Hexadecimal apportionment

This is pure political fiction. It takes place in an imaginary universe where the United States of America is capable of agreeing on a new constitution that fundamentally restructures the nation, an act of which I do not believe we are capable in our actual universe.

The basic theme is to get rid of several aspects of the current system that have plagued us for over 200 years. I must note that by "plague" I do not want to imply that most people are aware of the problem as I will state it; this is simply a view of our government and its history in a fictional context.

The current system, being built up from most of the old North American British colonies in a time when there was a great deal of isolation and separation among the colonies, depends strongly on a state level of government. The states are tied to the map: each one is defined as a certain region, usually contiguous, of the national territory. Each state has invented its own version of the wheel in many areas, most importantly the structure of its own governments and laws. In addition, the federal government mirrors the isolation of states in several ways. First, members of the two legislative bodies are grouped by state, two senators for each state and a number of representatives that is very, very roughly proportional to the number of citizens residing in each state. The executive is also chosen by the states such that presidential electors are tied to the individual states, generally in a number corresponding to the total congressional representation of the state the elector represents.

This structure, which was not so bad in the early 19th Century, is very bad today in my opinion. It splinters the nation and puts unequal representation into the very structure of the government. If the national motto is E pluribus unum, (out of many, one), then the organization of the nation into states has prevented the lofty goal of that motto from being realized.
Probably the largest problem, though, is that the constitution has actually interfered with the most basic processes of a democracy by downplaying any direct connection between individual voters and elected officials. Over the years since 1790, convention, state laws, and constitutional amendments have addressed some of these disconnections, but the result is still a kind of hodgepodge and there are still annoying and counterproductive vestiges of the original, no-direct-election-required version.

I consider the following as just some examples of how the organization into states has harmed us: the lack of a national education system; the lack of a national approach to the environment; the lack of a national approach to labor relations; the lack of a national approach to immigration; the lack of a national approach to several contentious areas of civil rights. However, this article is not intended to focus so much on the results of our disunited states, but on a simple solution.

It seems obvious to me that there is no way to get away from the necessity of a hierarchy of government. Our territory is too large and too populous for there not to be subsystems and subsubsystems, and for the structure to reflect, to some degree, geographic proximity. However, I do not believe that the system should cause there to be actual allegiances to the subunits, or at least, not in any lasting, deep sense.

This solution has some similarity to one dating back to Roman times, and is very simple. The Roman system was decimal, based largely on the number 100. We simply take advantage of the hexadecimal system as a way to organize the system. Furthermore, since we will have a well-organized hierarchy, we will use it to increase the connection of the voters to their representatives at all levels.

The lowest level is that of the 4k (16³=4,096). Let's call it a "precinct". After each census, the nation is divided into precincts that are geographically contiguous and that contain 4096 citizens (foreign residents do not count, children and other citizens that can't vote do count). The precincts are the building blocks of the system. There should be some care taken to avoid huge shifts in precinct boundaries, but in fact, many of them would shift, disappear, or split after each census. We could call the executive for each precinct a "captain". Note that a variant of the rule of the census would be to include only citizens who are 8 and older (assuming an 18 year voting age), on the assumption that they would become voters before the next 10 year census and apportionment. You could also add a certain percentage of legal residents over 8 (say 10%), on the assumption that some would become US voters within 10 years. Each precinct should also have a precinct board with all members elected at large from within the precinct, but there is no need for there to be 16 members. Probably about four board members, plus the precinct captain, would be enough. The precinct boards would primarily be local administrators.

The next level is that of the 65k (16⁴=65,536), which we will call a "district". Again after each census, precincts would be combined into districts. There would be a district commission consisting of one commissioner elected from each of the 16 precincts, plus a district chief elected by the district as a whole. Note that districts would tend to be similar to "neighborhoods" in an urban setting, and "counties" in a rural one.

Next would come the 1m (16⁵=1,048,576). Let's call this these "boroughs". The borough council will consist of 16 councillors elected separately from the 16 districts of the borough, plus a mayor elected from the whole borough. Note that some current states would be smaller than the borough, while large cities would have more than one borough associated with them. For example, New York City would have several boroughs, while the old state of Alaska would be part of a borough also including part of the old state of Washington.

The next level is the 16m (16⁶=16,777,216). These levels could be called "provinces", and each province would have a provincial caucus made up of 16 representatives elected from the 16 constituent boroughs, plus a provincial chairman. In addition to that, there would be a national House of Representatives that would not have a maximum size, but which would consist of one representative elected from each borough in the nation, plus a Speaker of the House elected from the nation at large. The number of representatives would currently be a bit less than 300; Provinces would be larger than most current states.

The top level body is the national Senate, which would have no fixed maximum size (but would currently have about 18 or so members). This body would be made up of one senator elected from each province, plus a nationally elected President of the Senate.
Finally, there would be a chief executive, or President of the Republic, elected by the nation as a whole.
To summarize: voters would elect a precinct captain plus board members, a district commissioner, a district chief, a borough councillor, a borough mayor, a provincial representative, a provincial chairman, a national Representative, a Speaker of the House, a national Senator, a President of the Senate, and a President of the Republic. The leaders of the two legislative bodies and the President of the Republic would all be elected nationally. If the President of the Republic were to leave office or die, the President of the Senate would assume his duties; next in line would be the Speaker of the House. (There would be no Vice President.) As for terms, it would probably be best to use two-year terms for all levels below the House; Representatives and the President of the Republic could have four-year terms with half coming up for re-election in each two-year election cycle. Senators, the Speaker, and the President of the Senate could have eight-year terms.

