Ilona Nickels
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Accountability of Elected Officials
Career Paths to Congress
Chaplains in the U.S. Congress
House Ethics Process
House/Senate Differences
Lame Duck Congress: Attendance and Voting
Members of Congress: A Job Description
Members of Congress: Who Do They Represent?
Oath of Office for Members of Congress
Pledge of Allegiance: Standing for the Pledge
Pledge of Allegiance: Use in Congress
Qualifications to Run for Congress
Senate: 50-50 Split?
Senate Majority Leader: A Job Description
Sessions of Congress: Lengths
Size of House and Senate
Speaker of the House: a Job Description
Amending the Constitution
Constitutionality of Legislation
August Recesses
First Congress
GOP: Origins of Term
Ideology: Left or Right
Lame Duck Congress: Definition
Party Animals: the Donkey and the Elephant
Statue of Freedom
U.S. Citizenship Test
Amendment Tree in the Senate
Changing a Law
Conference Committees: In Decline
Conference Committees: Procedures
“Deem and Pass” Procedure
Executive Orders
Holds in the Senate
How to Find Basic Legislative Information
How to Keep Up With Congress
Types of Legislation

Capitol Corner

Members of Congress:
Who Do They Represent?

Shouldn't our elected officials represent all their constituents not just those who share similar political views and party?

Ilona Nickels: Congressional and Public Policy Expert answers the question, WHo do members of Congress represent?Article One of the U.S. Constitution states requirements for an individual to be eligible to run for the House or Senate of the U.S. Congress but it does not define nor describe their duties.

The plain fact is that it is impossible for an elected official to represent/reflect or advocate for all of their constituents. Because in our messy democracy, it is exceedingly rare that everyone agrees on an issue. As a result, an elected official finds that his/her constituents are always in conflict with one another to one degree or another. Whatever viewpoint the official chooses to reflect, they will not be reflecting other constituents who live in their jurisdiction but who do not agree with the position taken.

Hence the old political adage: "You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time."

Therefore, if an elected official accurately reflects the views of 51% of those who vote (not even those who live in his/her jurisdiction, just those who vote) then he/she will most likely get reelected.

Not all representatives see reelection as the sole foundation for their votes. On some issues they decide that the greater good is different from what a majority of their constituents believe and they step out of their representative role and vote against the majority of their constituents, explain themselves, and are prepared to take the political hit from their voters. Most representatives do that from time to time, at various points in their career. However, our representative system requires that to be the exception and not the norm.

An elected representative is not the right representative for a given constituency if he/she votes contrary to the views of a majority of their voters most of the time. That's not a good fit, and the folks will figure that out eventually and not reelect that individual and turn to a more accurate advocate instead.

I know many American citizens believe that representatives are elected to exercise good judgment on behalf of all, and should do so at all times. But the reality lies in their title – representative. Not independent agent. Representative. The constitutional obligation to represent, in practice, means the majority (of voters) in our system still rules.

The exception to this is the Presidency. The President is not elected to be a "representative" of the nation, but its leader. He advocates for the greater national good (his view of it) and urges the country to adopt that viewpoint. Nor is he necessarily elected by a majority as we have seen.

The Electoral College was created by the framers of the Constitution precisely so that a majority of densely populated areas of our country (in modern terms, think California) do not dictate the outcome of every election only because they have more people voting overall.

For example, in the last election, Mrs. Clinton had about 2 million more popular votes than did Mr. Trump. However – she won California by 4 million more votes than Mr. Trump. Her popular vote advantage was produced from that one state – not equally from all states nationwide.

The Electoral College created a system of regional distribution of influence so that the entire country, not just its highly populated states, would choose our President.