on January 26, 2006


Davenhill writes "state residents would then have a greater incentive to pay attention to their state governments and keep them tolerably honest"

Couldn't this also be formulated as "state governments would then have a greater incentive to conceal their doings from the public?" I think there's an interesting contrast in your examples between this and the description of politicians not being responsive to voters (by "pandering to hot button issues") as a virtue.

I guess in some ways it comes down to whether you tend to like the idea of a republic or a direct democracy, which is an old debate and an interesting one. I used to consider myself purely in the (small-d) democrat camp, but having been through some grueling initiative wars here in the Golden State has made me feel a lot less dogmatic about that.
posted by whir at 12:21 AM on January 26, 2006


whir -
Not "pandering to hot button issues" does not necessarily mean unresponsive to voters.
It would mean (hopefully) that Senators would be more able to vote in a more meaningful way rather than "I need to vote for this bill otherwise the party won't help me finance my reelection campaign".

stevis -
If the state legislators choose patsies and party hacks, that's a failure of the state legislature, not of the system.
posted by madajb at 12:36 AM on January 26, 2006


Personally, I've thought about the structure and purpose of representation with regards to the "House" is for "The People" and "Senate" for "The States".

These two are supposed to balance each other.
This is quite similar to the British Parliament with the House of Commons and House of Lords.

I'm a strong proponent of anarchist style federalism. IOW, I don't support "The Federalist Society"... But, point being, it does seem to make sense that any sort of organization should start from the local and work upwards. If one looks at what is being dealt with, the House, in a sense, should deal with "National" issues (i.e. the people as a whole) and the Senate on "Interstate" issues (i.e. representing the states working together and between each other)...

If one is to believe that the Senate represents the states, it would make sense for the state level/unit/monad would be the one to elect it. However, the state senates (in bicameral legislature states, that is) would be elected by the county level legislature, and the state houses would be elected by the people as a whole... This would filter down to the local level.

It's something that interests me in terms of complexity theory and relations between higher and lower levels of a hierarchy, and the relations between co-equal units within a layer.

I think what we have in the US is an interesting foundation that could use some tweaking (after the revolution, of course :P) But I think there are some very good prinicples to take and use in a revolutionary context if one is to still work within a western style democratic system.

In the current way of organization with representation at the state level, I think this concept is a horrible idea. But if things were changed to be more self-similar across all levels, I think the idea might be a little more rational.

Apologies for the lack of sense, starting to fade for the evening.
posted by symbioid at 12:37 AM on January 26, 2006


I'm still naturally suspicious of any initiatives to change the Constitution and even more so when they come from the Right.

By that criteria, one would have been wary of amending the Constitution in the first place by ratifying the 17th Amd.

Davehill does a great job pointing out why this is a much more complicated issue than at first glance. I highly doubt that the direct election of Senators will change anytime soon, despite the machinations of state governments like Utah. The language, intent, and historical practice associated with the 17th Amd. is fairly clear.
posted by Falconetti at 12:43 AM on January 26, 2006


state bonds are more expensive debt instruments because they have to compete with federal bonds (which are seen as a lower risk)

This isn't exactly right. For more than 12 of the last 13 years, munis have been cheaper to issue than treasuries (ie, treasury yields were greater than muni yields).
posted by Kwantsar at 12:45 AM on January 26, 2006


russilwvong >>> "Its members are almost all obscure individuals, whose names bring no associations to mind. They are mostly village lawyers, men in trade, or even persons belonging to the lower classes of society."


A government by the people, and for the people, isn't it?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:53 AM on January 26, 2006


At least Don Quixote attacked real windmills: You're at war with the mini-golf variety.
Good. I hate those things :)
posted by kaemaril at 1:28 AM on January 26, 2006


I can't see this as a good idea at all. Considering that my state's legislature often gets advice and sometimes marching orders from the LDS leadership, this change would mean the LDS would essentially be choosing my state's senators.

I know Utah will probably never elect a senator who would not meet the approval of the church. But, at least there is the appearance of independence with the current system and a small chance someone would slip through, especially as the state keeps slowly trending towards becoming a majority non-active and/or non-member population.

