Americans are famous for our dedication to fair play. And when the playing field gets tilted so that fairness is no longer a match for cleverness, we have a history of changing the rules to level the playing field. That time is upon us once again, and we are called to devote our efforts to the increasingly urgent task of restoring majority rule.
Which takes us to the mission of LetMajorityRule.org: It is to help ensure America hears the voice of the majority of voters. Most immediately, this means that the counterproductive anachronism known as the legislative filibuster be ended once and for all, and that each state be permitted to cast its Electoral College votes for the winner of the national popular vote.
The ability to vote, and to have our votes counted – our voices heeded – is the glue that holds together our republic. In recent decades, two institutional processes of our government – the Electoral College and the legislative filibuster – have changed dramatically, and not for the better.
The story goes that, as he exited Independence Hall following the Constitutional Convention in 1787, someone shouted to Benjamin Franklin, “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” Franklin’s legendary response: “A republic, if you can keep it.” Fortunately, the very system of government provided by the Framers enables
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The Founding Fathers established the Electoral College in the Constitution, in part as a compromise between the election of the president by a vote in Congress and election of the president by a popular vote of qualified citizens. It consists of the total number of Members of Congress–538 electors at present; a majority of 270 electoral votes is required to elect the president. (The District of Columbia is allocated three electors and is treated like a state for purposes of the Electoral College under the 23rd Amendment of the Constitution.)
As of February 2021, all but two states (Maine and Nebraska) award all their electoral votes to the single candidate with the most votes statewide (the so-called “winner-take-all” system). Maine and Nebraska currently award one electoral vote to the winner in each congressional district and their remaining two electoral votes to the statewide winner.
The term filibuster, according to Senate.gov, derives, appropriately it turns out, from a Dutch word meaning “pirate”
It is a parliamentary procedure to prevent or at least delay a measure from being brought to a vote. A senator, or a series of senators, may speak for as long as they wish, and on any topic they choose, unless “three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn” (currently 60 out of 100) vote to bring the debate to a close by invoking “cloture” under Senate Rule XXII (22).
While the filibuster was a solely theoretical option for decades beforehand, it was never actually exercised until 1837 and it came to real prominence in 1841. The Democratic minority hoped to block a bank bill promoted by Kentucky senator Henry Clay, at which point he threatened to change Senate rules to allow the majority to close debate. Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton rebuked Clay for trying to stifle the Senate’s right to unlimited debate.
In 1917, senators adopted Rule 22, at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson, to allow the Senate to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote — a device known as “ cloture.” The new Senate rule was first tested in 1919, when the Senate invoked cloture to end a filibuster against the Treaty of Versailles.
From 1917 to 1970, the Senate took a total of 49 cloture votes. After a series of filibusters in the 1960s over civil rights legislation, the Senate in 1970 installed a “two-track system” to allow the Senate majority leader—with unanimous consent or the agreement of the minority leader—to have more than one main motion pending on the floor as unfinished business. And in 1975, the Senate revised the rules to permit a senator of the minority party to sustain a filibuster without a substantial number of fellow minority-party senators present.
The concept of an election is and always has been intertwined with the concept of majority rule.
If you ran for Student Council in school, it was, and always will be, majority vote.
In America, every election from dogcatcher on up is decided by Popular Vote.
… except for President of the United States.
Disparities between the Electoral College vote and the national popular vote are not new, and are fortunately infrequent – but they became stark in 2016.
In 1824, John Quincy Adams won the Electoral College while losing the popular vote by 38,149
In 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes won the Electoral College while losing the popular vote by 254,235
In 1888 Benjamin Harrison won the Electoral College while losing the popular vote by 90,596
In 2000 George W. Bush won the Electoral College while losing the popular vote by 543,895
In 2016 Donald Trump won the Electoral College while losing the popular vote by 2,868,686
According to the Washington Post, of the more than 120 million votes cast in the 2016 race, 107,000 votes in three states effectively decided the election.
