The Antiquated Constitutional Structure of the U.S. Senate 

This year’s U.S. election re-emphasizes, for this blogger, the antiquated nature of the U.S. Constitution, especially the U.S. Senate.

Alec MacGillis, a government and politics reporter for ProPublica and the author of “The Cynic: The Political Education of Mitch McConnell,” points out that Democratic voters are increasingly concentrated in certain cities and urban areas while the Constitution allocates two Senate seats to each state regardless of population. The juxtaposition of these phenomena “helps explain why the Democrats are perpetually struggling to hold a majority. The Democrats have long been at a disadvantage in the Senate, where the populous, urbanized states where Democrats prevail get the same two seats as the rural states where Republicans are stronger. The 20 states where Republicans hold both Senate seats have, on average, 5.2 million people each; the 16 states where the Democrats hold both seats average 7.9 million people. Put another way, winning Senate elections in states with a total of 126 million people has netted the Democrats eight fewer seats than the Republicans get from winning states with 104 million people.”[1]

Nevertheless, Democrats are seeing signs that they may gain control of the Senate this election.

However, Chris Cillizza, a Washington Post columnist, points out that this control may last only two years. The reason? In the next election in 2018, 25 of the 33 Senate seats up for election are currently held by Democrats, and five of these Democratic seats are in states that then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried in 2012 (and even Trump is likely to carry on this year’s election): Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia. Three other Democratic seats are far from “safe” seats:  Sen. Bill Nelson (Florida) Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin). The Republican seats up for election in 2018, on the other hand, look like difficult challenges for the Democrats.[2]

These consequences of the current constitutional structure of the U.S. Senate suggest, as argued in a prior post, “that the U.S. Senate in particular needs radical reform if we are to retain a bicameral national legislature. To require 60% of the Senators to agree in order to do almost anything [due to the filibuster rule,] for me, is outrageous. It should only be 51% for most issues. This deficiency is exacerbated by the fact that each state has two and only two Senators regardless of the state’s population. Yes, this was part of the original grand and anti-democratic compromise in the late 18th century when there were 13 states. But the expansion of the union to 50 states has made the Senate even more anti-democratic.” [3]

Since “I believe that it would not be wise to increase the size of the Senate to reflect the population of the states (like the allocation of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives) and that each state should continue to have two Senators in a bicameral upper house, I suggest for discussion that there be weighted voting in the Senate. Each Senator from Wyoming (the least populous state in 2010 with 564,000) would have 1 vote, for example, but each Senator from California (the most populous state in 2010 with 37,254,000) would have 66 votes (37254/564 = 66.05). This approach would produce a total Senate vote of 1,094 (total U.S. population in 2010 of 308,746,000 divided by 564,000 (population of Wyoming) = 547 x 2 = 1094). The weightings would be changed every 10 years with the new census population figures.”

Such changes would aid the U.S. government in addressing the many problems facing the nation, instead of the continuation of the gridlock that has helped to prevent progress on these many problems.

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[1] MacGillis, Go Midwest, Young Hipster, N.Y. Times (Oct. 22, 2016).

[2] Cillizza, Even if Democrats Win the Senate in 2016, their majority is unlikely to endure, Wash. Post (Oct. 23, 2016).

[3] The Antiquated U.S. Constitution, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 28, 2012).

Excesses of People Falsely Alleging Voter Fraud

The prior post discussed the need to fight efforts to restrict voting in the U.S., including those purportedly aimed at squashing voter fraud.

A new article by Justin Levitt, an associate professor of law at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, discusses the problems created in Montana in the 2008 election by people who made false accusations of voter fraud.

For the 2012 election, Levitt reports, there have been “challenges based on ostensible felony status in Florida, ostensible deaths in North Carolina and ostensible address problems in Ohio, among others. Some of these challenges appear to be the work of isolated individuals, others are coordinated by local groups ’empowered by’ national entities like True the Vote. The common thread is that the challenges are based not on personal information about particular voters, but computerized scans of data records.”

There are at least three major problems with such challenges, according to Levitt.

First, the underlying databases for the challenges are inaccurate.

Second, some challenges are aimed at situations that may be unusual, but legitimate: (a) “voters registered at business addresses, ignoring the fact that small business owners or managers may live where they work;” (b) “immigrants, ignoring the fact that noncitizens may have become naturalized [U.S. citizens];” and (c) “students and others in group housing.”

The third major problem created by such challenges is the burdens they place on “overworked and underpaid officials desperately trying to make sure that the elections run smoothly” and on “eligible citizens [who are pulled] away from jobs and families into unnecessary legal hearings.” It is even worse for such challenges to absentee ballots from legitimate voters who have little practical chance to defend themselves.

Many of these challenges, according to Levitt, have been resisted by most election officials.

On election day itself, such officials should be skeptical of anyone “walking around with long lists of ostensibly illegal voters” that are most likely full of mistakes. The officials should “swiftly reject challenges that are not founded on credible personalized knowledge about individual voters, and they must remove volunteers who become overzealous. There must be room for civic participation, but there can be no room for unfounded disruption to the right to vote.”