History's judgment on voting

By Michael J. Robinson
Published October 6, 2006

Five men considered by historians to be among the greatest presidents of the United States were against a supermajority vote.

Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president to be elected, in his first inaugural address said, "A majority, held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it does, of necessity, fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible; so that rejecting the majority principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left."

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on Aug. 18, 1937, said "Majority rule must be preserved as the safeguard of both liberty and civilization. Under it property can be secure; under it abuses can end; under it order can be maintained and all of this for the simple, cogent reason that to the average of our citizenship can be brought a life of greater opportunity, of greater security, of greater happiness. Pioneering for the preservation of our fundamental institutions against the ceaseless attack of those who have no faith in democracy."

President John F. Kennedy welcomed 49 Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962. He said, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge that has ever gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."

President Thomas Jefferson, drafter of our Declaration of Independence, said, "Where the law of the majority ceases to be acknowledged, there government ends; the law of the strongest takes its place, and life and property are his who can take it." (Note that President Jefferson is considered the founder of the Democratic Party.)

President James Madison, considered to be the father of the Constitution, wrote these words in the Federalist Papers No. 58: "More than a majority of a quorum (would be required) for a decision. That some advantages might have resulted from such a precaution, cannot be denied. It might have been additional shield to some particular interests, and another obstacle generally to hasty and partial measures. But these considerations are outweighed by the inconveniences in the opposite scale. In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule; the power would be transferred to the minority, a practice which leads more directly to public convulsions, and the ruin of popular governments, than any other which has yet been displayed among us."

Alexander Hamilton, co-author of the Federalist Papers, in No. 75 felt "it has been shown that all provisions which require more than a majority of any body to its resolutions have a direct tendency to embarrass the operations of the government and an indirect one to subject the sense of the majority to that of the minority and the history of every political establishment in which this principle has prevailed is a history of impotence, perplexity and disorder."

In our Constitution, the founding fathers felt that for impeachment of a president, to expel a member of Congress, to ratify a treaty or to override a presidential veto, it should require a two-thirds vote. To amend the Constitution, 67 Senate votes are required to activate the procedure, three-fourths of the states also would be required to vote to an amendment addition or deletion. All other federal legislation to be enacted requires only a simple majority.

In Hernando County, there are five commissioners. Any vote that is 3 of 5 for or against, is 60 percent. This could be construed as a supermajority. Now on the horizon is an attempt to enact an ordinance that will require a megamajority. This means 4 of 5 commissioners would be required to enact any changes to the Comprehensive Growth Management Plan, or 80 percent approval.

If Hernando's commissioners were named Lincoln, Roosevelt, Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton, would they vote 4 out of 5 (80 percent) to amend the noted plan, or would 3 out of 5 (60 percent) remain the norm?

Michael J. Robinson, husband of County Commissioner Nancy Robinson, lives in Spring Hill. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.