In 2020, Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by more than 7 million votes, or 4.5%, in the popular tally. And yet a Biden margin of less than 300,000 votes in six key “swing” states influential to the Electoral College results emboldened Donald Trump to challenge the overall election.
As for the filibuster, it has been used increasingly in recent decades to block the will of the majority party, and often merely as a vehicle for self-centered, ambitious senators to showboat.
The Senate’s rule changes in the 1970s had a profound side effect: By no longer bringing Senate business to a complete halt, nor requiring senators to be in attendance, filibusters became far easier for the minority party to indulge.
The upshot: Use of the cloture vote vaulted from fewer than 50 in the 1969-1970 legislative session to nearly 350 in 2019-2020 — a 7-fold increase and the equivalent of a cloture vote daily. In other words, on-average only one cloture vote a year was necessitated before 1970…. and now it’s one every day…. and all too often to deal with simple senatorial self-aggrandizement.
Americans support change:
The majority of voters – 52 percent per a November 2020 Harvard CAPS-Harris poll – prefer ending the filibuster, per a report in The Hill.
The numbers are even more significant when the question turns to the Electoral College. A September 2020 Gallup survey found 61% of respondents favor its abolition. A January 2021 Pew survey found 55% favored a move toward the national popular vote.
The proposed changes to the Electoral College merely would provide states the freedom of allocating their Electoral College votes more equitably to better reflect the popular-vote winner. If the Electoral College vote aligns with the popular vote, there is no call for states to consider adjusting their Electoral College votes.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), first drafted in January 2006, has advanced a National Popular Vote bill in state legislatures that as of February 2021 has been adopted by 15 states plus the District of Columbia. Collectively these jurisdictions have 196 electoral votes, which is 36% of the Electoral College total of 538 votes and 73% of the 270 votes needed for a candidate to win. The states’ agreement would become effective only upon attracting sufficient additional states to reach the necessary 270 Electoral College votes.
The Compact is designed to allow that every vote in every state is counted toward the presidential election. It is a state-based approach that preserves not only the Electoral College itself, but state control of elections. Under the current “winner-take-all” laws enacted by legislatures in 48 states all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the winner in that state, regardless of how thin a victory margin.
As of February 2021, the 16 jurisdictions in which the National Popular Vote bill has been enacted include, alphabetically, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington state.
The bill will take effect when enacted by states with 74 more electoral votes. The bill has passed at least one chamber in nine additional states holding 88 electoral votes — alphabetically, Arizona, Arkansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Virginia.
The rubber hits the road at the legislatures of these remaining states – as does LetMajorityRule.org’s media plan.
There are a number of other organizations pressing for these changes, and they are doing important work. And in 2021, calls for reform on both issues have escalated dramatically.
While we are not currently affiliated with any of these organizations, we are all working toward the same objective and we encourage collaboration.
Our particular “wheelhouse” is in the use of the media to advance the message. Our members include career media executives, and we have ready access to media resources to help amplify the important message. Amplification is necessary to get the ball across the goal line.
It is a vote of the states’ legislatures. While there is skepticism among some in the legal community, there also is widespread support among many Constitutional law experts. We would encourage you to study further The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC); there is extensive online discussion and analysis.
Don’t forget that all but two states have a winner-take-all policy. In any event, it is a national election, not a state election.
This isn’t “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Any romanticized notion of the filibuster of yore has given way to today’s reality: The filibuster is used more often than not for political manipulation and self-aggrandizement.
In fact, in recent decades the filibuster has been widely called “the tyranny of the minority.” Many filibusters are simply obstructionist, allowing a minority of one to halt the deliberative process in its tracks.
Put it to a vote. That’s our nation’s own organizing principle. If senators pursue a course of action that doesn’t meet with the approval of the majority of voters, vote ‘em out. But don’t continue to allow games to stymie the process of governance.
Not at all. America is a centrist country. There can be debate over whether it is more Center-Right or Center-Left, but it is undeniably a centrist electorate, with independent voters comprising the dominant plurality.
