Reforming the constitution of the United States

May people seek amendments to the US constitution to meet various political goals. They want to clarify the status of abortion or modify gun rights. Such amendments should only be done through the expected political process, requiring ratification by 3/4ths of the states.

There is another set of amendments however that are even more important. These involve the structure of the system itself. They should not be political, but they have become so. This has happened because errors in the design of the system will aid one side or another. That side will immediately seek to protect the flaws that are in their favor, even if they might agree objectively that they are not ideal. It is thus nearly impossibly to fix the flaws. Here I will identify what some of those flaws are:

Uneven voting power for President

The US Electoral college was not an accident, but its origins vanished long ago. It is not appropriate that some voters get more say over the choice of chief executive than others. A national popular vote should make the decision. One of the original goals might still exist -- that a person not be able to win by having extreme regional popularity. To assure that, the rule could select the winner of the popular vote who also won at least 10% of the vote in 80% of the congressional districts.

Equal power of states in the Senate

This is the one part of the constitution that can't be amended, absent consent of all 50 states. But it no longer is needed, and nor is it fair. Because it can't be amended, a new body can be created - perhaps called "The Chamber of Delegates." Bills would require assent from 2 of the 3 houses -- Senate, Chamber and House of Reps. The Senate's special powers (consent of appointments and treaties, conviction on impeachment) would be transferred to the Chamber.

The Chamber could be a proportional body, which is to say, for example, that it has 99 Delegates. In a national election, all voters can name a Delegate. The last place candidate transfers their votes to a higher placed candidate until there are 100 left, and the top 99 win. Alternately, voters could get to list several candidates in order, and the instant runoff system is used. Voters could vote on party lines or even ethnic lines, but a small group with 10% of the population would get 10% of the Delegates, rather than zero as they do today.

In a constitutional redo of a grand scale with the consent of all 50 states, the Senate could be entirely replaced. It's hard to see what would get the small states to agree to that, though a major threat or incentive might be able to do that.

No more partisans setting election rules

It was a big mistake that elected official get to define the rules under which they are elected. That way lies madness and has led to Gerrymandering and many other abuses. A new constitution should do everything to forbid any partisan from drawing lines or setting rules. Algorithmic drawing of lines can work, or having a judicial function and a set of fair constraints. Another approach is to allow partisans to form a council, but require 2/3rds agreement from the council, or it defaults to a simple algorithm.

Like most of the world, voter registration should be done by the government. One useful rule might be that no change to the rules can be made that would reduce the exercise of franchise. One could put the actual voting system into the constitution, though that makes it extremely hard to change.

Other ideas of merit include:

  • Voter registration done by the government (which already has a list of citizens.)
  • Mandatory voting (penalty for not voting like Australia)
  • Approval voting for President and all other single-winner elections (You can vote for as many candidates as you wish. The one with the most votes wins.)
  • Two weeks of voting prior to election day.
  • A voting station within 15 minutes travel from every voter, or the voter may vote by mail.
  • Polling stations must implement systems so that nor more than 0.1% of voters wait more than 10 minutes to vote. If not the district is fined and those governing it are replaced.
  • All voting systems auditable with reasonable ease.

Less partisanship on the courts

The partisan supreme court is not at all what was intended. Today, justices are replaced when they die or resign, and are picked to match the politics of the current President. It's become so big that people will vote for President largely based on the judge they would pick. The goal is to have independent judges, not ones elected by proxy. In the 3rd year of any Presidential term, a justice must resign -- default the oldest. Another approach would be to require 2/3rds of the Delegates approve an appointment, with a fall back that if the President and 2/3rds of the Delegates can't agree, then 5 groups of 20% of the delegates can submit a name, as can the President, and one of the 6 names is picked at random. Or some better idea to reduce partisanship.

Each justice should retain a list of several successors. In the event if the premature death or resignation of a Justice, the Chamber may pick from this list, defaulting to the 1st entry if they can't pick before the next judicial session.

Another option: Simply have confirmation done by the political opponents of the President (the 2/3rds of the chamber who least resemble the President in approval/veto of bills.) Needs a solution to refusal to approve after some time limit.

Remove states from amendment process

Ratification of amendments should be done by popular vote of a large fraction of the people. Ie. 3/4th of the people, not 3/4th of the states. In theory, a group with control of 51% of the vote in 3/4 of the states -- ie. 38% of the total vote -- could ratify an amendment today. That's a flaw.

Clarify interstate commerce

This one borders on political, but it is likely the interstate commerce clause was not intended to be as broad as it has become. We should find a way to learn what we really want, and clarify and code that.


Bills are passed by open vote today. Members of the HR and Senate are often afraid to make public support for bills until they know they are actually in the majority. Many bills that actually have good support are not passed due to this fear.

To solve this, it is possible to design voting systems where members can cast semi-secret votes. Until more than 50% give assent to a bill, the name/vote combinations are kept secret. All that is public is that the bill has X for and Y against. As soon as X>50%, all names and votes are revealed. This can be done with a simple paper system or with cryptography.

Bring things into the digital age

Allow congress to meet and vote over digital communications links. (Indeed, there is some merit to forcing this, making at least members of the HR and Senate actually live and work in their districts and not in Washington.)

