The Anti-Democratic Electoral College

Dear Group,

I was ten years old when my father introduced me to the mathematical mysteries of the Electoral College. He was a high school graduate, but a man who read widely and a man with sixty years experience at the time of the introduction. I remember him explaining how, in our “democratic” country it was possible a majority of Americans could vote for President and yet the other candidate, with fewer votes, could win the election. I understand now, more than half a century later, my father was echoing controversy that followed two elections engraved in the memory of his parents and grandparents. In 1876* and 1888 the Electoral College voted in a President against the will of the voters. My dad was still marveling at the irony of those elections in this “democratic” country.

For context, remember the last two Republican Presidents were once elected by the Electoral College with a minority of popular vote, George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016. Criticism of the Electoral College is not just an academic exercise. The Electoral College system produces massive downstream effects.

So how is it that the Electoral College has produced these anti-democratic results on four occasions in our history. Here’s the math: Each state is awarded “electors” to be sent to the Electoral College equal to that states number of Representative and Senators added together. The number of Representatives from each state is determined by population measured in the census every ten years. The number of Senators is, of course, fixed a two for each state.

What does that mean in terms of representation? Wyoming, with one Representative (the minimum) and two Senators (therefore already wildly overrepresented in Congress, too) gets three electors, one for every 192,579 people. At the other extreme, California with 20 House seats and two Senators, gets 22 electors, one for every 1,539,620 people.That gives the people of Wyoming eight times the voting power in the Electoral College than Californians. In a country that calls itself a democracy or even a “representative democracy” or a republic, that is a crazy imbalance.

One might be tempted to think of the Electoral College as a venerable, quasi-sacred institution, a pillar of American greatness, a bit of genius set forth by divinely guided “Founders.” If that viewpoint is even remotely tempting, spend a few minutes reading about the U.S. Electoral College as ir was originally written in the Constitution, the breakdown of the system, and the 12th Amendment (1803) that patched up parts of the original plan. Then read of the 14th Amendment, Section 2 (1866) prescribing a penalty for denying the right to vote for electors.

In 1961, with ratification of the 23rd Amendment, the country further acknowledged the anti-democratic bent of the Electoral College by authorizing one elector to the citizens of the District of Columbia, citizens recently numbering 672,228. These citizens were previously denied any say whatsoever in electing the President, a President who holds court in their district. People of Wyoming.are, even after the 23rd Amendment, three times better represented than people of Washington, D.C., in electing the President. (It is worth noting these citizens of Washington, D.C. still have no voting voice in Congress, no Senator or voting Representative. How is that for “representational democracy?”)

The Electoral College still denies the approximately 4 million U.S. Citizens resident in U.S. Territories(Puerto Rico is the largest) any voice at all in the general election for President. Puertoriqueños, full citizens of the United States, only have a vote if they have and maintain residency in one of the States(or D.C.) And we have the gall to call ourselves a “democracy?”

The Electoral College system is a complex, anachronistic tool leveraged to achieve electoral domination by a minority of voters. It is not sacred. It is all about power.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. In 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes “won” the election in the Electoral College by one vote, 185 to 184, while losing the popular vote 4,034,311 to 4,288,546. The story of that election, now faded in the country’s memory, is as complicated as the recent elections of minority Presidents. (Teaser: the resolution of that election, made necessary by the Electoral College, ended Reconstruction. That produced multiple grievous downstream effects. Most of us don’t learn these stories in school…)

A Tale of Senates, Part II

Dear Group,

I closed Monday’s post, A Tale of Senates, Part I, with:

The U.S. Senate stands unique among senates in the United States: 1) The U.S. Senate is the only senate in the U.S. with a term of office of 6 years (the longest term of any elected official I can think of) and 2) The U.S. Senate is the most anti-democratic senate in the country by representation.

There’s more to the story. Until 1912 the U.S. Senate was even more anti-democratic than today.

Article 1, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution as written in 1787 specifies a Senate even less representative than what it is today. Originally, Senators were to be chosen by the State legislatures not directly by voters. It took nearly a hundred years of agitation and speeches to move in a more democratic direction with ratification of the 17th Amendment to the Constitutionin 1912. The 17th Amendment mandates election of U.S. Senators by the voters of each State, taking away that power from the state legislators. Decades of perceived state government corruption and cronyism were finally enough. (Click 17th Amendment to the Constitution for some interesting reading about the history of the 17th.) 

In my primary and secondary education I was taught to think of the U.S. Senate as the more august and deliberative body than the House of Representatives. U.S. Senators have to be older, 30 years, as opposed to 25 years for Representatives. Senators serve for six years, as opposed to two for House members, so they are freer of the “political whims of the common folk.” (The electorate might forget a perceived faux pas by a Senator when facing re-election nearly six years later.) 

