The ability to vote, and to have our votes counted – our voices heeded – is the glue that holds together our republic.
In recent decades, a handful of institutional processes of our government – prominently, gerrymandering, the Electoral College and the legislative filibuster – have changed dramatically, and not for the better.
And the manipulation and abuse of these institution over the course of recent decades have led to a rot that has interfered with Americans’ ability to modernize our decaying infrastructure, address calamitous climate change, and protect our children from gun violence and a lethal virus, to name a few.
Let’s look first at the Electoral College:
During the first two centuries of our country’s history, with three exceptions, the Electoral College vote for president aligned with the popular vote.
In 2000 the winner of the Electoral College vote lost the national popular vote by more than a half-million ballots.
In 2016, the winner of the Electoral College lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots.
In 2020, the Electoral College was used as a vehicle to attempt to challenge if not subvert the winning candidate’s popular vote margin of more than 7 million ballots.
Now let’s look at the legislative filibuster:
After centuries of limited applications, the use of the legislative filibuster during our lifetimes has exploded to absurd levels.
From 1917 to 1970, the Senate took a total of 49 so-called “cloture” votes to end filibusters.
However, a sequence of Senate changes in the 1970s had the profound side effect of making filibusters 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.
The patterns suggest a growing risk that both the Electoral College and the legislative filibuster are falling increasingly out of alignment with the national will of the people — and are increasingly susceptible to manipulation.
Whatever the Framers’ original intent, would they have approved of this current state of affairs…?