The Democracy Decree

The Democracy Decree is a way to change the U.S. election system so that the people choose who runs our government. If adopted by the people, it will guarantee that the candidate who wins the popular vote for president will become president, and the balance of power in Congress will be determined by the vote of the people in congressional elections.

The full current draft of the Democracy Decree itself and a section-by-section explanation of how it works is available at the Democracy Decree project site.

Below are frequently asked questions; click on them for answers. Please contact us for more information, to receive updates, or—especially—to let us know you’d like to help.

What's wrong with our election system the way it is?

We choose our presidents and congressional leaders by an undemocratic vote-counting method that often empowers presidents and congressional leaders who were rejected by the people at the voting booth. Although either major party can reap the undemocratic advantage in a given election, the overall effect is a powerful right wing bias that taints all of our federal elections. In 2016, the bias amounted to the equivalent of flipping about four Democratic Senate seats, more than twenty Democratic House seats—and one Democratic presidency—to the Republicans. In 2018, it amounted to the equivalent of a five-seat shift toward the Republicans in the Senate, allowing the Republicans to increase their majority in the Senate, despite losing once again in votes. Before 2016, it's the reason that George W. Bush became president instead of Al Gore and the reason that the House of Representatives went to the Republicans in 2012 and the Senate in 2014. It's also the reason for the current state of the Supreme Court.

While many of us don't especially care for either major political party, most Americans generally prefer the Democrats and their policy positions to the Republicans and theirs—and most usually vote accordingly. We shouldn't be governed by leaders that most people voted against.

What's the cause of the bias in our federal election system?

Our current election system counts places instead of people. We elect presidents by means of the Electoral College, which is a vote of states. We fill the Senate exclusively with winners of elections in states and the House of Representatives with winners of elections in districts. The Senate itself thus votes by state, while the House votes by district. In all cases, the vote of people counts only locally, toward choosing the winner in a particular place.

Counting places doesn't produce the same results as counting people. Who gains the advantage depends on who lives where. In the United States today, left-leaning and right-leaning voters are distributed in a way that creates a strong bias for the right under our place-counting system.

The three elected federal offices also each have their own special election system flaws arising from the essential problem of counting places instead of people. The Senate counts all states equally, even though some states are much more populous than others. House districts are gerrymandered. And the Electoral College incorporates part of the small state advantage of the Senate, along with additional undemocratic, place-counting procedures that apply when no candidate wins a majority of the electoral votes.

Most modern democracies around the world don’t work this way. They count people. We should, too.

Is the Democracy Decree a constitutional amendment?

Yes, if adopted, it will amend the Constitution. It is called a "decree" rather than an "amendment," because it is an act of the people, in our capacity as sovereign, rather than an act of government under the provision of the Constitution that pertains to "amendments." The Constitution’s amendment provision won’t work to fix the structural problem with our election system because it is contaminated by the very same bias.

Can't we remove the bias from the election system without changing the Constitution?

No, we can't.

Some people have proposed workarounds to correct the election system without changing the Constitution, but they can’t work.

There is a proposal to circumvent the Electoral College by means of a compact among states, but it depends on support from states controlled by Republicans. As a result of the 2000 and 2016 elections, the Electoral College has become a highly partisan issue. There is thus no hope of winning the Republican support that the compact requires in the foreseeable future. Even if the compact did take effect, it could come apart at any time. By its own terms, states are allowed to back out of it anytime up to six months prior to a presidential election.

There is also a proposal to improve proportionality between voting and seat allocation in the House of Representatives by an act of Congress. That has even less hope of winning the support it needs than does the state compact. Most congressional Democrats won't even support it, because it would severely undermine the job security of most representatives from both parties. Even if it could pass, the improvement would be modest compared with the current system; much of the bias would remain.

