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Democracy: Use it or lose it (commentary)


by Hugh Jackson, Nevada Current

Republicans, as they continue to call themselves, have good reasons to be against democracy.

Their nominee lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. And yet on two of those five occasions, their candidate ended up in the White House anyway.

And the framers of the U.S. Constitution, in an unsavory compromise, decided that the state of Wyoming (population 584,309), should have just as many U.S. senators as another state they didn’t even know about at the time, California (population 39,237,836).

The 100 U.S. senators are grouped into three classes so more or less a third of the seats are selected every two years. Over the last three elections, which is to say accounting for all 100 Senate seats, Democratic candidates received a total of 141.6 million votes, to 115.4 million for GOP contenders. But until last year Republicans controlled the Senate all that time anyway.

The 2018 Senate elections were an especially stark reminder that democracy in America doesn’t extend to control of the U.S. Senate. Democrats got 52.2 million votes to the GOP’s 34.6 million that year, yet Republicans managed not only to retain their majority in the Senate but pick up two additional seats.

Republicans can get far, far fewer votes than Democrats and still control Congress.

The system that determines who “wins” control of the executive, congressional and, through ensuing appointments, judicial branches of government is severely anti-democratic. 

Republicans literally wouldn’t have it any other way.

It is true that most of the founders hailed from the 18th century’s fancy pants wing, and tended to distrust rabble. They didn’t even put the word “democracy” in the Constitution. And even if they would have, precious few of them would have suggested that women should participate in it.

Some will argue that not only did framers leave out the word “democracy,” they also left out the concept. The electoral college, state legislative selection of U.S. senators, and the appointment of judges are not democratic.

In the early 20th century, the 17th Amendment provided that senators would be chosen by popular vote, and the 19th Amendment granted women the constitutional right to vote. The 21st century is still disastrously encumbered by the electoral college, though, as well as the obscenity wherein the average Wyomingite’s vote for a winning U.S. senator is roughly 75 times more powerful than the average Californian’s. And about six times more powerful than a vote for a senate candidate cast in Nevada.

There were some decidedly democratic features in the Constitution. “Representative democracy,” if you will. That’s what Hamilton called it, anyway. 

For instance, Article I, Section II – we’re less than a hundred words into the original 4,543 word document – says “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second year by the People of the Several states…”

Despite fits, starts and some ugly reversals, democracy in the U.S. has become more and more representative ever since. 

Common when the Constitution was ratified, none of the states after the first 13 established property requirements to vote. (North Carolina was the last state to abolish property requirements, in 1856.) 

Though the Constitution didn’t call for it, states pretty early on established that their electoral college votes for president would be determined by popular vote. 

Nevada’s fake electors may think the state’s electoral college votes should be determined by a gonzo legal theory cooked up by an extremist right-wing ideologue law professor working for Donald Trump. Jim Marchant, the fake elector-adjacent Republican candidate for secretary of state, by contrast, thinks the electoral college votes should be determined by Jim Marchant. 

All those people appear to be outliers.

For now.

But what if this year Republicans win All The Things?

Nevada Republicans chomping at the bit

At the state level, Republicans in Nevada have been all but sidelined since the 2018 election. How envious they must be of their counterparts in MAGA-controlled states across the nation. And if they won the governor’s mansion and control of the Legislature in 2022, the impulse to eagerly emulate other MAGA states would be palpable. Let the banning of history professors teaching history begin. 

No doubt a Republican controlled government in Nevada would also rush to catch up with other MAGA states to arm teachers but privatize schools, and repeal initiatives to confront and mitigate the impact of the climate crisis.

You could also count on Nevada Republicans to explore every innovative and creative avenue possible to circumvent Nevada’s statute protecting abortion rights.

And what of that system whereby voters in 2024 could show those elected officials what they think of their actions? What of democracy?

Shortly after announcing his candidacy for Senate in 2022, Adam Laxalt picked up where he left off in 2020, and resumed deliberately undermining public faith in democracy by contending that Democrats rigged the 2020 election.

Not only that, he doubled down and tried to deliberately undermine public faith in democracy some more by suggesting the 2022 election would also be rigged.  For the record, again, Laxalt has never provided a shred of credible evidence to back up either claim.

Joe Lombardo, the Republican nominee for governor, has not embraced the Big Lie as enthusiastically as Laxalt. But Lombardo on multiple occasions has suggested that gosh some mysterious something of some sort was wrong with the 2020 election, wink wink nudge nudge. Which is also despicable. And he came out of the box campaigning on “election integrity,” a code phrase on the MAGA right for “too many non-white people are voting.”

Given the chance, any and all “election integrity” measures Republicans would attempt to initiate in Nevada would be designed to make voting harder, and rejecting votes easier.

But wait, there’s more. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear a case next year which could grant state legislatures supremacy over election officials and courts in determining who should be granted a state’s electoral college votes. And a ruling would come down on plenty of time for the 2024 presidential election.

If the Trump Supreme Court rules in favor of Trumpism (what are the odds?), Trump won’t need to gin up fake electors in 2024, like his campaign did in Nevada and other states in 2020. In states where Republicans control legislatures, even if the Democrat candidate for president wins the most votes, those legislators would be able to appoint fake electors of their very own. Except they wouldn’t be fake anymore. They’d be deemed real. No matter who got the most votes.

“We tend to take democracy, at least in this country, as a given,” Joe Amditis, associate director of the Center for Cooperative Media, told States Newsroom. His organization and others are behind Democracy Day. Which was Sept. 15. Among the goals of Democracy Day organizers is giving “practical information on what members of the public can do.”

In that spirit, here are a couple suggestions: Register to vote. And then vote. While you still can.

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: [email protected]. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

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