According to a January 2021 analysis by Gallup reflecting immediate post-election sentiment, 30% of Americans identified as Democrats, 18% as Democratic-leaning independents, 29% as Republicans and 14% as Republican-leaning independents, with 7% of independents expressing no partisan leaning.
More dramatically, a follow-up Gallup survey covering the period of January 21 to February 2, 2021, found the portion of Independents rapidly vaulting to as much as 50% of voters. The spike was of course a reaction to the January 6 riots — but, in any case, a solid base of two of every five voters consistently identify themselves as Independents, and that number is unlikely to shrink.
Increasingly, an argument can be made that a move toward the national popular vote and an end to the filibuster better reflect the country’s centrist nature.
As for the Electoral College, at the very least there should be a mechanism permitting states a level of discretion when the loser of the national popular vote manages to secure that state’s votes. When it becomes the case increasingly that a candidate can win the popular vote by millions of ballots and lose the presidency by a few thousand votes in swing states, the system needs to be addressed.
Currently, presidential candidates don’t even bother to campaign outside the swing states. They correctly—not to mention cynically—note that just a few counties in the US decide the Electoral College winner, and therefore the next president. We believe it is time for everyone’s vote to matter.
The filibusters is perhaps best known in recent decades for its enablement of high farce on the Senate floor – and, yes, Republicans played a part. In 1992, Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-NY) broke into song and read names from the phonebook to filibuster a defense spending bill. Also memorable were more recent filibuster-like delaying tactics such as Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) 21-hour effort in 2013 to block Obamacare during which he killed time by reading from Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham,” and Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) forcing the Senate clerk to read all 628 pages of the 2021 COVID relief bill on the floor.
But Democrats have not been hesitant to use the filibuster. In 2003 Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) held an eight-hour filibuster by reading from his own first book, “Searchlight: The Camp that didn’t Fail,” to prevent the Republican majority from scheduling bills and advancing their judicial nominees before the Thanksgiving break. And, more recently, as noted in a January 2021 Washington Post op-ed, Democrats too have come under their fair share of criticism. In 2020, they filibustered twice to impede passage of the Cares Act; while some might argue this was to insist on improvements, others could fairly argue it delayed relief in an effort to rob Republicans of credit before the November election. And they used it to halt Sen. Tim Scott’s (R-S.C.) 2020 police reform legislation – a move some argue was to prevent Republicans from claiming credit for a bipartisan response to the concerns of racial justice protesters.
So, Democratic politicians have engaged in the filibuster regularly and many – including Pres. Biden – support its preservation. However, the aforementioned former Sen. Reid now supports its abolition.
In 2021, the Democrats hold extremely slim majorities over the Republicans in both the House and Senate. This could shift in 2022. Our position would remain the same: Let Majority Rule.
This goes to the heart of the problem with today’s politics. Party politics too often dictates actions at the expense of practicality and the will of the people. Senators all too often balk at ending the filibuster of a senator from their party, for fear of upsetting party unity and the most hardcore party base served by that filibustering senator.
Ending the filibuster would epitomize the concept of putting country over party. Filibusters have produced little more than partisan deadlock. And in the meantime, we the voters continue to drive over dangerously decrepit roads and bridges, all while having been lapped developmentally by a world whose infrastructure is in many cases far more modern – exacerbating our growing global competitive disadvantage.
It is more of a centrist – and pro-American — decision to end the filibuster altogether.
As noted in USA Today, in 2013 then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid orchestrated a move to lower the Senate vote threshold to 51 to confirm most presidential appointments though not nominees to the Supreme Court. The Democrat-controlled Senate voted 52-48 in favor of the change, which was dubbed the “nuclear option.” In 2017, Republicans held the Senate majority and Senate Democrats filibustered the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch — at which point Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell invoked the “nuclear option” to confirm Gorsuch on a 52-48 vote. McConnell and Senate Republicans made use of the option again in 2020 to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the high court on a 51-48 vote.
