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There are now 35 comments... what are your thoughts?
  1. Pedro Garrano says

    “A decent solution today beats the perfect solution tomorrow.”

  2. Arbitrary? As if there was a fraction that was a natural consequence of making amendments. I suppose an argument could be made for 3/4 as splitting the difference between majority and unanimity, but why NOT 2/3?

    • Wooo, arguing time!

      Any fraction is going to get the “why this one as opposed to something nearby” – I think it’s easier to argue in terms of guiding principles than for a specific number. If I were going to argue for 3/4 over 2/3, I would go with “yeah, 2/3 shows consensus better than 1/2, I’ll grant you that, but I’d like really strong consensus. I know unanimity is impractical, but I want to skew towards a stronger consensus before we go changing the document that’s supposed to be the bedrock of what we’re doing.”

      There’s also a good argument in general for “numbers that are easy to calculate and divide”. I think one of my favorite arguments I’ve heard against intelligent design is that we have 10 fingers instead of 12 – 12 divides so neatly into so many different group sizes! It’s super convenient. So fractions with denominators of 2, 3, 4, and 6 tend to be pleasing to me. Which makes 3/4 the next step up from 2/3 (and if we wanted even stronger, 5/6. But that might be a bit much?)

      But yeah, at a certain point we’re making an arbitrary choice.

      • How about this? 2/3 derives from the absolute minimum number of people (or state legislatures) required to have a majority and minority opinion.

        • But as the comic was pointing out, you don’t necessarily WANT to have the closest margin possible – that could mean an issue that’s still very much under debate, where you have just a few more people on one side but there’s still plenty of room to argue. (The actual minimum is “50% + 1”, or simple majority.) For making major changes to the underlying system, you want broad consensus. (Unanimity effectively makes changing it impossible, and you maybe don’t want to make it too hard to change or the system becomes moribund.)

          • Skeptible is saying, two thirds is the *only* fraction that makes sense in the case with the minimum possible number of voters, three. If you have one voter, every choice is unanimous; if you have two voters, every choice is either unanimous or tied; in both those cases, elections are pointless. With three voters, every choice is either unanimous, or has a two-thirds supermajority, one way or the other.

            Admittedly, I don’t see what that has to do with the question of what rule is appropriate for amending the Constitution, but maybe there’s just something I’m missing.

            • I was attempting to ignore the question of whether 2/3 was an appropriate fraction and trying to focus on a possible reason for that particular fraction. I would say that it is purely a judgement call as to how much of a majority is enough and how much is too much. For me, I think Prohibition demonstrates that (what I consider to be) a dumb idea can be overwhelmingly popular and no practical fraction would be high enough to prevent injustice/stupidity from prevailing. (46/48 voted in favor)

      • Interestingly enough, Denmark, of all countries, requires a 5/6ths vote to transfer some national powers to supranational bodies; any majority less than that results in the proposal going to a referendum. Just thought I’d mention it, since it seems to be the only country that has such a supermajority requirement.

        And while we’re on the topic of supermajorities, does 55% count? That was the majority needed to pass the Montenegrin independence referendum, although it seems rather small compared to other supermajorities.,_2006

  3. Also, an impressive amount of background detail compared to the last few pages. Get a hankerin’ to draw furniture? :-)

    • In the past, we’ve gotten backgrounds with various airplanes, classic cars, or even video-game characters. So you never know. Those could be detailed depictions of actual valuable antiques, or even museum items from the actual Constitutional Convention. Better look closely. Nathan’s sneaky that way.

  4. psionl0 says

    For a constitution that starts off with “We the people” it’s interesting that the people have little direct say in amending the constitution. It’s all up to the legislatures.

    I think that the Australian method is better: A proposed amendment has to be passed by both houses of parliament (or twice by one house) then be put to a referendum. The amendment passes only if “in a majority of the States a majority of the electors voting approve the proposed law, and if a majority of all the electors voting also approve the proposed law”.

    • State legislatures are elected by the people and represent them. So are federal ones (well, back when the plan was put into place, only the House was). Therefore, the legislatures represent the people, and if they don’t, that’s the fault of the people.

      Some states do allow amendments in the fashion you mention, though.

      And you want more than a majority to pass an amendment. You want your Constitution to be stable. Plus, allowing a simple majority to pass amendments that trample the rights of the minority is not a good idea.

      • It’s the majority of the states as well as the majority of the population that raises the bar. A proposition that has majority support can be vetoes by voters in the smaller states and a proposition that is popular in the smaller states can be vetoed by voters in the larger states. In practice, any proposed amendment that doesn’t have bi-partisan support has no chance of being approved.

        Like the US, Australian politicians find it easier to appoint High Court judges that will give them a favourable interpretation of the constitution than to amend it.

        • It’s still possible for a proposition to pass with a bare minimum majority of voters. All that does is guarantee that it’s a national slim majority than a regional one.

          • No it isn’t (have you followed how the process works?) Of 44 referenda proposing constitutional change since Federation, only 8 were successful. Another 5 gained an overall majority but failed to get the majority of the states so they failed.

            This makes changing the Australian constitution more difficult than amending the US one. State ratification in the US does not require a majority of the voters in that state to approve the amendment. State legislators are more likely to respond to the vocal lobbies than to conduct a plebiscite.

    • Remember, at this time, the US is more like the EU is now, still a collection of states that are working together. And the population of Austria now is very close to the average population of the states. And many of the states do have a similar method.