Campaign finance

This is a complex one that has become a bit partisan, and has also led to attempts to weaken the 1st amendment, as that amendment has blocked campaign finance reform laws. A simple solution is publicly financed campaigns, which can be made cheap and simple in the digital era, when many digital media have no costs. Any media company which can reach more than say 5% of the voters can be compelled to offer a channel where registered candidates can communicate with voters, subject to restrictions set by the voters. (For example, a voter could say, "I want only 1 message from candidates X and Y but will accept 10 messages from candidate Z."

Use of the free messaging may also depend on some sort of metric of early support, as is used in other public campaign finance proposals.


First, there is more than one path to an amendment.

Second, I don’t see how any system without proportional representation can call itself democratic with a straight face. PR itself would solve some of the problems you mention automatically.

Whoops -- that article was not meant to be released yet, it's a side article to something else coming soon.

But the list of items up there has as its major feature a proportional body I call the Chamber of Delegates. The USA has a Senate with equal power per state baked hard into the constitution -- that can't be changed by amendment. It's the only thing that can't be changed by amendment. At best, I am hoping that a 3rd body (proportional) can be added and to the extent allowed, the Senate can be neutered.

But I suspect that completely neutering the Senate would not fly. In fact, one has to wonder how the court would react to even depriving it of its special powers (approving appointments and treaties, voting impeachments, counting electoral votes) as I would move the first 2 to the Chamber.

And it still remains the case in the above structure that if one party controlled the HR, the WH and the Senate it could pass bills, even those opposed by the Chamber.

The Senate exists only to protect the powers of bodies whose borders were drawn 200 years ago. I find no virtue to it today. But I don't think it can be eliminated. When they made the deal 200 years ago, they made sure of that.

Remember that we are a Federal Republic not a Democracy (capital D). The US Constitution is about balancing power (along many dimensions). The Senate was setup to ensure that less populous states have a significant voice in determining the legislation that will govern the entire nation. As you noted, this was a deal struck long ago, and to implement your proposed changes to the Senate effectively means that you would need to rewrite the whole Constitution. While many of the issues may have changed, the concerns of small states being overrun by big states still exists. California and Texas are very different states from Maine and Wyoming. I don't understand why they shouldn't have a somewhat equal voice on the national level.

The operating word is "was". A deal was made in the 18th century, in order to assure small states joining the union like Rhode Island. (5 of the 6 small states are today blue, 1 is purple.) Everybody's grandchildren are a century dead.

The issue of small states being overrun only exists to the extent that you believe that states deserve power at the federal level beyond what the have for their population. I understand why that was offered in a deal, states are historical artifacts. If you were forming a country today, would you want to structure it so people in small regions outpower those in large? If so, how would you do it? Based on ancient historical lines? Or with some other principle. Just what is it that is being protected, and what ways might it be protected? Why do the people of Wyoming deserve more protection than the people of the city of San Francisco? Let alone an order of magnitude more? What is special about them vs. anybody else?

I will also add that while the USA is indeed a federal republic, it is not true it is not a democracy, it is a democratic federal republic and the principles of democracy are very much integral to it. It is not a direct democracy.

But I will contend that while there is found to be merit in the idea that individual states and regions can have their own laws and powers, I would put forward that the idea that they must be your channel to the federal government is now obsolete. It definitely was the way the constitution was written, but I think a strong majority of the people would like to elect the President directly rather than through a state based college. In fact, a very strong majority if it were not for the fact that the college system has, of late, favoured one party, which biases members of that party in its favour. I am highly confident that if that party were constantly being underrepresented because of the college, most of them would be all for abolishing it.

And no doubt it would flip and many Democrats would support it if it constantly gave them advantage. Which is a perfect demonstration of why it's a poor idea. Any principle should be valued by both sides regardless of political circumstances. It should not be giving advantage to any side, as that will alter the debate on it.

While the Electoral College is bad, so is a direct election. A system in which the head of government is elected by the Congress would make more sense. Yes, fewer checks and balances, but in practice those checks and balances are often used just to block democratic decisions. And with proportional representation, there will be more parties in Congress and thus also more checks.

My view: the country is doomed. The events of 6 January should have been a wake-up call, but instead of combating such foolishness, the so-called left/progressive/liberal population is engaged in a war among itself to see who can be the most woke and cancel everyone else. Those first-world problems will soon become third-world problems. (In many respects, such as workers’ rights, health care, public schools, and so on, the USA is already at the level of a third-world country.)

Checks and balances were needed even more strongly than ever with Trump. Trump has the GOP in his thrall, imagine a unified Trump rule.

But I am OK with the President being chosen by the proportional house. However, at this point, I do not think there would be support for that level of change. The electoral college of course was originally meant to be states voting, not the people of the states. But it has been the people for so long the only likely next step is just direct election by the people.

Is it doomed? It's certainly in crisis. That's not the same as doom. But yes, the left is doing as you say, but oddly, your last sentence adds more trouble. The USA isn't ready for European style progressive government. It has to have a compromise that stops the two sides from being at war.

Add new comment