Sunday December 03, 2023

Minority rule

December 22, 2021

In the last nine elections for the president of the United States stretching across 30+ years, the Republican Party candidate has only twice been able to get a majority of the votes cast – yet the candidate for the Republican Party has won four of these nine elections.

Winning the election with a minority of votes cast in a two-party system is due to the quirks of the US electoral system. Such a result is possible because the US constitution calls for indirect election of the president and vice president with disproportionate weightage to the smaller states.

While the intent of the founding fathers may have been to balance out the power dynamic between smaller and larger states, the net result is a system increasingly out of step with the will of the voters.

As the demographic makeup of the country has continued to shift away from the large white majority population, there is increasing concern among many whites that it is a matter of time that they will no longer be a majority in the country. Since the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts in the mid-1960s, a majority of whites have voted for the Republican Party. With the census of 2020 showing the white population to have decreased to 60 percent, down about 25 points in just three decades, there is increasing concern among Republicans about their prospects in the future.

A logical reaction in a democracy would have been to pay more attention to the needs and concerns of racial minorities. However, in recent years the Republican Party instead has moved to maintain power through rigging of the US electoral system.

Particularly since the loss by Donald Trump in the 2020 elections, and his ‘big lie’ of election rigging, states controlled by Republicans have moved to make it harder to vote for minorities and younger voters who disproportionately vote for the Democrats.

Additionally, most Republican controlled states have redrawn congressional and local legislative districts as is done after each census so as to gain seats significantly out of proportion to the number of their voters. For example, Ohio with a marginal Republican majority is now expected to win 75 percent of the congressional House seats and maintain super majorities in the state legislature. This process of candidates choosing voters, instead of voters choosing candidates is referred to as ‘gerrymandering’ – a uniquely American anti-democratic phenomena which is getting the attention of autocrats across the world.

And, not being content with such egregious redistricting, many Republican controlled states have passed laws that would allow a partisan legislature if they don’t like the results, to overrule the choice of the voters, thus completing a total rout of the democratic process.

While some of the elements of the nonrepresentative system are contained in the US constitution – such as two senators from each state regardless of population – other anti- democratic processes have been added over the years that make the system even more nonrepresentative. For example, the US Senate Rules, not in the constitution, in effect require any legislation to obtain 60 out of 100 votes to become law. So, a bill that receives 59 votes in favour and none opposed cannot become law. This gives disproportionate power to a minority of senators. Such an arrangement has led to total paralysis in the conduct of the country’s business.

The US Senate today is split 50-50 between the two parties, giving control to the Democrats since the VP can cast a tiebreaking vote. This means every single senator, even in the ruling party, has a veto over any legislation. Two democratic senators have used this power to scuttle much of the agenda of President Biden. Democrats wanted to pay for some of their priorities by partially reversing tax cuts to the wealthy given under Trump, but moneyed interests were able to derail it by influencing just one senator.

With gerrymandered congressional districts and state legislatures, targeted restrictions on voting, and influence of money in US politics, democracy in the country has been badly tarnished. It is now estimated Democrats may have to win 10 million more votes than Republicans to have any chance of winning a majority. The changes instituted by Republican controlled states have pretty much ensured a minority of voters will be able to elect their governments for many years to come.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Washington DC. Website: