Amendments to US Constitution

Update: I will agree with a reader who suggested that a form of "instant runoff" or "preferential voting" would be much better than an actual runoff for the senate or presidential elections. It is done at scale in Australia. The first ballot counts everyone's votes and, if no majority is reached, the candidate with the lowest votes is dropped and his/her voters are assigned to the candidates they market as (2). This goes on until someone gets a majority. The turnout in runoffs is low, this is a much better way to capture the true preferences of the electorate!

I have been thinking a lot about Texas Governor Abbot's 9 amendments to the Constitution. I am not going to go into too much detail on them, but they basically strip the federal government of power and invest the states with increased power of federal budget and regulation. For example, Article V would allow 2/3 of states (possibly representing as few as about 100 million of 318 million Americans) to override the Supreme Court. Note that this does not just divest power to the states, but actually gives the states power over the federal government (i.e., this is not about taking things away from the federal government and giving them to the states, but actually giving the states increased power over the federal government). Currently our system is already undemocratic; the populations of smaller states have disproportionate representation in the Senate and Electoral College (which elects the President). I find it unimaginable to think we would make the voting system even more undemocratic.

The second reason I have been thinking a lot about the Constitution is that I spend a lot of time following elections. I started writing weekly blog posts at 408 days prior to Election Day, but I was late the game; the campaign season really began a daily hum by 500 days prior to the election. Current Republican front-runner announced for president 511 days prior to Election Day. This election cycle is really unhealthy for country for three reasons. First, we elect people who are good at the job interview (i.e., a horribly grueling 500+ day contest), which is only loosely correlated with who would be good at the job (i.e., running the government). Academic job interviews max out at a grueling 36 hour affair (dinner, breakfast, full day of interviews and a talk, and dinner); after following elections, it is hard to complain! Second, conditional on being equipped to do the job interview and the job, not that many people would want to do a 500+ day job interview. If you are a very smart, ambitious, person, do you want to spend 500+ days trying to get a job? Mitt Romney, a very capable person, spent nearly a decade running for president full-time, rather than doing any number of other productive things. Third, as the employer (i.e., an American) it is distressing to see how much time our employees spend keeping their job (i.e., campaigning for reelection) and getting their friends jobs (i.e., campaigning for other people in their party), rather than doing the job we pay him/her to do. Chris Christie spent 72% of the days in 2015 out of New Jersey; the state he is currently the governor. Do I blame him; no, that is what is expected if he wants the job.

The third reason I have been thinking a lot about the Constitution is that, as an economist, I look at the product we advertise and what other democracies advertise (i.e., parliaments, etc.) and I wonder if anyone would ever buy our product again. Would any country start a democracy now and I say "I really like the endless elections" or the "permanent gridlock" or the "increasing partisanship." The rest of the world envies our democracy, our values, and success, but our actual government structure, not so much.

So, with that, my five amendments to the Constitution. Please note that I only spend 1 hour on this entire article, so please email me ([email protected]) with thoughts, comments, suggestions, and typos! And, these are not necessarily the first five amendments I would make, but the ones that address our electoral system.

1) "President should be elected by popular vote. There should be a runoff of the people with the top two quantities of votes, if no one gets over 50%, so the president should be elected by over 50% of the voters. Elections should occur every four year and presidents can serve no more than two full terms." This seems really straight forward that a majority of voters should vote for the person that serves as the single chief executive of the country.

2) "Senators should represent equal size portions or collections of states. The number of senators should be fixed at 100. All terms will be four years. Every attempt should be made to keep states whole. Vacancies should be replaced by the same party as the former senator. The re-apportionment should happen in the first election after the decennial Census. A non-partisan committee should draw the map for shared senators." One-person, one-vote, one-representative! With a population of 320 million or so, we would have one senator for ever 3.2 million people. That means every state through Iowa gets at least one senator. For the big states: CA 12, TX 8.5, FL 6, NY 6, IL 4, PA 4, OH 3.5, etc., this would be easy, they would get their own or share one with neighbors. For the smaller states: WY: 0.2, VT 0.2, AK 0.2, ND 0.2, there would be a lot of sharing with neighbors.

3) "Representatives should be proportional to party votes on the national ticket. They should serve four years. The numbers should be fixed at 400. Resignations/deaths should be replaced by the party that appointed them. There should be a threshold of 2.5% for a party to get representation." Small House districts breed earmarks (even after many attempts to eliminate them). Their services should be handled by the states anyway (why should an elected official be in charge helping people with immigration, social security, etc.). This would allow third parties to grow and flourish.

4) "Supreme Court Judges should serve 18 year terms and be nominated once every two years." I am increasingly worried that someone will appoint a 25 year-old clerk soon to ensure that they can max out the expected return on the lifetime appointment.

5) "Election Days are all two weeks periods of early voting at any location in the county or by mail. All primaries, for all offices, should take place at once in the two weeks after Labor Day every four years. All general elections, for all offices, should take place at once over a two week period in the first two weeks of November." One set of federal elections, for all offices, every four years. That would allow our representatives to have shorter and less frequent (with the exception of senators) job interviews, and spend more time doing their job.