And while legislature-selected senators would no longer be directly obliged to meet the needs of large donors, they would easily fall prey to the special interests and weird obsessions which are often the province of state legislatures. And pissing off a donor doesn't have the same impact as pissing off the majority party of the legislature which will have the power to fire the errant senator.
posted by pandaharma at 2:10 AM on January 26, 2006


"Seventeeth Amendement" -- I picture an Olde and Gummy Law.
posted by pracowity at 2:16 AM on January 26, 2006


Machine politics has enough power at the state level without giving them the job of choosing US senators.

This, of course, is nothing but a power grab by the powerless.
posted by caddis at 3:43 AM on January 26, 2006


This may be a good idea, but the proposed idea cannot be implemented in its present form.

No law can supersede the Constitution. If you want to override part of the Constitution, you must amend it, with all the pain that involves. The Constitution says Senators are elected by the people, and no mere law can change that.

For such a well-researched piece, it's surprising to me that orthogonality missed the centerpoint of the whole issue.

This is noise. It can't happen as written.
posted by Malor at 4:10 AM on January 26, 2006


This is noise. It can't happen as written.

Sure it can.

Congress passes such a law.

Somebody sues, stating that they're 17th Amendment right to directly choose a Senator has been violated.

Case goes to Supreme Court.

SCOTUS, fresh with Scalito Goodness, says "The law stands."

See, the whole system was based on Congress, SCOTUS, and the President being a bit antagonistic to each other, so that they wouldn't get away with such tricks. However, now that BushCo owns two, and all but owns the third, and owns the media as well, it is more that workable.

See, the Constitution really is just a piece of paper, and I'm not saying that to be snarky. It's the people operating under the Constitution that make the Constitution what it is.

If they all agree to subvert it, there's no legal way to stop them. Indeed, if they all agree, they *define* what legal and illegal is.
posted by eriko at 5:12 AM on January 26, 2006


I think that before this could even be countenanced you'd need strong anti-gerrymandering laws. While indirect election is OK in principle, you can't have the electors being safe-seat partisan hacks as presently in TX and elsewhere.

(Of course, the US needs strong anti-gerrymandering laws in any case, but particularly here...)
posted by athenian at 5:13 AM on January 26, 2006


althenian: I disagree completely. Indirect election is utterly NOT ok in principle. Indirect election quickly becomes "who cares what the people want" and concentrates power in an opaque manner.

Thanks to indirect election George W Bush became president despite the fact that the majority of Americans voted against him. Thanks to indirect election the presidential elections essentially ignore most states, and thus most people, to concentrate on a few "swing states". Thanks to indirect election a small group in Florida was able to steal the presidency. Indirect election is one of the single worst ideas ever floated.

As for other issues, the notion that if Senators were appointed by state legislatures individual Senators would be free to vote the way they really felt instead of having to support a paty line vote for fear of losing party support seems patently stupid. If Senators were appointed by state legislatures they'd be vastly more concerned about offending the parties. In our current, superior, system a Senator can go directly to the people and say "I voted this way even though the party thought I shouldn't and here's why." If we went for the aristocratic proposal the state legislature would say "well, Senator X you didn't do our bidding well enough, you're out".

I want my Senators doing *my* bidding, not the bidding of those idiots in the state legislature.
posted by sotonohito at 5:28 AM on January 26, 2006


whir writes "I'm sympathetic to arguments that the Senate is inherently undemocratic (because low-population states like Montana and Rhode Island get the same amount of votes as high-population ones like Texas and California)."

The Senate is most assuredly not "inherently undemocratic." There is a balance between our states and the Union in which they're united. The Senate preserves a part of that balance by acknowledging that the interests of the citizens of one states are analogous in power to the interests of the citizens of another. The House represents the population as a whole, the Senate the parts of the Union. Otherwise we would be a much, much, more liberal Union.

Tocqueville got it wrong, seeing in the difference between the House and the Senate a cautionary tale about direct election, where the tale is actually about the difference between representing a narrow constituency and a broad one. Which is also the reason that repeal of the 17th is such a bad idea. Democracy works in the Senate by moderating the narrow passions of a narrow group of people (the House congressional districts) because larger groups tend to comprise a larger set of interests and concerns. When the whole state votes for one representative (a Senator), the result is more balanced. Legislatures are narrow groups of people, elected from narrow constituencies.

