I like the below thoughts of Nebraska State Senator Laura Ebke, whose words I reproduce without having had any contact with her about the issue or my intention to publish the excerpt. The Senator responds to a person who asks her to vote according to the will of the people rather than follow her conscience.
As for the death penalty, I appreciate the sense that elected officials are not supposed to follow their own conscience, but rather the will of the people. Unfortunately, that sentiment fails to take into consideration two things:1. the difficulty of determining WHAT the will of citizens is, and ; 2. the fact that the American system of government is based on elected representatives not necessarily being direct delegates of their constituents, with specific assignments of votes for every issue, but rather being a "trustee", if you will--elected to make the best choice they can, with the information they have available.
In the case of District 32, I received a total of 112 calls and emails from unique citizens IN THE DISTRICT, on the death penalty. 56 of those contacts were FOR repeal, 56 were AGAINST repeal. How should one interpret the "will of the people" then?
It's not possible to do a scientifically dependable poll on every issue out there. Legislators try to get a sense of what their constituents want, but ultimately, have to cast the best vote they can--which yes, includes considering their own conscience sometimes. I was honest about my concern with the death penalty and my willingness to see it overturned in a survey that I was asked during the elected. Other than that survey, I had no one ask me about the issue.
Finally, I wonder if people really mean it when they say that they don't want senators to follow their own consciences and only "listen to the people." If a poll showed that a majority of the people in Nebraska wanted legalized abortion, for any reason whatsoever, up to the 30th week of pregnancy, should we listen to our conscience, or to the majority? If legislation was introduced which required the euthanasia of those diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and a majority of those who contacted us was for it, because it would save money on health care expenses, and protect family assets, should we vote in favor of that, or follow our conscience? Would voters prefer that their representatives had no personal convictions or conscience? I suspect not.