Now I see the U.S. Senate in more nuanced fashion. Individual U.S. Senators, stand out prominently in my mind in part because they are simply there longer (six years) and in part because there are fewer of them (100 v. 435 voting Representatives),  Their generally greater longevity in office and fewer numbers makes it the easier for me to mentally attach a Senator than a Representative to a particular State. 

More importantly, I now see the U.S. Senate as awarding inordinate power to a minority, a distinctly anti-democratic institution shaped by slavery (Three-Fifths Compromise) and state-based tribalism (Connecticut Compromise), an institution that gives undue power to a Mitch McConnell (representing 4,468,402 Kentuckians) over a Charles Schumer (representing 19,542,209 New Yorkers) or a Diane Feinstein (representing 39,557,045 Californians). See Control by the Minority.

Our governance is a product of a history of which many of us are largely unaware. The U.S. Senate is far more anti-democratic than the Electoral College (a topic for another day), but the peculiarities of the Senate get far less ink.

The history of senates in the U.S., both state and federal, shows general movement toward more direct representational democracy. State senators now represent approximately equal populations determined census rather than fixed geographic areas. State senators are elected by the voters of their district. U.S. Senators are now elected by the voters of their respective States (17th Amendment, 1912) rather than state legislatures. Regardless, the U.S. Senate stands as a model of unequal representation.

The U.S. Senate may be the older, more deliberative and thoughtful of the two chambers of Congress, but it is also a device for rule by a minority. 

Keep to the high ground,

Foley Dinner! Friday, March 22

Dear Group,

Just 9 days from now on Friday, March 22nd, The Spokane County Democrats hold their Thomas S. Foley Legacy Dinner at the Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute. On line ticket sales close tomorrow, Wednesday, March 13th. Click here to reserve tickets.

Featured speakers and guests are Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Director of the Washington State Department of Commerce Lisa Brown, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party, Tina Podlodowski. These are people with years of service in government. (Tina is a former member of the Seattle City Council.) Contrast that with the featured speaker at the Spokane GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner, Charlie Kirk, a 24 year old hustler and provocateur who recently declared in a speech at CPAC:

One of the things that Donald Trump has done is he has not changed the left—he has revealed them,  This is who they have always been. They have always hated this country.

The speakers for the Spokane GOP in recent years all fall nicely in line with the likes of Charlie Kirk: Dinesh D’Souza in 2016 (according the Redoubt News) stem-winding conspiracy theorist and provocateur; Tomi Lauren in 2017; and Jason Chaffetz and Deneen Borelli in 2018, both Fox News commentators. Common thread: propaganda, not governance. (To be fair, Chaffetz once served as a Representative from Utah. I know of zero experience with real government among any of the rest of them.) It is no wonder the Spokane GOP found itself briefly in hot water last year when its chairwoman, Cecily Wright, invited James Allsup, infamous white supremacist, to speak at her gathering of Northwest Grassroots. It appears this craziness is endemic to the local party. 

It is time we to assemble some friends, sign up and attend The Spokane County Democrats’ Thomas S. Foley Legacy Dinner. Support those who stand for responsible governance, not propaganda and division. There is too much at stake to sit at the sidelines.

Keep to the high ground,


A Tale of Senates, Part I

Dear Group,

From Wikipedia:

senate is a deliberative assembly, often the upper house or chamber of a bicamerallegislature. The name comes from the ancientRoman Senate (Latin: Senatus), so-called as an assembly of the senior (Latin: senex, meaning “the elder” or “old man”) and therefore allegedly wiser and more experienced members of the society or ruling class. Thus, the literal meaning of the word “senate” is Assembly of Elders.

Every state in the United States has a bicameral legislature except Nebraska (unicameral by referendum in 1936). In each case the smaller chamber is called the Senate and is usually referred to as the upper house. This chamber typically, but not always, has the exclusive power to confirm appointments made by the governor and to try articles of impeachment. [wikipedia]

All state senators serve terms of either 2 or 4 years. In 29 states senators serve 4 year terms and representatives serve 2 year terms. In 17 states senators and representatives serve equal terms of either 2 or 4 years. (It’s complicated. See wikipedia for a comprehensive list.) But here is a key contrast: Senators who serve in the federal Senate are unique among “senators” serving in the United States: U.S. Senators stand for re-election only once every 6 years.

When you look at constituent representation in the state and federal senates things get interesting. In every case (49 state senates and the U.S. Senate) there are fewer senators than there are members of the lower house, so necessarily each senator nominally represents more constituents than a representative in the lower house. In Washington State, for example, that ratio is exactly 2 to 1. Each legislative district in Washington State sends two representatives and one senator to the state government in Olympia. Therefore, each constituent in a legislative district in Washington State is served by only one voice in the State Senate, but two voices in the State House of Representatives.

