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November 10, 2016


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Apart from nasty historical echoes does this differ from the secessionist petitions circulating in 2012-2013?

Perhaps this is just going to become a post-election ritual for the losing side.

"California cannot, of course, just pick up and leave. Even if the state wanted to, an exit would require two-thirds approval of both the House and Senate in Washington, along with the blessing of 38 state legislatures — a feat analysts say is implausible."

Ah yes, I remember when the Southern states submitted their petition to Congress to withdraw from the Union ...

Dave K: Just the fact that people seem to have put in some thought as to how a divorce would work. That's what struck me. Otherwise, yes, this is becoming a post-election ritual in a polarized age.

Logan: sorry, missing the joke. Not the reference, but the meaning of the punchline. You're not implying that California would rebel, are you?

Upon doing a bit of digging about that process specified I found that there was a Washington Post article that discussed that procedure (as well as 3 others) back in June after the Brexit shockwaves: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/06/27/so-you-want-to-secede-from-the-u-s-a-four-step-guide/

The specific method referred to in the New York Times didn't require that much thought being put into it - they are just talking about amending the constitution (either to allow a mechanism for secession or to allow a specific state to secede). This is entirely logical given the Texas v White in 1869; if secession (or anything else really) is unconstitional then how do you make it constitutional? Simple! By amending the constitution to allow it.

Of course if DC and Puerto Rico become states* then the formula will change and it will require the approval of 39 state legislatures.

*hey, who knows? Perhaps if the Republicans win big in the 2018 Senate and House elections, Trump will give backing to it on the assumption that even if DC and PR were 100% Democrat leaning the Republicans are safe in the Congress and his re-election chances aren't adversely affected even with an extra 7 electoral college votes for the Democrats....

We have a strange situation that California is the largest state in the union but it is also the safest of safe states, with the Republicans becoming weaker and weaker. This means that California voters are increasingly disenfranchised in the presidential elections (in addition to the Senate).

It might just be that in order to abolish the electoral college we need the threat of Californian secession, though it does seem premature - the campaign to abolish the electoral college has not even started. When the time comes, though, small states should be aware that if they choose to obstruct this issue that this might be the result.

I've never understood the concept of calling "voting for the loser" as "being disenfranchised". Enfranchisement when it comes to elections speaks only of being granted the right to vote. It does not refer in any way to having the candidate that you or someone else votes for being the winner of the election. Since an election is often a competitive exercise (especially in a democracy), then by the very nature of the exercise there will be a winner and there will be a loser. This speaks to the situation within California (Republican voters within California as it becomes a safer state for Democrats) and California voters as a whole within the US (a majority Democrat voting California in elections where Republicans win the US presidency). Calling this "disenfranchisement" is extremely odd and gives the impression that there is some legitimate grievance (there isn't).

Separately the issue of the Senate is another issue which often is discussed and debated without truly understanding the concepts. Californians as a whole are not disenfranchised when it comes to the Senate. In fact they are directly enfranchised as a result of changes in the early 1900s which did away with the system of the state legislature voting for the Senators. And yes, California has the same number of Senators as Delaware because that is how the system was designed. The Senate is about equality between the states as entities, not between the individuals who make up the population of a state or the US. I've never been able to fathom why some people want an elected Senate that is proportional to population - if that is the kind of voting system that they want, why bother having a Senate at all? What would make it any different from the House under that system? The House is already designed as such and a Senate with the same system would simply be a House 2.0 and a great waste of money. Logically, they should either want a unicameral system (just the House of Representatives) or a bicameral system.

I doubt the electoral college will be abolished. I think what is more likely is a change in how the electoral college votes such as under the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. That compact will probably only succeed though once we have seen 2 or 3 elections where a Democrat wins the electoral vote but not the popular vote (this will likely prompt heavily Republican states like Texas, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Kansas to adopt the compact). At that point the adoption of the compact by swing states would become unnecessary (and after the compact comes into effect, the swing states would lose their advantages under the current system as presidential candidates would no longer be looking to win key votes in key states but to win as much votes as possible nationwide).

Hmm. J.H., I do not really believe that you do not understand why many people, including myself, think that the Senate is a travesty and should allocate seats proportional to population. Really, I do not believe it. Nor do I believe that you are unaware that the arguments for bicameralism do not hinge on making the second chamber unrepresentative.

