The Founders’ vision for elections: Greece vs. the U.S.

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Direct democracy has its drawbacks.

Greece’s legislature is elected via what is called proportional representation.  This system strives to provide the most perfect representation of the people’s preferences onto their 300 member legislature. The United States has 435 Representatives for slightly more than 300 million citizens (one Representative for every 689,000 citizens) while Greece has 300 representatives for about 11 million citizens (one representative for every 36,000 citizens).  Moreover the way they are elected, the system of proportional representation, encourages many small parties with both a low party threshold (you only need to get 3% of the votes to qualify) and small district sizes.

Voters’ reasons for casting their ballots are wide and varied.  Some always vote along party lines.  Others are one issue voters, with a single issue being much more important to them than any other issue.  Others vote to punish.  This is what happened in Greece this weekend.

Greek voters used their election to hold a referendum on recent austerity packages passed by their legislature.  They voted out the two pro-austerity parties and voted for a wide range of fringe parties that campaigned on repealing the austerity measures.  In anger, they elected 21 neo-Nazis.  This is the danger of proportional representation.

The founding fathers set up a system where cooler minds would prevail.  Representatives would be re-elected on a sliding basis.  One third would be up for re-election every two years, so as to avoid dramatic changes in its composition.  This has a slowing effect that increases the stability of the government.  Moreover, thanks to the Great Compromise of 1787, we have another legislative body, the US Senate, that serves as another roadblock to electoral chaos.  By having two representatives chosen from an entire state, he or she represents the interests of an entire population, not just anyone able to muster 3% of the voting population.

by José M. Martínez