Fun Fact: It turns out every state senator stands for close to the same number of constituents within that state. Why? It didn’t occur by accident, nor was it willingly accepted by all. That uniformity of numerical representation by state senators within a state is the result of two Supreme Court cases from the 1960s, Reynolds v. Sims and Baker v. Carr Reading about these decisions I found enlightening. I urge you to click and read the Historical Background section at the wikipedia article on Reynolds v. SimsThese cases grew out of interpretation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, an amendment adopted in 1868 that itself grew out of the upheavals around slavery and the Civil War. These two Supreme Court cases were in some ways the result of the movement embodied in “one man, one vote,” a slogan used by advocates of political equality who pushed for causes like the right of former slaves and women to vote.

Prior to Reynolds v. Sims and Baker v. Carrstate senates tended to be modeled on the U.S. Senate, i.e. with representation based on geography whereas representation in the lower chamber is typically based on population. Books have been written about how state senate representation changed from geographic to population based in many states before the 1960s. These two Supreme Court cases finally forced redistricting on a population basis on those states that had lagged. 

Today we don’t hear of citizen groups clamoring to go back to the old system of geography-based state senate representation. It’s a settled issue. No one is making the argument that state senators (within  a state) should represent just the people who happen to inhabit a defined piece of real estate instead of representing roughly equal populations of citizens. This is the second way in which the U.S. Senate is unique among senates in the United States: two Senators serve from each State (a piece of real estate). Today that gives the 577,737 residents of Wyoming the same number of U.S. Senators (2) as the 39,557,045 residents of California. Why is that?

The original U.S. Constitution, written in 1787 (eighty years before the 14th Amendment and “Equal Protection”) enshrines the geographic representation of Senators in Article 1, Section 3. Representation of in the U.S. Senate by State, regardless of state population, came about as a result of compromises made to coax small States and slave States into Union. 

Today the U.S. Senate stands unique among senates in the United States. 1) The U.S. Senate is the only senate in the U.S. with a term of office of 6 years (the longest term of any elected official I can think of) and 2) The U.S. Senate is the most anti-democratic senate in the country by representation.

Keep to the high ground,


The Flag as a Symbol

Dear Group,

A european friend visiting in the United States once remarked, “I don’t think I’ve ever been in a country with more national flags. They’re everywhere.” It was an accurate observation. Display of the American flag has markedly changed over my lifetime. Even the flag itself has changed. I’m old enough to remember when Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th States (1959) and two more stars were added to the “Union”. My family and I displayed the flag on national holidays off the front porch…and reverently folded it and stored it until the next holiday according to the code of flag etiquette. A discreet, manageable flag flew over post offices and government buildings every day. Almost no one wore a flag pin, sported a flag decal, or displayed a flag day and night in rain and weather on the front of their home. We were all “Americans,” after all. We all stood for the same thing…or at least we so imagined.

The U.S. Flag Code has been enshrined in federal law with the passage in 1942 of Public Law 77-623. You can read the enshrined details in the United States Code, Title 4, Chapter 1 The Flag.

I still cherish the flag that was draped over my father’s casket in honor of his service in World War I, the “war to end all wars.” That flag for me stands for the sacrifices of Americans who fought against the Nazis, the Fascists, and the Imperial Japanese in World War II, fought for the freedom of the people oppressed by these regimes. Many of those who marched with the flag on commemorative holidays had served in those conflicts, conflicts we understood were fought to make the world a better place, conflicts the wounds from which shaped the lives of many.

Little by little the use and display of the American flag has morphed. In my youth, at least in my mind, the flag stood as a symbol of freedom in the world, a symbol of our willingness to stand against murderous dictatorships. The flag was displayed discreetly and handled with reverence. Now oversize American flags adorn businesses and homes, standing out in all kinds of weather. American flags are found on lapels, shoulders of uniforms of the military and police and flap violently above pickup trucks, sometimes thereon reduced to tatters. 

Why all these flags? When I talk with a policeman in Spokane does the American flag patch on his shoulder offer me useful information? Is there any likelihood he (or she) is a member of the Canadian or Mexican police force? Is there any chance I would mistake Camping World of Spokane or Freedom RV out in the Spokane valley for a Chinese dealership? Does concern of mistaken national identity merit a flag the size the state of Connecticut hanging limply from an enormous flagpole, so large it nearly touches the ground in anything but a 20 knot breeze, so long that half staff display is impossible without its resting on the ground? 

