A World Where Your Vote Will Count

by Paul VanRaden

© 2004

 

"All those other constitutions are documents that say:

'We, the government, allow the people the following rights,'

and our constitution says

'We, the people, allow the government the following privileges and rights.' "

Ronald Reagan, February 5, 1981

 

Constitutions

The United States constitution is a well-known but old plan for democracy. In the old days, constitutional reform was easy. The original Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union introduced as U.S. law in 1778 were completely revised just 11 years later and replaced by the 1789 constitution. The first 10 amendments (the bill of rights) were passed just two years later in 1791. Many other constitutional problems were solved by amendments, but the larger problem of slavery was solved only by the 1860-64 civil war. Major amendments such as 15 and 19 were passed in 1870 and 1920, with the hope of allowing all races and both sexes to vote.

 

Constitutional reform comes slow now, while society changes fast. Recent amendments to the U.S. constitution made smaller changes, and amendment 18 that outlawed alcohol in 1919 was simply reversed by amendment 21 that let people drink again in 1951. Constitutional law gave the United States a stable government for over 200 years after separating from Great Britain. Few Americans see any need to change, because they think that change is too difficult, or they feel that the risk of change is too great, or they may not be aware of the serious problems that remain.

 

Problems

The U.S. constitution has several problems that deserve to be fixed:

 

1) Two different sets of law-makers (the house of representatives and the senate) vote separately on two different sets of bills. Further changes are introduced by conference committees. After this, the executive branch (the president) may veto the work of the legislative branch, who then may vote again to over-ride the veto. This whole process is slow, inefficient, and hard for voters to monitor.

 

2) The principle of one person, one vote is ignored in the senate. Each state gets the same number of votes (2) in the U.S. senate even tho 50 times more people live in California than in Vermont. People from small states demanded and got an unfair compromise when Article 1, section 3 of the U.S. constitution was written. For over two centuries of counting votes in the senate, states with small populations have had much more power than they deserved. Will the senator from the small state finally yield?

 

3) The U.S. constitution gives far too much power to one person. As a result, presidential elections focus on the personal characteristics of two candidates instead of real issues concerning voters. The second most popular candidate in the election gets no power in the government. Third parties have little chance to be heard and almost no chance to win or to share in power. The more modern constitutions of other nations give voters more choices and have several winners that share power.

 

4) Presidential candidates with the most votes do not always win presidential elections. A recent example was Al Gore receiving more votes than George W. Bush in 2000 but being defeated. Again, as a result of a bad compromise written into article 2, section 1 of the 1789 constitution, small states have more influence than they deserve when electing the nationís president.

 

5) The titles of many office holders are not very descriptive. The vice-president of the United States is the president of the senate, but does not actually preside over the senate. Traditionally, the speaker of the house controlled the agenda of the representatives, but rarely gave speeches in the house. In the U.S., the secretaries are the bosses over the executive departments. In many other countries, ministers are in charge of governments.

 

6) The U.S. constitution does not say whether states may secede if they no longer wish to be part of the union. This serious defect in the law contributed to a very bloody civil war. The previous laws, the 1778 Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, more clearly implied that states could not leave the union after they joined it. The articles of confederation also invited Canada to join the union.

 

The United Nations charter has many, more serious problems.

 

1) In the U.N. charter, only nations count, not people. The basic principle of one person, one vote is never used at the United Nations. When votes are counted in the security council and in the general assembly, a nationís population size and number of voters are always ignored.

 

2) A dictator that wonít count votes within his own nation gets to vote at the United Nations, and his vote is given equal credit to a vote from any elected government.

 

3) Five of the nations that won the second world war (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union, and China) kept permanent power by declaring themselves to be permanent members of the security council. When the Soviet Union disappeared, Russia inherited its permanent membership card. All other nations take turns sharing any power not reserved by the permanent members for themselves.

 

4) The five permanent members of the security council each have veto power over resolutions, amendments to the charter, or appointment of the secretary-general. This severely limits the United Nationsí ability to act, to change, or to choose strong leaders.

 

You say you want a revolution ...

You say you'll change the constitution.

from the song Revolution by The Beatles, 1968

 

Votes

Will your vote make a difference? About Ĺ of Americans already have decided that taking an hour or two to vote, even once every four years, is not worth their time. Only about 1/3 of Americans vote for senators and representatives in the elections held every two years between presidential elections. In the United States and in some other democracies, elections provide limited choices and few good reasons to vote. In less democratic nations and in world government, people may have no choices because many national and international leaders still are not elected directly.

 

When the votes are counted to elect a president, or a governor, or a senator, or any election where one winner is chosen from each district, an individualís vote in fact makes no difference unless the election is a tie or is decided by only one or two votes. Only in these very rare cases does each vote make a difference. In large state or national elections where millions of people vote, the chances are nearly 100% that your vote will not decide who wins and who gets power, because the winner will beat the loser by more than just your vote.