The Senate is even more unhackable. Some have proposed increasing Democratic seats by admitting Puerto Rico and breaking up California. That's highly unlikely to happen anytime soon, and the consequences would be unpredictable, except perhaps in the very short term. It also wouldn't begin to address the essential problem that counting places instead of people is inherently undemocratic.

To change our constitutional system, we must change our Constitution. And we can.

To change the Constitution, don't we need two-thirds' majorities in both houses of Congress or two-thirds of state legislatures, and then ratification by the legislatures or conventions of three-quarters of the states?

No, we don't.

Those are the rules if government officials want to change the Constitution without getting approval from the people. Those rules, found in Article V of the Constitution itself, have have nothing to do with the right of the people to change the Constitution ourselves to remove the bias from the election system.

The right of the people to change our form of government is our founding principle, articulated in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

That's the rule that applies to the people, and it's unambiguous. Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and whenever any form of government becomes destructive of the people's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it is the right of the people to alter it. Our right to alter the system to establish government by our consent is "unalienable." That means nothing can take the right away.

This is the very right that authorized the Constitution in the first place—including Article V—and it applies equally to our current situation. Our election system for all federal offices is tainted by a powerful bias. As a result, government officials we did not choose run our government, and so our government operates without our consent. For the same reason, instead of securing our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, our government attacks our values, our well-being, and our future. We thus have the right to alter it.

If you're wondering what the Framers of the Constitution thought Article V meant, Yale Law School Professor Akhil Reed Amar has written about it. He explains that Article V was understood from the beginning to set out the rules for constitutional change by federal and state governments, while the people maintained the power to change their form of government by majority vote. The history is enlightening, but really, if you subscribe to even minimal principles of democracy, you'll agree that our right to remove the bias from the election system can't depend on our winning the support of a supermajority of the politicians who were elected under the biased system.

Will employing this process for modifying the Constitution set a dangerous precedent that enemies of democracy might follow to achieve their own, anti-democratic goals?

No. The power to change the Constitution in this way arises only when two conditions are met:

  1. the government is operating without the consent of the governed, and
  2. the form of government has become destructive of the people's right to life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

As discussed in a prior FAQ answer, this power is based on the founding principle of our nation, articulated in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

There are, indeed, interest groups that would like to alter our system to make it even less democratic than it is. The principle on which the Democracy Decree is based, however, offers no support for such a change.

At the same time, it's important to note that anti-democratic interest groups are already using extraordinary, undemocratic means to accomplish their ends, and the lack of precedent-setting by their political opponents has not inhibited them. Their policy of suppressing the vote in states they control is one obvious example. Another is the Koch brothers and friends' attempt to call a constitutional convention for the purpose of creating a balanced budget requirement for the federal government. As these efforts exemplify, the anti-democratic right looks for ways to manipulate the existing rules to frutrate the will of the people. The principle that authorizes the Democracy Decree, in contrast, supports only the right of the people to institute a form of government that operates by our consent and works to secure our rights.

Why is the threshold for calling a vote of the people a proposal by local governments representing twenty percent of the population?

Inevitably there’s an arbitrary element to any identified threshold, but twenty percent, about sixty-five million people, is large enough to command legitimacy as a proposal, and not so large that opponents of democracy could escape a reckoning by means of their overrepresentation in state legislatures. For comparison, signatures from far smaller portions of the population will put your proposed legislation to a vote in cites and states with citizen legislation provisions, and well under a million total will get you on the ballot as an independent candidate for president in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. A twenty percent threshold is also big enough to preclude the possibility of a few big jurisdictions pushing the proposal past the threshold all by themselves.

Would the Democracy Decree end the Trump presidency before the end of the current term?

Yes, both Trump and Pence would be removed, if we act now.

What about judges appointed to life terms by presidents who lost the popular vote?

Many judges currently serving life terms on federal courts were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote and so should never have been able to appoint judges. The Democracy Decree puts the question of whether to truncate the terms of those judges to a vote of the people, as a separate item on the ballot with ratification of the Democracy Decree itself.