Direct Democracy’s Detriments

Most people believe that the more democracy which is present in our political system, the better off Americans are. Most states have ballot questions which is an example of direct democracy, the people vote on an issue and the outcome becomes law. While this can yield a positive outcome, it can just as often be negative if people do not research the referendum before voting. Direct democracy comes down to enacting what 51% of the voters want, but this means a minority has no real voice in direct democracy. I’m not just talking about racial minorities either; businessmen have historically been a persecuted minority. Direct democracy leads to mob rule, and if the mob has 51% of the votes, they can vote away the rights of the other 49%, or any smaller segment of the population.

This is why we have representatives who are accountable for their votes. This step of removing voters to one degree of separation between them and legislation means they cannot directly vote on bills, but they can still affect the way their representative votes on legislation by voting for him or withholding their vote from him . Although they do not always vote in the best way, representatives are supposed to make informed decisions on the legislation, where as voters at large cannot be held accountable to do the same. Since representatives are elected from only one district, the district can elect a new representative if the politician does not make informed decisions on legislation.

While it still seems like 51% of people are dictating the laws to the other 49%, this is not the case because each individual district is made up of a population different than the general population. This means what 51% of people in one district would vote for is different than what 51% of people in another district would vote for, although there are many overlapping agreements between voters in different districts.Voters have to take the votes they agreed with, and the votes they disagreed with and decide if this representative was close enough to their values to be reelected.

This is half of our legislature, representatives elected by the people to be the more informed voice of the people. The other half of the federal legislature is the Senate, who are also elected by the people ever since the 17th amendment to the Constitution was passed. This amendment made U.S. Senators from each state elected by the people directly, instead of being elected by the legislatures of each state. Before this, the state representatives and state senators voted for the U.S. Senators, which separated the people by another degree from the upper house of the federal government. This had some benefits. First, the state legislatures would often elect someone from their own chamber, meaning that person had already been directly elected by the people of their district, and then approved by their fellow lawmakers or co-workers. A person you work with on a day to day basis will be more informed about who you are than the general population; they know through personal interaction, conversations, and experience with the candidate.

These days however, with Senators being elected by popular vote, the general population gets to know the Senate candidates through alternating 30 second television ads in which each side will take turns propagating their positions and attacking their opponent. The person with more money gets more turns to showcase themselves in front of uninformed voters ready and willing to vote away any minority’s rights if it benefits them in the short term. But also, what’s the point in having another representative of the people in federal government, when we already have the House of Representatives? The only difference is that the general population voting for these Senators is larger, has less connection to the candidate, and is therefore more easily deceived. Do you have more access to your state rep, or you U.S. Senator? The larger the electorate, the easier it is for a politician to hide behind uninformed voters who fall for lofty rhetoric. In most districts in the U.S. people have at least some access to their representative, but not real influence on their Senator.

When Senators were elected by the legislatures of each state, these state politicians were their constituents. With the general electorate still easily able to access the state politicians, these politicians will take the brunt of unpopular votes by the U.S. Senator, meaning they will be very careful who they send down to D.C. They also have the information pertaining to how federal legislation will affect their state, and they have an advocate for their particular state in the Senate. If the legislature of one state does not approve of a Senate bill, chances are their Senator would likewise not approve (or else risk being voted out by the state legislature at the next election). If a federal law is bad for the states, Senators elected by state legislatures are more likely to vote it down, because their bosses, or constituents, are the government of that state. The people of that state are much less likely to understand–or care about–any negative effects of federal legislation on state government.

27 states have sued the federal government over Obamacare. If each of those states still had control over their Senators, 54 Senators would have come from states, elected by state legislatures, which did not approve of Obamacare. The bill would have been unable to pass, because informed decision makers chose who to send to D.C. The state legislatures knew this bill would impose extra burdens on the state and be a detriment to the economy as well as healthcare. These state governments don’t want more hoops to jump through, and the politicians don’t want to have to defend a vote for a Senator who imposed deteriorating healthcare and increased costs along with worsening the economy. It is easier for a Senator to defend (and manipulate the implications of) their terrible votes to the general population of the state than it is to defend a bad vote to a few hundred politicians who elected the Senator as their voice in the federal government, and are actively involved in state government on a day to day basis. That Senator simply is not going to be able to pull the wool over the eyes of his former coworkers who have everyday experience interpreting bills, and implementing law.

Today state governments have no representation in the federal government. We have moved closer to direct democracy, and power has been taken from the states and centralized with the federal government. Sold as something that would empower the people, and give us more voice in federal government, in effect it gave us less choice, because of the ease with which 51% of the population can be tricked into voting for a bad Senator. States are now dictated to by the federal government, instead of being in control of the federal government. The founding fathers put together an intricate system of checks and balances in order to prevent the federal government from gaining too much power, and returning us to a monarchy, thus nullifying the benefits gained during the American Revolution. We would be wise to abide by their system if we value the protections of the individual inalienable rights of every person laid out in the Bill of Rights.

4 thoughts on “Direct Democracy’s Detriments

  1. Pingback: The Declaration of Independence | Joe Jarvis

  2. Pingback: Forward: Down the Road to Serfdom | Joe Jarvis

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