How should an elected representative vote?

Should an elected representative vote how his electors want him to vote or should be vote his conscience?

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22 Responses to How should an elected representative vote?

  1. MicroBalrog says:

    His conscience, of course – but he should not be surprised to find himself out of office 6 years later if he ticks off the electors too much. This is what ‘voting your conscience’

    OTOH one would hope electors will elect politicians tht vaguely match their views.

  2. Coinneach Fitzpatrick says:

    A representative’s job is, by definition, to represent his constituents. Not himself or his PAC or the lobbyists.

  3. Stan says:

    There will be times when the best interest of the constituents is not necessarily what a preponderance of the voters wants. In those cases a representative must vote his conscience, and then go back and explain and convince those he represents. However in general his or her votes should reflect the desires of those who elected him.

  4. Sam C says:

    He was elected to make decisions for his constituents. Therefore, he decides how he votes, not his constituents.

  5. Alan says:

    Since no representative is elected unanimously he couldn’t possibly vote the way his constituents want him to. Some number of constituents will always be unhappy with how their representative votes.

    A representative’s currency is his votes and he spends them in the way he thinks will best get him reelected. “Should” is silly. “Is” is what matters.

  6. perlhaqr says:

    Ideally, a representative would present himself accurately during the election, and then, having made it clear what sort of person he is to his constituents, and been elected thereby, vote his conscience.

  7. Kevin says:

    Mark Hatfield’s refusal in 1995 to change his long-held position but to offer to resign instead is a fairly good example of a principled politician. Often a wrong one, but principled.

  8. earthworm says:

    His conscience IF he is ready to explain his position if that position differs from the majority of his constituents & face a possible defeat in the next election.
    Personal note:I’m reluctant to accept “Well that was the best deal we could get” as that explanation:I wanna know why that was the best deal.

  9. BritishHistorian says:

    One of the classic speeches on this subject in the Anglo-American tradition is Edmund Burke’s “Speech to the Electors of Bristol”. (1774) Burke had been criticised for failing to follow the “instructions” (i.e., formal representations from his constituents as to their desires). The relevant portion of his response is:

    Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with his; their opinion high respect; their business unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and, above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own.

    But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgement, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you – to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving, you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

    My worthy colleague says his will ought to be subservient to yours. If that be all, the thing is innocent. If government were a matter of will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be superior. But government and legislation are matters of reason and judgement, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that in which the determination precedes the discussion? In which one set of men deliberate, and another decide? And where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?

    To deliver an opinion is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear, and which he ought always most serious to consider. But authoritative instructions, mandates issued which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgement and conscience: these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.

    Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation with one interest – that of the whole: where, not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member, indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not a member of Bristol, but he is a member of Parliament. If the local constituent should have an interest or should form a hasty opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the community, the member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it effect. I beg pardon for saying so much on this subject. I have been unwillingly drawn into it, but I shall ever use a respectful frankness of communication with you. Your faithful friend, your devoted servant, I shall be to the end of my life; a flatterer you do not wish for.

  10. Jeff Dege says:

    What exactly does “vote how his electors want” mean?

    Does it mean vote in accordance with the polls? Who performed the polls? Who paid for them?

    In accordance with what the media portrays as public opinion?

    In accordance with the mail, emails, and phone calls his office has been getting? Are these truly representative of his constituents?

    In accordance with his personal communications?

    I maintain that “vote how his electors want” is a meaningless noise, with no practical meaning in the real world.

  11. Jesse says:

    If a representative was supposed to simply vote exactly the way their electors want, we might as well skip republicanism and go to straight democracy. We do not elect a package of positions of various issues, we elect a person.

    They do have a responsibility for watching out for the interests of their constituents, but they also have duties to the country as a whole, and to uphold the constitution. I would hope that they also feel obligations to humanity as a whole and to a consistent set of morals.

  12. Odysseus says:

    It may sound trite but if you vote for the right person their conscience should reflect what the electors want. Perhaps the scariest truism is that we get the government we deserve. Time to start waking up our neighbors.

  13. Roger Ritter says:

    First and foremost, a legislator should vote in accordance with his oath of office.

  14. A legislator should vote his conscience, and his conscience should be telling him to vote consistently with the statements he made during his campaign about his beliefs and priorities and the needs of his constituents. In a republic, a representative is not a funnel for public opinion. We choose a representative who understands our needs, and we entrust in them the power to make decisions on our behalf.

    However in practice, there are some problems with that. Politicians today feel that they will not win elections by being open and honest during their campaigns. Politicians are unduly influenced by large campaign donors. The voting priorities of the electorate are completely disconnected from their own needs. The legislative culture has led to far too much horse trading, forcing representatives to betray their constituents wishes in many cases to make other gains for their constituents (or donors).

  15. Aglifter says:

    His conscience. Especially if he takes his oath of office seriously. A man who can vote his conscience, rather than go along w. the polls, would be a much higher class of individual than what we have now.

    The governance of a nation is far too serious a matter to turn into a mere popularity contest. Most of the more egregious abuses in our nation, are quite “popular”, even though they are wrong. Not always, but perhaps often, rightful actions will be unpopular.

    The Rule of Law is the foundation of civilization – and it carries a high cost.

  16. Wilson says:

    A legislator should vote his conscience, always. If the people don’t like it they can change representatives.

  17. mp5fanboy says:

    There is no duty in the US for our elected representatives to vote or act according to the will of the people. Those officials are only beholden to the will of the people for election. After that, the official(s) are charged with pretty much doing whatever the hell they want as long as it is done in the people’s interest. No definition as to how to do that, though…

  18. KD5NRH says:

    This is something that I was asked during my campaign. What I decided was the following:
    If constituents did not make their preference clearly known, (i.e. a significant number of them, not just the usual fraction of a percent of them that speak up on everything – ten or twenty out of 17,000 could easily be just a very loud minority) then I’d vote my conscience.
    If they did make their preference clear, and it’s not completely against my principles, I’d vote their preference.
    If I couldn’t bring myself to vote for their clear strong preference, I’d explain my reasons and abstain.

  19. Mark Hagerman says:

    Both. His duty, during his election campaign, is to accurately outline to the voters his ethical worldview. On that basis, the voters can reason out how he would vote in office, and decide whether he, or one of his opponents, would be the best choice from their point of view. On balance, then, how he votes in office will reflect the over-all views of his constituents.

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