John Locke Update / Research Newsletter (Archive)

In this Issue: If it is good enough for the Founders, it is good enough for the Raleigh City Council

posted on in Local Government

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The 55 men who drafted the U.S. Constitution believed that the House of Representatives should be the peoples’ 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, they wanted each representative in the House to be controlled by 30,000 people.  This was down from the original 40,000 in the draft 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 and they want to be elected for four-year terms. According 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," but as a means for their constituents 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 councilors representing 13 districts.  Thus, talking with constituents would cost less and councilors would better represent them. 

But Raleigh leaders are not interested in better representation of average citizens.  Raleigh holds its elections in October, not November and in odd number years, not even number years.  This guarantees that voter turnout will be suppressed and 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 they have rigged their electoral system while they decry the lack of "democracy" in other jurisdictions.  They are currently 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. 

Click here for the Local Government Update archive.


Michael Sanera is Director of Research and Local Government Studies at the John Locke Foundation. He served as a policy analyst for the Washington, DC based The Heritage Foundation, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the California based Claremont Institute. ...

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