Chris’s Corner: We Are Not a Democracy

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Chris Voccio is a Niagara Falls City Councilman and can be reached at ChrisVoccio@gmail.com

 

Big changes are coming to the way elections are held in New York State. The lawgivers in Albany recently passed various “reforms” to make it easier to vote.

Many of these changes are intended to foster greater voter turnout. That sounds like a noble goal, increasing voter turnout as though it is an inherent good, regardless of what it yields.

But please remember that when we hold elections, we’re essentially hiring people for public office. The hiring process, whether conducted by a business owner hiring an employee, or an electorate “hiring” a City Councilman (or President, Senator, Governor, etc.) should result in hiring the best employee, or the best public official.

So does increasing the number of people who vote automatically improve the hiring process? Will we get better public servants if more people vote? Perhaps.

If the additional voters are knowledgable, if they have good judgment, then I would say, yes, adding these additional voters to the rolls is a good thing.

But what if these new voters aren’t up to speed on the issues? What if they couldn’t name their governor, nor their mayor? What if they don’t know that their city council exists, let alone what it does? Worse, what if they don’t really care about any of this? Does adding people in this category to the voter rolls improve the hiring decision?

Not everyone is civically engaged. Not everyone wants to be. We need to do a better job on this front, and I’m not sure pushing more people to the polls will help in terms of civic engagement.

While the word democracy is bandied about a lot, the United States is not a democracy but rather a Constitutional Republic, and Article 4, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution specifically states that each state shall also be a Republic. The United States is not a democracy, neither is New York. That’s a good thing.

Prior to the Seventeenth Amendment of 1913, United States Senators were not elected by the populace, they were elected by their state legislatures. The Founders wanted to keep checks on pure democracy, so they put various mechanisms in the Constitution to guarantee our system of republican (lower-case “r”) government survives.

The Electoral College is another such mechanism. While some misguided souls want to do away with it, the electoral college is yet another element the framers of the Constitution gave us to preserve our republic.

The Founding Fathers wanted limits placed on democratic impulses and carefully created a miraculously complex system. They gave us three branches of government. The first with two houses, one which wasn’t intended to be democratically elected and with staggered six-year terms. The second branch is elected through theelectoral college. The third branch is unelected, with lifetime appointments. Not very democratic. Thank heavens.

Adding to this complexity is the relationship between the federal government and the states, although this has changed over the years.

All of this was designed to be slow, deliberative and sometimes messy. We often complain about gridlock, but the framers of the Constitution deliberately engineered it that way.

So when we hear people talk about the joys of democracy, when we watch New York State seek more ways to get more people to vote, please remember that while this sounds glorious it may not improve the quality of our government.

That can only be done by getting knowledgeable, thoughtful people with sound judgment to the polls. Unfortunately, none of the reforms recently passed will do that.

On another related note, one of the changes that the folks in Albany made will change the timing of campaign volunteers gathering ballot-access petition signatures. In this past, we would be knocking on your door in June or July, when mild warm breezes might flow into your home as you signed various petitions.

Starting this year, we’ll be knocking on your door in February or March, as icy gusts ferociously whip into your nice warm house. Please forgive the dedicated campaign volunteers for coming during this frigid time of the year, and please remember this was ordered by the powers that be in our state capitol.

 

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