I fear that for many the American flag has been co-opted as a sort of gang symbol, a symbol displayed  internally that says to many who see it “we’re here, we’re proud, we’re exceptional, we’re white, we’re armed, and we will bury you or wall you out…or worse…if you don’t think as we do.” 

Symbols are complicated. Like a word, a symbol can mean very different things to different people. The flag that draped my father’s casket still signifies honor and sacrifice, honor and sacrifice in pursuit of a better world, a world in which we and our children can live in peace, a world in which the United States plays a unifying role, not a divisive one. 

I want my symbolism back. Perhaps it is time to display my father’s flag once more, and explain to any who will listen why I fly it.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. The enormous flag that flies over Camping World in the valley was the trigger for this post. I thought it was the hoist (height) to fly (length) proportion that bothered me, but, no, it is the absolute size. Here’s the background: It turns out that the specifications of U.S. Flag were laid out by one of those infamous Executive Orders, this one by Dwight Eisenhower in 1959. The official hoist to fly ratio in that executive order is 1:1.9, probably close to the Camping World flag’s proportions. Lots of commonly sold and displayed U.S. flags are actually 3X5 (1:1.67), the better to fly in a light breeze, especially in the traditional cotton material. My dad’s casket flag is 1:2. Many flags are now made of nylon. Nylon is much lighter than cotton and surely floats better in a lighter breeze. A 30X60 foot nylon flag (Camping World’s?) for a mere $1,139. I speculate whatever the expenditure it is taken off as part of their advertising budget. 

Spokane GOP–What it Stands For

Dear Group,

The lineup of speakers at the last weekend’s CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) is lengthy, but worth your perusal. Trump and Pence, as party leaders, get top billing. (Listen to the music and observe the symbolism of the first few minutes of Trump’s two hour long harangue.) The U.S Senators and U.S. Reps who spoke are all found the the bottom of the page. Among them is McMorris Rodgers. Higher on the page are many cringe-worthy Fox propagandists, Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro, Deneen Borelli, and Dennis Prager among them. If you do not watch Fox or listen to conservative talk radio many of the other names will be unfamiliar. 

One speech stands out. I encourage you to watch this short video of Charlie Kirk last weekend at CPAC. (The full eleven minute version is available here.) This is his sixth year at CPAC. Here are a few highlights gathered by Right Wing Watch. (The context seen in the videos only amplifies his message of hate and division.):

During his speech at CPAC today, Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk declared that conservatives must stop pretending that liberals “mean well” and instead realize that “they have always hated this country.”

“One of the things that Donald Trump has done is he has not changed the left—he has revealed them,” Kirk said. “This is who they have always been. They have always hated this country.”

Kirk fumed that the difference between liberals and conservatives is not that they have shared goals and merely “different ways of getting to the same place,” but are rather going in two entirely different directions.

“I’m so sick and tired of saying, ‘We should give the benefit of the doubt to liberals’ and say, ‘Well, they mean well,’” Kirk said. “If you want to fundamentally transform and destroy this country from within, you do not mean well. You do not have good intentions, whatsoever.”

“I’m so sick and tired of saying that the Democrat Party and liberals mean well,” he bellowed. “They do not mean well.”

The Spokane GOP chose Charlie Kirk as their keynote speaker for their 2019 Lincoln Day Dinner on Saturday, April 13th, at the Grand Davenport Hotel. He is billed as “an excellent ambassador for free markets, free speech and conservative principles.” Listen to his speech at CPAC and decide for yourself if Mr. Kirk is an “ambassador” or simply a purveyor of labelling and hate. That the Spokane GOP spends money to bring Mr. Kirk to Spokane speaks volumes about the values of the Spokane GOP.

McMorris Rodgers routinely speaks at the Lincoln Day Dinner in Spokane. If she disapproves of the drift of Spokane GOP into the territory inhabited by Charlie Kirk she has failed to say so. Does she believe she is dependent on the politics of division and hate? Does she endorse Mr. Kirk and his message?

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. How some of my neighbors can support the Spokane GOP is a mystery to me after the antics of the group in the last several years. Members of the Spokane GOP got in hot water last year for sympathetically hosting the white supremacist James Allsup at a NW Grassroots gathering. They auctioned off an assault rifle last year at the Lincoln Day Dinner. Do they really need to stoke hate, white supremacy, and militancy to gather enough votes to stay in power? 

The Dictator’s Playbook

Dear Group,

I have run out of time to write, but I want to take this opportunity to put in a plug for series of six videos available on entitled The Dictator’s Playbook. I highly recommend Episode 3, Benito Mussolini, the original 20th century dictator, the man who pioneered many of the techniques we see currently. The series is available to KSPS Passport members (requiring a donation of $60 or more per year, money well spent). 

Keep to the high ground,