The 55 men who drafted the U.S. Constitution believed that the House of Representatives should be the people’s house. They wanted a representative democracy with voters controlling their representatives with elections every two years. At the time, this was longer than many state legislatures that elected representatives every year.
In fact, those who wrote the Constitution wanted each representative in the House to be controlled by 30,000 people. This was down from the original figure of 40,000 in the draft Constitution, and the decrease was approved without debate in the closing hours of the Constitutional Convention.
Now some Raleigh City Council members are complaining about “constant campaigning” for office tied to their two-year terms. They want to be elected instead for four-year terms.
According to the North Raleigh News: “Our current two-year cycle means almost constant campaigning,” [Councilman Bonner] Gaylord said. “There is necessarily another set of tasks and to-dos on every councilor’s plate. For some, making the right decision can be harder in an election year, just because of the pressure.”
The Founders did not look at talking with constituents as “pressure.” Instead they treated constituent interaction as a means for voters to communicate their desires to their elected representatives.
In fact, the reason city council members have to spend so much time raising money for their campaigns it that their districts are too large. City districts contain more than 81,000 people, and that means it costs more for them to communicate with their constituents.
If Raleigh used the Founders’ criterion, with districts containing 30,000 people, Raleigh would have 13 council members representing 13 districts. Thus, talking with constituents would cost less, and council members would have a better opportunity to represent them well.
But these selected Raleigh leaders are not interested in better representation of average citizens. Raleigh holds its elections in October, not November. The capital city also holds elections in odd-numbered years, not in even-numbered years. This guarantees that voter turnout will be suppressed. It also allows special-interest groups, not average voters, to dominate city elections.
It is ironic that the liberal-dominated city council remains in power largely because it has rigged its electoral system, while some council members decry the lack of “democracy” in other jurisdictions. The council is considering a resolution protesting the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case that protects the First Amendment free-speech rights of businesses and labor unions.
Some would say that is hypocritical for liberals who support more “democracy” elsewhere to benefit from election procedures that suppress electoral democracy in their own elections. I recommend that they get their own electoral house in order before they criticize other election procedures.
Dr. Michael Sanera is John Locke Foundation Director of Research and Local Government Studies.