Whether the United States is a democracy or a republic is largely a question for sophists who credit the distinction as essential to evaluating the merits of one popular participation measure over another. On the whole, the American experiment is not strictly either concept, nor are they mutually exclusive and are actually complementary. Prime examples are the grant of voting rights to women, former slaves, and 18-year-olds. The elimination of poll and literacy taxes as well as provision for absentee balloting have further amplified the dynamics of participation. Still, some political interests react negatively to such enhancements and seek to limit or restrict them. These responses, in turn, represent efforts to exert political control and may be seen, for example, in strict voter ID laws and gerrymandering. In Wisconsin and Michigan following the recent 2018 midterms, lame-duck legislatures under the control of one party adopted legislation limiting the powers of elected opposition candidates.
Last week, VoxFairfax published an article by Paul Krugman, who warned that there is an “invasion . . . corroding our Republic,” one overriding democratic processes in a zero-sum game to retain political control or dominance. These desperate measures, Krugman says, are increasingly weapons employed by radical conservatives with tacit GOP consent in an “attempt to use their power to overrule democratic process.” He then quotes David Frum:
If conservatives become convinced that the cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.
Small “r” republicans and small “d” democrats remain free to debate the nation’s model of governance. But neither Republicans nor Democrats are free to control or manipulate governance to their own selfish ends as a means to sustain political power. The arc of history in the United States has been to increase the consonance and articulation between the population and the governance sector, especially those elected to discharge that responsibility. Efforts are underway across the country to improve democratic process and Virginia is no exception. Below are a few improvements to consider as the Commonwealth’s General Assembly convenes in Richmond:
- Nationally, the General Assembly can pass the Equal Rights Amendment, making the Commonwealth the 38th and deciding state to approve the constitutional amendment; and adopt legislation to participate in the National Popular Vote Initiative to permit the popular vote to determine the Electoral College outcome.
- Promote a constitutional amendment to eliminate the barrier to felon voting.
- Promote a constitutional amendment to establish a nonpartisan commission to create voting jurisdiction maps.
- Adopt legislation to implement automatic voter registration.
- Enfranchise voting for 16-year-olds.
- Eliminate the Dillon rule by adopting legislation increasing the authority of localities to legislate their own affairs.
This is a short list of prescriptions to increase voter participation and further integrate the dynamic process between the will of the people and the responsibilities of elected representatives as a means to create a more perfect union. A more perfect republic. And a more perfect Commonwealth.