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Bill Maher on What the Founding Fathers Got Wrong

He joined Larry Wilmore to talk winning elections and how the odds are stacked against Democrats

Bill Maher HBO/Ringer illustration

It’s no secret that the complex machinations of our democracy make a principle like "one person, one vote" much more muddied. The evidence was on display in November: Though Hillary Clinton won three million more votes than Donald Trump, the Republican was awarded the presidency through the electoral college with a 306-232 edge (before defectors made that a 304-227 margin). That’s at least in part because the electoral college, by design, awards disproportionate power to voters in rural states, and Trump won those voters by a 62-34 margin.

The Senate shares that slant toward rural voters, and urban clustering impacts House seats as well. For Bill Maher, this discrepancy is more than just a speed bump for Democrats or a quirk in American democracy. It goes all the way back to the Founding Fathers, who Maher says "fucked up." He shared his thoughts with Larry Wilmore on the latest episode of Black on the Air.

"The Senate, for example. Hillary and Obama killed it in New York and California," Maher began. "Those two states they won by like six million votes. But we still only have four senators. That’s the problem, is that there are two Dakotas, Larry. Why the fuck do we need two Dakotas?"

He continued:

"Everybody talks about the genius of the Founding Fathers. A lot of things they fucked up. Yes, it was a hard thing they were trying to do, they did a lot of good stuff, and they did a lot of stupid shit."

And the electoral system has never been more slanted against Democrats. According to FiveThirtyEight, Republicans don’t need to win any states classified as "swing states" to win a Senate majority—there are already enough states that lean strongly to the right.

"And this thing where in the Senate, where California with 40 million people gets two senators, and the states that are nothing but crows and skulls of cattle and barns, they get the same amount. That’s crazy. That's almost as bad as the gerrymandering."

Though there is a key difference: States’ allotted Senate representatives are an accident of the Founding Fathers; gerrymandering is a process by politicians to lock in their own party’s seats. The latter seems more insidious, right? But there’s a reason why gerrymandering doesn't bother Maher as much. It’s because both parties do it:

"But the Democrats [gerrymander] too."

It’s true: Documents show that the Democrats gerrymandered their way to electoral wins in Maryland earlier this year. But as Wilmore notes, the Republicans are better at it. That’s true, too, at least on the national level. An analysis of the 2012, 2014, and 2016 elections found that partisan gerrymandering granted Republicans "a durable advantage of 16-17 seats in the current Congress." In 2012, Americans voted in favor of Democratic candidates for House seats over Republicans by 1.17 million votes, but the GOP retained control of the House with a 234-201 margin.

"[The Republicans] are better at everything," Maher concluded.