Our democratic system

By Dale E. Landrith Sr. | May 10, 2018

At the federal level, the United States is not a democracy. This seems like a radical statement, but it is not. In a purely democratic system, each and every issue is voted upon by the general populace. When the United States Constitution was framed, the Founding Fathers realized that a pure democracy was not practical in a geographically dispersed country. The government would not be able to function while waiting for each issue to be resolved by a country-wide vote. The framers observed that previous attempts at pure democracy had failed miserably.

The Constitution was then written to create a democratic republic. In a democratic republic, the general populus elects representatives to formulate laws. These representatives then meet to form the laws that govern the nation. This sounds very simple, but there was a danger still to be confronted. If the representatives were elected solely upon a population formula, then 51 percent of the population could easily ignore the needs of the rest of the country (people). Even in the early history of our country, there were large population centers (New York City, Boston, etc.) that could dominate the policy of the country. In order to balance the population centers, the framers created two different legislative bodies, the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House is based on population and the Senate is based on each state's having two senators. The two separate legislative bodies have to agree on any law before it can be sent to the president for approval.

Most, if not all, states then formed their own state governments using this same type of pattern, which would have population balanced by regional interests. Maine is one of those states. Our state government was designed to both serve the interests of the general population, and to allow a balance so that the needs of less populated areas of the state can be properly represented.

In the past few years, Maine has experienced something that is defeating the democratic republic form of government. The peoples’ referendum has become the vehicle for one segment of the population to dominate another. We have seen petition drives for referendums on certain types of hunting, to legalize particular drugs, to change our method of voting, and others. If the Legislature (democratic republic) acts to make changes, there are cries of outrage that they might be acting against the will of the majority of the population. Is there something wrong with this system?

For the most part, these petition drives for the referendums have been initiated by groups outside of Maine. These groups pay individuals to come into Maine and get the needed signatures while concentrating on areas within Maine that would be sympathetic to their issue. After getting any given issue on the ballot, these outside groups then funnel money into Maine to try to influence voters for their cause. While this is all perfectly legal under the current laws, it is also perfectly wrong.

These outside groups influence Maine voters to pass their projects and then use the “victory” as publicity for influencing other states. When those of a liberal persuasion launch one of these initiatives, then they concentrate in the more populous areas. Should those of the conservative perspective respond with their own initiative, then they might concentrate on a wider, but less populated, area. In either case, 50 percent plus one person controls the agenda. The balance that was designed to moderate governance is missing.

Having just said that this process is perfectly wrong, I suspect that there are those who will take issue with the statement. These folks should understand that much of politics is a pendulum. It swings one way and then swings back the other way. The day will come when there will be referendum petitions with which they totally disagree and they will be screaming that the process is wrong. Why not fix it now and get the process back under the control of the democratic republic form of government?

In the meantime, this coming June, it appears that we will be voting with a ranked choice process. There is great doubt as to how or if it will work. Somehow the concept of one person, one vote has gone awry. Somebody will be defeated and then have the standing in court to challenge the law that the Maine Supreme Court has already said is suspect. Once again, a great sum of the state’s money will be spent in a legal quagmire. The peoples’ referendum has managed to confuse the voting process enough that it may be doubtful if we know who is running for what in November.

Comments (8)
Posted by: Ronald Horvath | May 17, 2018 06:32

And here's a famous quote for you, Glen.


"Must be a pretty picture, you dropping to your knees."  -Donald Trump, 2016

Posted by: glen r thompson | May 16, 2018 19:01

Seth - an old adage you might want to ponder: "Yesterday upon the stair, I saw a man who wasn't there.  He wasn't there again today.  Oh, how I wish he would go away."

Posted by: Seth Hall | May 16, 2018 13:58

Well Dale (and Glen), it is obvious that one party (read: Republican), rule in Washington is producing marvelous results! Never has international esteem for America been lower; after eight solid years of economic growth under Obama, Mr. Trump seems to have effectively reversed that trend, and to make matters worse, has started a trade war, all the while Saving Jobs in China(!?)

And frankly, our political discourse has never been more fractious or unpleasant, many would argue, again, largely due to people like Mitch McConnel and Paul Ryan, and most Congressional Republicans and their take no hostages approach to governing.

And right here in our own state, notwithstanding the remarkable strength of the economy, as witnessed by our incredibly low unemployment rate, the Legislature continues to favor the rich, under-fund our schools, prevent the expansion of clean, cheap renewable energy at all costs, and generally do everything they can to undermine the clearly stated will of the people!

Oh, and did I mention that this is after eight years of Mr. LePage, a Tea Party Republican Luddite last time I checked, ruling the roost? And then there's Bruce Poliquin, about whose More-Tax-Cuts-for-the-Rich performance I won't even waste the ink to comment on.

This November the people will have their say about one-party rule. My best guess is that they will be speaking loudly and clearly!

Posted by: Ronald Horvath | May 16, 2018 09:34

One party rule, Glen?  Have you been awake these last eight years?

Posted by: glen r thompson | May 16, 2018 09:30

You are so right, Dale.  I am certain you will get the leftist extremist steaming with this one.  History proves pure democracies do not work but republics do.  You speak of undue outside political influence.  So correct.  I also know rumors of a retail chain store paying so-called grassroots locals to petition to stop competition.  It worked!  The people of Maine suffered as a result.  Yet these radicals sit on their hands and wonder why the general population is aging faster than other states while young people, seeing no opportunities, are getting the H-E double L OUT.  Maine has such potential, yer it is fastly becoming a backwater.  It's called 40 years of basically one-party democratic rule. Just look next door in New Hampshire (having much less to offer) but still prospers. Check out the lineup of box stores just within the New Hampshire border. Ever wonder why?  It's the insane set of regulations on businesses and the even more insane taxes Maine demands.  Now, you tell me how Mainers profits from this? Ever wonder why Maine is often referred to as New England's poor cousin?  Not really that hard to explain.

Posted by: Ronald Horvath | May 13, 2018 10:08

I'll say it again:  Dems believe in rule by the people.  Republicans believe in rule by the "right" people.  (Usually meaning themselves.)

Posted by: Susan Reider | May 13, 2018 08:56

I thought maybe the writer was going to tackle the electoral college, surely the best example off an undemocratic federal system. But no, he chose public initiative and referenda, an example of citizen choice at its purest. He then built his case on examples of this process in Maine, which he doesn’t like because it’s been used increasingly in recent years to send a direct message to a governor who was not elected by a majority of voters and has blatantly ignored voters’ wishes time after time while in office. Mr. Landrith always begins his screeds with a faulty premise (usually nasty, mean-spirited) then builds an articulate case. This is his privilege, but his writing has become predictable and increasingly unworthy of serious attention. I doubt he is winning many converts, since his view of public affairs resembles a funhouse mirror.

Posted by: Ronald Horvath | May 10, 2018 18:38

The "outsiders" argument is one that we always hear when ever a referendum doesn't go the way the writer would have liked.  Outside interference is usually the accusation of the loser in any political argument.  Of course when they win it's always the "voice of the people" and there's never mention of outside money flowing in for their benefit.  In any case, I think you'll find, Dale, that your own vote in the coming election will count for even more with ranked choice voting though, as usual for a Republican, you'll probably regret that the same is true for all Mainers.

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