Economies cannot thrive without the rule of law.
Without the rule of law, deals are harder to make and enforce as people and businesses lose faith in the judicial system. Consumers don’t know if they will be protected from dangerous products. Corporations worry about currying favor with elected officials when a well-aimed tweet can send their stock price plummeting. Critics of those in power can lose their assets, or even their freedom— as has occurred in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Government corruption can run rampant.
In the U.S. now, our constitutional democracy — which has enforced the rule of law that allows our economy to operate freely — is at risk.
Concerned Americans need to take action. There are specific steps to preserve constitutional democracy and the rule of law. None of these proposals is likely to be implemented soon, but that shouldn’t stop the call for them. It is essential to set goals and create an agenda even when success may not be possible in the short term.
Here are four steps we can and should take to preserve constitutional democracy, the rule of law, and a fair marketplace:
1. Abolish the Electoral College: The Electoral College was designed to ensure that a select elite could check the will of the people when they made a bad choice for president. Even if you think this was a good idea, the electoral college no longer serves this purpose — the vast majority of electors exercise no independent judgment. Under the current system, presidential candidates focus only on a few key swing states. Large states like California, New York, and Texas are forgotten, and individual voters in those large states have less proportional power than voters in far-less populated states like Wyoming.
There is a straightforward way to fix this: replace the Electoral College with a national popular vote. This would vindicate the principle of “one person, one vote” and would give candidates an incentive to campaign across the country rather than in a select group of “battleground states.”
The Constitution does not have to be amended to make this change. States have authority to determine how their electoral votes are assigned, and are free to decide that their electoral votes will go to the winner of the national popular vote. If states with enough electoral votes to total 270 agree to do this, the presidential election would be decided by the national popular vote.
The National Popular Vote project has succeeded in getting 11 states with 165 electoral votes to sign on. If states with a total of 105 more electoral votes agree, the national popular vote will determine the next presidential election.
This is not a partisan goal — it is a measure needed to advance democracy. There is no way to know whether one party would benefit from this change. As Donald Trump has noted, if the election were decided based on the popular vote, candidates would campaign differently. Both major parties should support this reform in the name of democracy and a better election process.
2. End the gerrymandering of congressional and state legislative districts: Republican redistricting efforts in 2010 and 2011secured a majority for the party. Fewer than 10% of House races were considered competitive in the 2016 election; Republicans were virtually guaranteed to control the House of Representatives, regardless of national results or even state preferences. These efforts had similar results in state legislatures
Gerrymandering—the practice of intentionally drawing district lines in such a way as to ensure that one party will gain an electoral advantage — is a naked, anti-democratic power play. In 2012,Democrats won statewide elections (president, senate) in Michigan by double-digits, but gerrymandering allowed Republicans to win nine of 14 House seats. In the same year, Democrats prevailed at the state level in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but gerrymandering allowed Republicans to take 12 of 16 House seats in Ohio and 13 of 18 in Pennsylvania.
3. Get money out of politics: Members of Congress spend so much time raising money that critics have referred to them as “telemarketers” and the legislative schedule is “arranged around fundraising”. This creates obvious problems when it comes to conflicts of interest and outright corruption.
Radical change is needed. Overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in order to rein in “independent” spending Super PACs is just the tip of the iceberg; it’s also necessary to sharply limit donations made directly to candidates. This would require either a Supreme Court decision or a constitutional amendment allowing for new limits on the ways in which campaigns are financed, but would be well worth it. One solution is to reduce the length of our never-ending presidential campaigns by only allowing campaign fundraising and spending during a limited time before elections; again, a Court decision or constitutional amendment would be needed.
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4. Build election integrity: For years, Republicans have complained about voter fraud, which is extremely rare. There is no evidence voter fraud plays a significant role in elections, but we saw this year that other problems exist: the CIA concluded that Russia intervened with the specific goal of helping Trump win. Former acting CIA director Michael Morell called this “the political equivalent of 9/11” and “an existential threat to our way of life”.
It is vital that members of Congress recognize this as a nonpartisan issue. No one, Republican or Democrat, should condone foreign countries interfering with U.S. elections. If we don’t investigate and take appropriate action, it risks another attack on our democracy.
There are other issues that need addressing too — for instance, judicial reform (including the way in which Supreme Court vacancies are filled), but taking on these four ethical issues would be an important first step toward strengthening our constitutional democracy, the rule of law, and the U.S. economy.
Chris Edelson is an assistant professor of government in American University’s School of Public Affairs. His latest book, Power Without Constraint: The Post 9/11 Presidency and National Security , was published in May 2016 by the University of Wisconsin Press.