Excellent post, I only wish that it had been longer and taken up more space on the front page!
posted by OmieWise at 6:25 AM on January 26, 2006


Terrific post, great discussion.

sotonohito: Indirect election quickly becomes "who cares what the people want" and concentrates power in an opaque manner.

This strikes me as a bit too simplistic. You seem to consider indirect election as analogous to the electoral college; but while the electoral college is a distortion of the popular vote, indirect election is about improving the balance and responsibilities of different governments in a federalist system.

I think that whir has a really important point-- state legislatures can be petty, corrupt little fiefdoms. My small-state, Cato-intern, Federalist Society member girlfriend has so little faith in her state's politicians that she doesn't favor indirect election. Would increased public salience and scrutiny that came with the power to elect US senators be enough to overcome those problems? Is it worth taking a chance?
posted by ibmcginty at 6:27 AM on January 26, 2006


Sotonohito, when I say OK in principle it wasn't particularly a value judgement, I merely meant that some countries that are modern liberal democracies use it, usually for their revising chambers, and there's no inherent reason why the US couldn't revert to the original constitutional provision.

The UK was thinking of using indirect election in a reformed House of Lords, and IIRC it's used in the Seanaid (the Irish upper house) and a couple of other European countries. Canada, of course, has an appointed Senate, which is definitely too oligarchic for my tastes.
posted by athenian at 6:30 AM on January 26, 2006


Haven't yet read the post, but wanted to recall that Tocqueville remarked how unremarkable and base the House was, while he felt that the Senate contained the best that the states had to offer (my words, not his, but that was the gist).

This is not to say that I think that the old way of doing it was the correct way. I just wanted to add.
posted by Tullius at 6:43 AM on January 26, 2006


if the state government is corrupt, the senate seat goes a crony.

That's why it was gotten rid of. It wasn't that expensive to buy a state legislature's vote for Senator, and it wasn't uncommon for firms and trusts did just that. This led to the Senate being the house of the monopolists, for the monopolists, as in the famous cartoon.

Put differently, we adopted direct election because indirect election was demonstrably broken.

There is a balance between our states and the Union in which they're united. The Senate preserves a part of that balance by acknowledging that the interests of the citizens of one states are analogous in power to the interests of the citizens of another.

That sort of justification was offered after the fact, but it's a lot more likely that the reason we have population-apportionment in the House and equal apportionment in the Senate is simply and crassly that that was the deal the Convention could agree to, nothing more.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:25 AM on January 26, 2006


Repealing the 17th has long been a pet political idea of mine. I'm glad to see it get some attention.

Meanwhile, let's all watch as millions upon millions are pumped into Senate elections as purch^Wcontributions.
posted by unixrat at 7:33 AM on January 26, 2006


ROU_Xenophobe writes "That sort of justification was offered after the fact, but it's a lot more likely that the reason we have population-apportionment in the House and equal apportionment in the Senate is simply and crassly that that was the deal the Convention could agree to, nothing more."

But we need not see it as simply contingent now, we're free to think of the bicameral house and its particular mechanisms as a vital part of the balance between the states and the Union.

unixrat writes "Meanwhile, let's all watch as millions upon millions are pumped into Senate elections as purch^Wcontributions."

Obviously essential election reform doesn't have to be confined to repealing the 17th amendment. My guess is that it's easier to trace the money in Senate races than in the kinds of bribes that would be used to secure Senate appointments.
posted by OmieWise at 7:52 AM on January 26, 2006


Now this is a quality post.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 8:00 AM on January 26, 2006


I live in New York State. Any law that granted more power to the NYS legislature is so bad an idea, words fail me.

Anything bad you can say about Congress, multiply it by three and you have a fair description of the NYS legislature.
posted by Eyebeams at 8:01 AM on January 26, 2006


Tocqueville got it wrong, seeing in the difference between the House and the Senate a cautionary tale about direct election, where the tale is actually about the difference between representing a narrow constituency and a broad one.