 

If the election is not very close, why bother to vote? If your favorite candidates have no chance to win, why should you vote for them. If none of the candidates share your beliefs, why should you vote at all?

 

Elections

Election laws will be changed, and then your vote count will count. Solutions are simple.

 

1) Elected officials will have power only in proportion to the vote count, not the census count. If you vote for your representatives, their influence in the government will increase. Their votes will get more credit because you voted for them, not simply because you exist and were counted in a census.

 

2) Winner-take-all elections will be replaced by proportional representation and power sharing such as used in modern democracies. Voters in the democratic nations of Europe, Asia, South America, and Oceania elect more than one winner per region or nation, and the winners share power based on the number of votes received. Only Jamaica, Canada, and the United States use the older style winner-take-all elections that countries with newer constitutions have chosen not to adopt.

 

3) One person will get one vote and all votes will count equally. People will share power based on the number of votes counted, not the area of land controlled. States and territories will have power only in proportion to the number of voters that live there.

 

4) Election laws that make sense for governing cities, states, and nations will also be used for governing the world. International law will be based on the same basic rules of democracy. Power will be shared by the people of the world according to population size and number of voters within each nation. The United Nations Charter will be completely revised so that each voter in the world will be counted.

 

5) No national government will be allowed to vote in international elections if it does not allow its own citizens to vote. United Nations delegates will be directly elected by the people instead of appointed by the national government, similar to election of United States senators instead of allowing them to be appointed by state governments.

 

All adults will have the right to vote in future elections, but many canít vote today. Some national governments in Africa and Asia still refuse to count their citizensí votes, or force all citizens to vote for just one candidate. Other governments in Europe, the Americas, and Oceania also refuse to count the votes of Africans and Asians by declaring them to be non-citizens and deporting them. See The Right To Migrate for a solution to that problem. The present report proposes new rules for counting votes and governing society within and across the nations of our world.

 

"It is preposterous to presume that the people of one generation

can lay down the best and only rules of government

for all who are to come after them"

 Ulysses S. Grant, 1885

 

Solutions

Real change really is possible, and progress today should be easier than in the past. In revolutionary wars, civil wars, and world wars, brave people gave their lives to give others the right to vote. But violence is not needed for change to occur. After only a cold war, many communist governments disappeared. White people finally did vote yes to let black people vote. Men finally did vote yes to let women vote.

 

People in small states finally will vote yes to let people in big states have equal representation. Elected officials finally will take power away from kings, queens, dictators for life, military rulers, and single-party states. Constitutions will be written, amended, re-written, and adopted by the people. Recent work to develop a constitution for Europe may serve as a model for the world. The majority of earthís voters will be heard. Your vote will count.

 

Politics could become a subject worthy of study. Politician could be a job title that people could look up to and that many would want to compete for. Salaries and bonuses for politicians could be increased to be competitive with other top professions if new election laws provide law-makers that better represent and are respected by the populations they serve. With modern communication, law-makers might continue to live in their districts and cast votes by e-mail instead of living in capitol cities and concentrating power there. Democracy could evolve instead of being stuck in the past.

 

Conclusions

The idea of democracy began thousands of years ago, but most nations did not have democratic governments until recent decades. The laws of democratic nations have improved greatly over the last two centuries, but still have some very serious flaws. This report attempted to solve some remaining problems of democracy by proposing new laws to govern people and nations.

 

Americans declared independence from the King of Great Britain in 1776. In todayís more democratic world and global economy, Americans should reverse their revolution. They should sign a declaration of dependence on the rest of the world. They should admit that in the age of global travel, trade, and communication, we all affect and are affected by the people outside of our own nation. The citizens of earth are now connected, and our laws should recognize our dependence.

 

Even very good laws become stale after 250 years. Americans will revise the U.S. constitution and adopt a new, improved version in 2026 to celebrate 250 years of democracy. This revised version will be used only for a trial period of 13 years to gain some experience with the new laws. Then, in 2039, a more permanent constitution will take effect on the 250th anniversary of the 1889 constitution.

 

The United Nations charter must be revised sooner than that. People everywhere already agree that democracy works within nations, and they will agree that the principles of democracy can work nearly as well across nations. National governments will begin to follow international law. Words spoken by dictators will be replaced by laws written by elected officials. Anarchy and totalitarianism and will both be replaced by effective, controlled international government.

 

Officials will be elected to make and  to enforce international laws and judges will be appointed to hear individual cases so that each of us does not have to take the law into our own hands or vote on every proposed new law. We expect that the actions of elected officials will represent the wishes of all people, or we will get new officials and new rules.

 

Action

Excuse me, Mr. Chairman. Will the senator from Vermont please yield? Will the ambassador from the United States please yield? You have had much more than your fair share of time and power. What you say may be important, but new laws and revised constitutions are needed to make democracy fair both within and across nations. New voices need to be heard. All votes need to be counted. We can work together to make your vote and my vote both count. I yield the remainder of my time to others for discussion of this topic.