Heck, I don't even for a second believe that you don't understand why people who don't live in swing states feel disenfranchised, even if the number of such states just jumped.

Given that, from whence the rant? It does, perhaps unintentionally, feel a little angry.

Potential subject for future post: assuming decisive defeat of US in future conflict, what state(s) does the victor separate from the rump in order to ensure that America will not rise again?

Noel, sorry if it came across that way.

Yes, I a quite aware that the Senate is a travesty (I made no argument that it isn't a travesty, I was pointing out how odd it is that the calls for Senate reform want to turn the Senate into essentially a carbon copy of the House).

And yes I am aware that the arguments for bicameralism do not hinge on making the second chamber unrepresentative of the population. That however doesn't change the fact that the US Senate, like a number of other Senates and other upper chambers is representative of territorial units rather than the populations within those units or the population of the country as a whole. That's the basis for Canada (24 seats per region, though the addition of Newfoundland in 1949 without it being assigned to a region and the addition of single Senate seats for the territories in 1975 makes the equal seats per region less readily apparent), Australia (12 senators per state), the Dominican Republic, Russia, Mexico, Malaysia, and South Africa. The few exceptions to this general trend are Germany and India, though even with these countries the upper chamber is representative of the states (and in fact are either elected by the state legislatures or just delegated by the state governments).

My belief is that if the Senate is to be reformed then either the Senate is remodelled along the lines of Colombia (where the Senate represents the country as a whole as a single constituency) or it gets abolished altogether and the House gets remodelled along with the Senate abolition to give more seats to the states so that the House is even more proportional to population. I don't agree with the view that the Senate should still supposedly represent the states but then be (a) popularly elected rather than elected by the state legislatures (like in India) or delegated by state governments (like in Germany) and (b) directly proportional to the population in each state. Personally, that seems like a massive waste of resources to me since a combination of (a) and (b) would duplicating the House in everything except the term length. And what's the point in that? If the Senate is going to be changed (as I think it should) then it should be a much more radical and imaginative change along the lines of Colombia or just outright abolition. Whichever of the two methods is chosen though depends on what the intended outcome is. If the outcome is to keep some second chamber as a potential brake on legislation coming from the House that might be too radical then going with the Colombian method seems the right way to go. If the outcome is to do away with the Senate as a brake on the House (which it does too good a job of at times) then abolition is the best route.

Re: disenfranchisement, I'm not disparaging the feelings of the people who are disaffected by how unimportant their vote is if they don't live in a swing state. Again, apologies if it came across that way. What I find annoying is the use of terminology which doesn't fit with what is being described (an example I've seen pop up on the internet often recently is the use of "conceit" for "concept"). The voters in the non-swing states are definitely disillusioned and disengaged and they should be because the system is such that candidates can effectively ignore them year after year and still expect to get their electoral support. But "disillusion" and "disengagement" =/= "disenfranchisement".

That's clearer. Still, I don't follow.

(1) Senate reform: I agree, having Senate representation vary by state population would be a second-best reform. But it is still better than the status quo. I do not understand the strength by which you present your opposition to partial reform. (Of course, no reform is going to happen anytime soon.)

(2) Disenfranchisement: you're correct only if you view disenfranchisement like pregnancy -- either it's zero or it's one. Enfranchisement, however, does not work like that. Your vote can count fully, less fully, or not at all.

Californians are, therefore, disenfranchised by the electoral college relative to people in other states. In fact, right now they are currently completely disenfranchised except in some unlikely extreme circumstances. They would only become enfranchised under the current system if other states became less polarized. The description is, sadly, accurate.

Ah okay, I follow what you are saying with regards to enfranchisement. I tend to prefer using the narrower definitions as for me they are clearer (and the broad use of some terms cheapen them).

Concerning partial Senate reform, I'm very very wary of partial reform because partial reform has a tendency to become the permanent (or at least the indefinite ) solution. Rather than calling for partial reform, there should be a concerted push for full reform. The best model selected and pushed for instead of the second best one.

One could even argue that the implementation of partial reform could lead to a situation where things are still bad but no longer bad enough to generate the necessary support for further and better reform

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