Laboratories of Democracy Must Push for More Democracy

In case you’re not following the steady stream of bills being introduced in the General Assembly (I only do it because I was asked to), you might not have noticed the introduction of a pair of bills that entered both the House and the Senate. If brought to a vote, they should pass, and this would make it the fourth time they’ve come up in the General Assembly, defeated by various methods despite their popularity.

I’m talk about H7388 and S2333, which sign Rhode Island onto the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). Introduced by Representative Raymond Gallison and Senator Erin Lynch, respectively, these bills have pretty wide support in both houses. H7388 has 45 co-sponsors, meaning if each co-sponsor votes for it, it’s passed. S2333 has exactly half of the Senate as co-sponsors, with 19. The only thing that kept this from getting passed last session was that somehow it never made it to the floor of the House for a vote. In the Senate, it passed overwhelmingly, supported by vast majorities of both parties.

Now, naturally, there’s always going to be pushback. Anchor Rising has discussed criticisms of the NPVIC before, and I encourage you to read their criticisms. Then I encourage you to read the myriad responses National Popular Vote has listed over the years (there’s a lot of it). I would expect AnchorRising to be against this, because they’re conservatives. Conservatives, naturally, are supposed to be resistant to change (hence, conserving the government as it is), and there’s nothing wrong with the impulse of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But the reality is we live in an ever-changing world. There are other impulses in the world. The Electoral College as a system isn’t exactly broke, but it doesn’t work perfectly (four out of 56 elections have produced skewed results) and it certainly doesn’t work everywhere. Just a handful of states got more than 15 visits in the last presidential election. The fact of the matter is that a national popular vote is wanted by the majority of voters in the country (majorities in both major parties and independents), in the state, and the General Assembly.  This isn’t a get onto the streets and march for it sort of support, it’s more of the casual; “yeah, that would be good.” Government works best, in my opinion, when it responds to those sorts of needs. When it does the thing that’s not only popular but also good for the nation before citizens have to rally to get it.

One of Anchor Rising’s alternatives is one I’m in agreement with as a general reform anyway; increasing the size of the United States House of Representatives. This is another good-government policy that is actually in keeping with longer traditions. The reasons there’s all this redistricting hullabaloo each year and states fretting over losing an electoral vote is because back in 1920, Congress decided not to expand its numbers; had it done so, power would’ve concentrated in the hands of the cities and the Northeast; where most people lived at the time. Since then, our numbers have been stuck where they are, with representatives representing vastly disproportionate numbers of citizens.

Anchor Rising calls this a “simple fix” but really, it’s not. If it was a simple fix, then it’d be done already.

States have alternatives when Congress is unwilling to act to implement positive change for the country. Too often, even among those who say they’re proud proponents of states’ rights, we forget just how radically and differently our states are allowed to act from the country. We argue about tax rates, about how to get federal money, etc., etc. Very few states are actually undertaking any real change, any real experimentation, any novel ideas. Rhode Island needs to be a state that does. Signing onto the NPVIC is a step in that direction. It should be brought to a vote speedily and efficiently, in both chambers this session, and then signed by the Governor.

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A native-born Rhode Islander, educated in Providence Public Schools, went to college in North Carolina and a political junkie and pessimistic optimist.

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