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writing for godot

The Constitutional Gerrymander - A proposal to make the Senate more equitable

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Written by Zepp Jamieson   
Thursday, 15 November 2018 13:24

November 15th 2018

 

 

The latest wrinkle amongst Republicans arguing in favor of the Senate system of allocation (and by extension the Electoral College) is that it actually favors Democrats, since seven of the ten lowest states by population have one Democratic Senator and five of the smallest have two Democratic Senators. It’s a perfectly true statement, but it’s also a fact that is cherry-picked. The Senate doesn’t favor Democrats, as this last election showed: Overall, in the 33 states that had Senate elections this year, Democrats outpolled Republicans by some 12 million votes—and lost two seats. (Although three seats are still undergoing the recount process).

There’s an easier way to demonstrate that the Republican making this argument is gaslighting you: just ask him if this means he supports changing the makeup of the Senate to make it more equitable. After all, if the Senate gives the Democrats an unfair advantage, surely he would want to do something about it. At that point the Republican will either tell you that the Constitution is the sacred word of God and must not be questioned, or he’ll just simply scamper away. Either way he’ll suddenly lose interest in defending the underrepresentation of those poor Republicans.

Of the fourteen* states in the 1790 census, four had 2,071,170 people, roughly 53% of the total population**. That 53% covered 28% of the Senate. (If you limited to white property owners, then the Senate representation of people who could vote was much more equitable, since women and slaves could not vote). But even the 53/28 ratio is more equitable than it is today: 70/30. Thirty percent of the population control 70% of the Senate, and the fascist right have been blasting those 35 states with unending propaganda, persuading them that they must defeat the “city elites” or be completely subsumed by those pesky Americans living in desirable and productive states. OK, they don’t put it quite that way. They usually settle for warning about coastal elites.

And yes, these are billionaires with bloated senses of entitlement warning the rural population against elites. Yes, it’s grotesque.

I have a suggestion to alleviate this state of affairs while still protecting the smaller states. It would require a constitutional amendment, and would not be popular in at least ten states, but it should be worth considering.

Change the allocation of the Senate as follows: the smallest ten states by population will have just one senator. The ten largest by population would have three senators. The rest would stay at two senators.

What would the top to bottom distribution be then? The ten smallest states, with 9,582,945 people, would see their representation halved, from 20% to 10%. However, they only make up 3.1% of the population, so they would still be overrepresented. The ten largest states would make up 30% of the Senate rather than 10%, but with about 49% of the population, would still be underrepresented.

I don’t have a problem with the built-in bias in and of itself. There is a certain amount of wisdom in not allowing the population centers to run rough-shod over the more thinly populated regions. It’s just that the existing bias is way out of hand, and gives a handful of rich bad actors a loophole to manipulate the government of the country on the cheap.

How would this affect the Electoral College? As most of you know, the EC gives each state electoral votes that equal the sum of their House representatives and the two senators. (For example, Wyoming has one representative and two senators, thus three EC votes). Worse, most states have a winner take all tabulation. Win California by one vote, and get all 55 of the electoral votes).

As a part of the same amendment reallocating the Senate, I would get rid of the Electoral College altogether. Its only purpose is to allow unpopular political parties to cheat, and steal presidencies. (Oddly enough, all five instances involve Republicans). It’s detrimental to the validity of national elections, and has done far more harm than good.

The amendment would have a provision automatically reallocating Senator seats based on the ten-year census. For example, I was using the figures from the 2010 census and the 2020 census might show different states occupying the coveted #10 position, or the much-less-coveted #41 position. It’s not real likely in this census, but it will occur as states rise and fall. In which case, reallocation takes place before the following election, and is automatic. States losing a Senator may decide in a special election which one to dump.

As things stand, this particular idea has zero chance of implementation, but then, that’s true of most new ideas. Pass it around, let people mull it over, and see if it germinates.

The United States does need to address the issue of allocation, because it is being used as a tool to thwart public will, and that’s always detrimental.

 

 

*Maine was counted apart from Massachusetts but was still a part of the state. Likewise Kentucky and Virginia. So you had 16 states in the census but only 14 in the Senate.

**Skewed by the fact that slaves (some 700,000 or so) only counted as 3/5ths of a person each, and could not vote. Even then, bigotry made America grotesque.

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0 # sashapyle 2018-11-25 14:10
Thank you for writing this. It’s very similar to an essay I was considering writing myself, about what’s wrong with the Senate and why it will never be won back to serve as a representative body.
I do believe the “Founding Fathers” made the state into an entity with too much importance. It’s hard for me to see how we are supposed to function as a nation when basic representation has been lost. Yes, I think states have too much power. And the Senate is where that fact makes the biggest difference.
It will be impossible to tinker with the makeup of the Senate. Better to start a national debate about dispensing with the Electoral College.
 

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