Well put. It's unnecessary to look at the particulars of the election process to explain why celebrated men achieve higher office. He undermines his argument that their election requires elevated thought by asserting that the directly elected representatives are indistinguishable from the common man.
posted by eddydamascene at 8:06 AM on January 26, 2006


If I lived in Utah, though, I'd be very insulted by this:
"We know more than voters do," Valentine said. "They don't get the chance to hear all that we do."


why? shouldn't we expect that people whose job it is to learn all the details about various issues are better versed in those details than those of us who have other occupations during the day, and can only research the issues in our spare time? Isn't that the purpose of representative democracy? If we didn't think that statesmen knew more than voters, then presumably we'd put every law to popular vote.

The question is not whether representatives know more than voters, but how much more and how many steps down from the actual implementation of the law the individual's vote counts, and quite importantly, how corrupted the career politicians are by too much control - that whole checks & balances thing. But it's simplistic to deny that politicians don't consider more information - they certainly ought to. That's what we pay them to do.
posted by mdn at 8:10 AM on January 26, 2006


Eyebeams: You're so wrong about the NYS Legislature. For example, multiply bythree? I think you've missed a few trailing zeroes there.

One of the intriguing things about this is that it may have the power to change both the composition of the senate (big) and the composition of the state legislatures (far bigger). Because state representatives' districts are far more local, even a small community backlash can get a representative in some very hot water. I think this could go pretty far towards reducing the percieved irrelavence of the state legislatures.

If a big part of your state's policies were now actually controlled by the state legislature, you'd become far more interested in the politics of that body, and getting some good exposure and publicity of the goings-on in those houses can only be a Good Thing(tm).

Not that its not without problems, but I do think it could bring some disenfecting sunlight to state and local politics.
posted by Skorgu at 8:17 AM on January 26, 2006


I can't see this as a good idea at all. Considering that my state's legislature often gets advice and sometimes marching orders from the LDS leadership, this change would mean the LDS would essentially be choosing my state's senators.

I know Utah will probably never elect a senator who would not meet the approval of the church. But, at least there is the appearance of independence with the current system and a small chance someone would slip through, especially as the state keeps slowly trending towards becoming a majority non-active and/or non-member population.


Orrin Hatch has been known to call the church for advice. I would agree with (Gore Vidal?) who said that you don't need a conspiracy when everyone thinks alike.

The mistaken conflation of the republican party with the lds church has chapped my hide for years.
posted by mecran01 at 8:22 AM on January 26, 2006


From the article, it would appear that this proposed law would neither violate the 17th Amendment nor change direct election of Senators. What it does is allow political parties to delegate selection of nominees for Senate to their state legislators of the same party. Voters would still vote directly on who their Senator will be. In theory, you needn't even eliminate the primary process -- you could still have the primary vote and the top two votegetters would be the names sent to the state legislators.

This doesn't answer the question of whether direct election of senators is a good or bad idea. It doesn't go to whether you should trust voters or state legislators more, but whether you trust political parties and/or primary/caucus voters more than you trust state legislators.

On the more substantive issue, I tend to think that the Founders' reliance on state legislators as more enlightened than the masses and more tuned-in to the needs of the state as a whole to be somewhat misplaced these days. Many state legislative bodies are tightly controlled by a handful of members, and therefore some state interests have more power than others. At least by direct vote, you have some input from all of the regions of a state (look at Chicago vs. downstate Illinois for one example).
posted by fochsenhirt at 8:35 AM on January 26, 2006


Considering 99% of our legislature is already comprised of white male Republican Mormons, and our Congressional delegation is much the same (although we do have one Representative who is nominally a [D], but that's just for show since he votes with the [R] side anyway), I don't see how this would change a damned thing.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:59 AM on January 26, 2006


Obviously essential election reform doesn't have to be confined to repealing the 17th amendment. My guess is that it's easier to trace the money in Senate races than in the kinds of bribes that would be used to secure Senate appointments.