The “nuclear option” procedure uses Senate Rule XX to allow the body to decide any issue by simple majority vote, regardless of Rule XXII, which is the rule that requires the consent of three-fifths of the senators present to end a filibuster for legislation and two-thirds for amending a Senate rule.
As of February 2021 the “nuclear option” had only been used for confirmations (judges and presidential appointments), not for legislation.
As noted in this NBC News analysis, the Covid-relief bill did not require Republican support; the Democrats used a special budget process, enabling a bypass of the filibuster, called “reconciliation.” This process was created under the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 to allow a simple majority to pass certain types of legislation – typically to adjust policy on spending or taxes to keep the budget in line.
Reconciliation has been used by Congress during the last four presidential administrations when the same party controlled the legislative branch and the White House — during the Trump and George W. Bush presidencies to cut taxes, during the Obama Admin. to pass parts of the Affordable Care Act, during the Clinton Admin. to raise taxes. And there have been bipartisan reconciliation bills passed under divided government.
There are however limitations to reconciliation. The process is only permitted once per fiscal year, and it can only be used to change — or “reconcile” — laws related to taxes and spending. In the case of the 2021 Covid relief bill, procedurally the Senate and House both passed the budget resolution, instructing committees to craft the reconciliation legislation.
Yes, the Senate is home to multitudinous arcane rules and practices. But whether it’s the “nuclear option,” or “reconciliation” … wouldn’t it simply make the most sense to eliminate multiplying loopholes, streamline all this nonsense and simply abolish the filibuster altogether?
The same way legislation is ultimately realized: by holding senators accountable. If constituents can make their voices heard, ultimately at the ballot box, change can happen. We want to do our part to help ensure voters of every state are aware of where their senators stand on the filibuster – and, if they support its continuation, to justify that stance.
Not at all. Every state continues to enjoy two US Senate seats, so smaller states will always be well represented in Washington.
Moreover, arguably the proposal to evolve the Electoral College system is a States Rights issue: This is not a proposal for abolition of the Electoral College — rather a step to grant states the latitude they deserve in the election process.
Quite the opposite. Americans overwhelmingly believe in fair play, and nothing is more fair than the concept of “majority rules.”
Filibuster-enabled Senate showboating hardly heals divisions. It simply garners more TV time for senators harboring presidential ambitions.
And were the Electoral College vote increasingly to diverge from the national popular vote, divisions would certainly be exacerbated far more. Offering states the popular-vote option would be a sensible middle-ground step toward addressing an apparently growing problem.
Barring a mechanism to enable a solution, a growing disparity between the popular vote and the Electoral College vote could threaten to fracture our republic.
Similar to the NPVIC and other organizations sympathetic to our view, our proposition continues to enable states to manage the process, arguably more so than under the current system. States will continue to oversee election processes. The count is the count. Nothing changes in the way votes are tabulated, and state officials would remain accountable to their voters.
Either the majority rules or it doesn’t. In our view, no minority opinion, regardless of its geography, should over-rule the majority.
And if change spurs candidates to gain a better understanding of the challenges faced by, and contributions made by, America’s largest population centers, why not?
And yet Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio, Dallas, San Diego, Jacksonville, Columbus, Charlotte and Indianapolis also are large and mostly expanding population centers that arguably happen to lean red.
And, rather than a “de-emphasis” of the Electoral College, this would simply be a mechanism for a better alignment of the Electoral College with the national will.
Barack Obama famously embarked on a “50 State Strategy” in 2008, and it worked fairly well for him.
We use funds to support the strengths we bring to the task: paid and earned media, two areas that need further support within this important effort. We are not engaged in any forms of lobbying or organizing.
We will buy media at marketplace rates and we will target expenditures efficiently via national media and strategically placed local media spending, with regional targets to be determined – for example – in accordance with key states where the National Popular Vote is before state legislatures.
We are not a one-year, flash-in-the-election-cycle organization. Our objective is to create and advance a communications program to inform voters about the pros and cons of the Electoral College vs the Popular Vote, and of the filibuster.