Democracy is always rooted in the assumption that the majority should generally do what they want, with a few important exceptions. In the American context, majority rule is constrained by a core set of protections set forth in the Bill of Rights for individuals and groups that fall under what the Supreme Court has called “suspicious classifications”, such as race. , national origin, religion, or alienation.
The point here is that the government should reflect the will of the people, as long as it pursues “compelling state interests” and does not violate individual rights to freedom of expression, due process and protection. equal under the law.
Given the tortured history of this country, reasonable people have come to recognize that the rights of minorities (and here I mean racial, ethnic and religious minorities) must be carefully protected and that behaving majorities. tyrannical manner must be held in check. That said, legitimate majority rule remains the cornerstone of our government at all levels – federal, state and local.
Along with centuries of failure to protect minority rights in this country, our history is replete with examples of vested interests that attempt to play with our constitutional and government systems to enforce minority domination and thwart legitimate democratic processes ( and here I mean digital minorities). The protection of the rights of minorities is essential for a healthy democracy. The imposition of a minority regime is generally a corruption of democratic processes.
As we reflect on our way forward here at Amherst, let’s make sure we understand this important distinction and keep honest those who wish to confuse the two.
For years in Amherst, we have seen an entrenched digital minority use Town Meeting, its easy standard to win a siege and its Byzantine rules, to enforce minority rule over the city. Since Amherst voters replaced the town assembly with a more responsible town council, those who wish to maintain power through a minority regime have aggressively sought new ways to hamper the majority here in Amherst who want to better schools, a refurbished library and decent working housing for our valued first responders and city workers.
And now comes the assertion of some obstructionists that they are the victims of an autocratic ruling majority. The Town Meeting members had little accountability for their votes on the issues facing the town, as many of them had nothing like a real election to win and keep their elections. seats. The same ruling minority has returned year after year to thwart the will of a new growing majority in the city who want to see wise investments in better services.
In contrast, the 10 city councilors who represent the city’s five districts were elected in very competitive races and will hopefully be subjected to another round of competitive races this year.
The fact that each district councilor represents specific sets of contiguous neighborhoods makes them directly accountable to the citizens of their area, and it is very likely that they will be held accountable for their voting records by the majority of district voters. It’s democracy, guys.
The three general councilors are elected to represent the city as a whole. They too will be subject to the verdict of a majority of voters across the city. This makes them accountable to all of us, North Amherst, South Amherst and downtown.
Other controls built into the city council include state law requiring an absolute majority waiver for property tax increases above 2.5%. This generally limits municipal taxes and expenses, except for extraordinary needs like schools and other essential capital projects.
There’s also the upcoming city-wide referendum on the Jones Library renovation. Another control over the power of the board. Given the relatively low number of petition signatures calling for this referendum compared to the city’s overall electoral population, it will be interesting to see how the vote unfolds. It will be even more interesting to see what the former ruling minority will do if it loses again. I hope they will respect the will of the majority in town this time around if this is how the vote goes.
Jon McCabe of Amherst is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Holyoke Community College.