The problem is one of appearances. (IMHO) We *think* we can see the all the money from thousands of sources, totalling millions of dollars, raised from $10,000/plate luncheons, which buys "access", face time, influence, quid pro quo, what-have-you. I reckon that we cannot. TPTB are happy with the thinking that the current process is transparent and the old way isn't.

The current way is transparently bogus, I can tell you that.
posted by unixrat at 9:05 AM on January 26, 2006


sourwookie writes "I'm shocked that the formatting is even worth commenting on."

It's the second three paragraph magnum opus on the front page at the moment. Multiparagraph FPPs make it hard to parse the front page and often are weak posts (though not this time) that require all the extra roughage to avoid being deleted.

Matt should at least strip line breaks in FPPs if he isn't going to insititute a hard character limit.
posted by Mitheral at 9:06 AM on January 26, 2006


Skorgu - interesting idea, but the way election laws "work" in NYS, the legislature could be flooded with disinfecting sunlight (just to add to the mixed metaphor - uh, mess) and nothing would change. I remember reading a few years ago that there is less turnover in the British House of Lords (due to mortality) than in the U.S. Senate. Well, I'd guess that the turnover in the NYS legislature might be even lower. It's virtually impossible for anyone to beat an incumbent, and for anyone other than a major party candidate, you'd have a better chance of memorizing the U.S. tax code.

Sorry - rant over.
posted by Eyebeams at 11:20 AM on January 26, 2006


Eyebeams: undoubtably true, but certainly more exposure/sunlight/bleach could only help matters?

What I'm really thinking of is less the direct election of the candidates, whether they be state representatives or federal senators and more the behind-the-scenes manouvering that results in someone actually appearing on the ballot in the first place - the primaries and associated events.

If the stakes were higher than simply the (percieved) limited ability of the state legislatures to actually do something, perhaps more light would fall on these processes where a given amount of effort can go far further.

In other words, the incumbants still might be untouchable but when real contests occur there would be more thought given to who is on the ballot. Since so few people cast informed votes in the primaries, some federal-election-scale campaigning for bake-sale-sized elections these events would go massively further.

I happen to think that the more percieved power a position has the more attention from both parties it receives. To further torture my metaphor, bigger leaves == more sunlight.

That said, I've not actually decided if I'm actually for this proposal. I'd much rather hear a reasonable plan to fix the gerrymandering issue that is removing the concept of 'elections' from the public eye. I would be far more optimistic if I thought one existed.
posted by Skorgu at 12:26 PM on January 26, 2006


mdm -
"But it's simplistic to deny that politicians don't consider more information - they certainly ought to. "

Perhaps, though my experience with state legislators is that they know a lot about whatever pet issue got them elected, and the party line on everything else.
However, I read that quote not so much as "We legislators have more time to study the nuances of issues than the public does" and more like "We're smarter than the masses and they shouldn't be trusted with choosing Senators".
posted by madajb at 12:54 PM on January 26, 2006


Fantastic post. I have to say that -- strictly as a devil's advocate -- I've brought this up before. I was once a firmly dedicated populist on the issue (among the other proponents of direct election was Wisconsin's beloved original progressive, Robert LaFollette), but that position has been weakened. I think there is a serious case to be made for returning to the original indirect method (posters above have made many of the key points), and it isn't by any means a simplistic States' Rights argument, either.

States' Rights, by the way, has its merits too, although it shall be forever stained by its close association with slavery. I've wondered whether the conditions for reasserting states' rights as a legitimate tool of populism might ever arise, and I do wonder whether recent revelations about federal and executive power provide leading indicators.

Nevertheless, the basic argument that the indirect system is inherently prone to corruption is pretty cut and dried. I don't think this is really going to change soon, either, because the very body it affects would have to approve it.

I'm also curious about many election reforms that may seem novel to the US -- e.g. proportional representation, single transferable voting, and even something that this superficially resembles, the candidate list. I'd like it if we could have a little bit more experimentation in our democracy -- 50 states innovating in different directions, trying stuff and seeing how it works. I think that voter apathy reflects our system is very much in a rut and very indifferent to change, and (nearly) anything that shakes that up can't be bad.
posted by dhartung at 4:15 PM on January 26, 2006


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