      • The US is nothing like the EU. The EU is more akin to the articles of confederation that preceded the US constitution.

        Although the legislative/executive arm of the Australian government is more like the English model, Australia’s federation model draws heavily on the US constitution – even to the extent of equal state representation in the Senate and semi-sovereign states. Some Australian states are more populous than a number of US states.

        • There’s a key phrase you’re overlooking in Daniel’s post: “at this time.” You have to remember that right now in the comic the Articles of Confederation are still the law of the land; this convention is trying to come up with a replacement.

          So yes, at this moment in time (in the comic, not 2017) the government of the United States was rather similar to the EU.

          • Ahh! So Daniel was actually talking about changing the articles of confederation and not the US constitution in response to my post about changing the constitution.

            Very confusing.

            • Even after the constitution is passed, the US still acts more like a confederation of states than an actual union for a long while. It takes until after the civil war for the states to become more under the yolk of the federal government. The federal government here is really set up to create a unified foreign policy and to keep the states from warring each other (tariffs or other economic hardships would also be included here). If individual states want their own direct changes to their constitution they still could, but the federal government was serving as a mediator between states, not persons.

              • You are still trying to go off topic. The issue is not about the power sharing arrangements between the federal government and the states but how to change the constitution.

  5. Taleweaver says

    I can think of a mathematical explanation for the 2/3rd supermajority:

    In a 2/3 supermajority, one side outweighs the other by two to one. For every guy on the other side, there are at least two guys. If that’s not convincing, I don’t know what would be.

    • A 3/4 majority, where there are three people in favor for every one against. Or even 5/6ths, where there are five people for every one against. Both have a more convincing majority, and all are less convincing that total unanimity.

      • Yeah, these are just different ratios of people for to people against. And in all of those we have the opposing consideration: is it TOO hard to change things? We don’t want to be changing it willy-nilly, but if we can’t respond to a changing society at all, that’s also a problem.

        Really, I think anywhere you draw the line is going to be at least a little arbitrary. It’s not like you have any way to conduct an experiment and try to find the best number.

        “The control group had a constitution that was impossible to change. We then established nations with constitutions needing a simple majority, 2/3rds majority, 3/4ths majority, and 5/6ths majority to change. After fifty years, all of the nations grew mold, but those with larger majorities required grew more of it.”

        … I may have mixed something up somewhere.

      • I read some fiction, where to repeal a law, (what there was of it, the body was more similar to IAB or ICANN than any congress), required that a larger majority vote to repeal it than initially voted to enact it.

        Of course, within a few chapters, the “nation” was in civil war, because the side that wanted to change everything decided to try and assassinate the other side with binary poison carrying bees.

        • Sounds like a fun story, do you remember what it was called?

          It’s a truism that supermajorities tend to entrench the status quo. That’s why the smart policy is to use them as a way of asking “are you REALLLLLY sure you want to do this?” It presupposes that the current situation is how it ought to be, and demands extra in order to rebut that presumption. So in your fictional example, there seems to be either a systemic (though perhaps not explicit) assumption that when a law is passed they got it right the first time, or perhaps a cultural preference for reliable continuity over innovation.

          Of course, as your example shows, if you make it too hard to effect necessary change then people will find another way. Throughout history, that usually means violence. Revolution is one way, but there’s also assassination, genocide, terrorism…

          As those indicate, a majority is not prerequisite to revolution. Which means a supermajority isn’t necessarily the problem. Often, it’s precisely the minority who feel such frustration, because there’s no way to get the bulk of society to agree to do things their way. That’s where some varieties of terrorism come from. (And if that minority does come to power, it may resort to state terror to keep it. See post-revolutionary France or any communist nation in the 20th Century.)

          Revolution isn’t the only outlet for such frustration, however. Lately, it’s becoming more common for political minorities to abandon the political process and seek change not from legislation, but from unelected regulators and courts, whose processes tend to be unseen and unaffected by the general public.

          I forget where I was going with this. BINARY POISON BEES!!

          • I’d first recommend you moderate this post out of existence. It’s an answer to your question, but it is definitely a sidetrack.

            That said, the first book is “There Will Be Dragons” by John Ringo.
            The binary bees were because the AI that controlled the meeting room could detect, and was screening for, weapons. The bees were only weapons in combination, and thus got through the screen. They were trying to assassinate their fellow counselors, but failed.
            It’s a fantasy via technology series, with elves being genetic super-soldiers, and magic being super-science that only a few can still access due to the war. And, yes, I’d say the takeover was by a minority. They wanted to force everyone else to change.

            There are only four books, and I never finished the last one. The tone shifted, and the technology became front and center, again.

            I just checked, and the first two books are available for free on the Baen site.
            …I’ll regret this, of course, if you get sucked into a book and don’t find time to draw.

            Hmm. How many links to force this post to go to moderation? Two. Three?
   (Not free)
   (Not free, and the last of the series)

  6. It’s ironic they are arguing 2/3 vs 3/5, while more than 200 years later people across the pond are embarking on a process where their government will be fundementally and permanently reshaped because of a 52% majority vote.

    • Also, because these same men settled on a different fraction for what percentage of a person a slave should be counted as, for the purposes of the census. I wonder if that language already existed in draft form at the time they were debating the 2/3 majority for amendments fraction?

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