Obviously, there could be some rounding errors. These would be handled at each level by adding one sub-unit to one or more selected higher level units. This would minimize the disparity in representation.

Also, the district boundaries would be assigned by algorithm. The algorithm would be a matter of law, and would be applied to the nation as a whole. The algorithm would be conservative in that it would weigh previous apportionments highly, and it would seek to reflect demographic and geographical factors.

As for laws, all laws would be national in scope. Laws would be debated in the House and the Senate, and could move in either direction (that is, they could originate in the House and then move to the Senate, or vice-versa).

Also, while it seems like science fiction, if it were necessary to form a system that encompassed more than 4,294,967,296 people (a level large enough to govern the entire world), then one more level would be added, pushing the House and Senate levels up, but keeping the bodies the same size as before. It should be remarked that if a system such as this one had been adopted by the Founders, this rescaling would have occurred twice already in history, to adapt to the rising US population (in the system of 1790-1800, the Senate would have been at the 65k level, the House at the 4k level).

I believe that a system such as this one, where every individual's vote counts the same as every other's, where the size of all governmental bodies are manageable, and where all laws apply to all US citizens; such a system would increase national unity and would decrease the perception that so many people have that government is separated from the people. In other words, I think it would increase the power of our democracy while simultaneously strengthening our republic.

This is just a skeleton of national organization, a mere framework. There would still have to be many changes made within the framework. Imagine how different (and better!) the constitution would have been, even in the 18th Century, if the country had been a single, unified hierarchy in which a single system of law and of government had been the goal. Given such a framework, I think we could do better even now.

And what about the states? I suggest that the old state boundaries be retained for historical and heritage purposes. There could be nongovernmental organizations of the old states and/or groups of states. I see no harm in that, it is part of our history. However, the state boundaries and old state governmental structures and laws would be phased out of the new system.

Well, that's the basic idea. I may come back and tighten this up a bit. To do: the idea of a parallel system of executives has great power. The change will be to (1) convert the chairman roles to executive ones, and (2) go back to each body choosing a single parliamentary leader. Also, consider parallel (3) judicial and (4) infrastructure systems.


Educating Sarah Palin

There is currently a high probability that Sarah Palin will run for President in 2012. This is not based on her qualifications, but on her strength as a symbol for Republicans who are suspicious of advanced education and secularism.

As things stand now, it appears that a Palin campaign would be just like McCain's, but without his moderating influence. It would most likely be a very divisive campaign, fought at the level of fear, insinuation, holier-than-thou moralizing, and dirty tricks. That is, yet another a campaign that would harm America regardless of who wins.

As a Democrat, I would rather have a Republican win a campaign focused on constructive debate and including all elements of our society, than have Obama or some other Democrat win a second term by vanquishing yet another destructive, McCarthy/Nixon/Bush-ish Republican attack. But given that Palin is likely to run, is there anything that can be done now to raise the level of the 2012 campaign?

I think there is. I think that Obama should have as one of his priorities the "education" of Sarah Palin, with an eye toward the level of debate of the 2012 presidential election.

This does not mean that he should try in any way to convert her into a progressive. In fact, that would be a mistake, because if that happened, someone else, maybe someone even less likely to run a responsible campaign, would run as the Republican candidate. Instead, what Obama should do is to give Palin a voice in the Obama administration. Not in a central position with a title and real power (because she is not yet qualified for that), but in an advisory capacity, where she would have a genuine opportunity to shape national policy through the force of her ideas.

A straightforward way to implement this, for example, would be for Obama to ask groups of governors (including Sarah Palin) to produce executive advisory reports on topics of interest to their states. Palin should be included in both energy and wildlife related committees, and any others that might apply. President Obama should take an active part in these governors' groups, and Governor Palin should be asked to take on a leadership role as well.

This would be valuable experience for Palin in two ways. First, in a group consisting of governors and presidents, hopefully only good ideas would survive. Even if she herself did not produce much in this regard, the experience of taking part in such a process at a national level would provide her with context that was desperately lacking in the 2008 campaign. Second, by working personally with Obama and with a diversity of governors and members of Obama's cabinet, I believe that she will lose her fear of them. They will become colleagues. At a minimum, this will provide a degree of collegiality that was sadly missing in 2008.

In short, ironically, perhaps the best thing that Obama can do to prepare for 2012 is to help prepare his most likely opponent. This is a win-win for everyone. Her participation in these national groups will add essential breadth and depth to her candidacy. Her input will make the product of the groups more representative of the national consensus. The campaign will most likely be far less harmful to the nation. And, in the event that she actually won the election, the experience could make her a much better president than she would be otherwise.

One might imagine that Palin would be unwilling to partake in this process, because it could lose her her Mackerick™ spurs. This would be a decision she would have to make. I think the governors advisory groups are a good idea in any case (something like that seems to be gather steam even now, before the inauguration), and I think it would be her loss if she decided not to participate, or if her participation was obstructive rather than constructive. In any case, I think the attempt should be made to include her.

Greg Shenaut