I’ve Said It Before, I’ll Say It Again

When Roger Sherman took to the floor of the constitutional convention of the newly-independent United States in 1787 to propose a bicameral legislature, his “solution” to how to express the will of the 4 million people spread across 13 states, states conceived as individual sovereign entities unto themselves, gathered together to form one nation as a union or “united” nation, while preserving the rights of any one of those states not to be overrun by larger and more populous states, became known as The Great Compromise (or, sometimes as The Connecticut Compromise).

It was, in the context of the nascent country, an elegant, and logical, solution.  Under Sherman’s proposal, the will of the people (“people,” at that time, referred only to white men) would be expressed in the House of Representatives, with its numbers apportioned relative to the population as recorded by the census and its members chosen by a direct vote of the people, while the Senate would express the interests of each of the states, each state getting two senators, chosen, until 1913, by that state's legislature.  The idea was that a small (in population) state like Rhode Island needed to have equal power in the Federal legislature as a larger (again, in numbers of free, white men) state like Massachusetts — if they each had two senators, the theory was that Rhode Island could protect its interests from being overrun by Massachusetts’.

For a nation of 4 million people in 1787, it seemed a good solution and was ratified in the US Constitution.  But today we are a nation of more than 325 million people and we have an additional 37 states; not only is Sherman's solution outdated, it’s downright un-representative.  Take my state of California, we have a population of almost 40 million people, while the population of the 20 smallest states combined totals less than that — but, because of a 233 year-old political deal, those 20 states have 40 senators representing them, while California has just two.  The more sparsely populated and usually conservative states (sometimes referred to as the “red” states) can block legislation supported by a majority (in terms of larger numbers of citizens with a right to vote, which, thankfully, now includes women and blacks) of the American people, ensuring an ideological advantage that threatens everything from reproductive rights to advances made under the law in the last century for racial, gender, and sexual minorities.

The electoral process (democratic “voting”) is supposed to reflect the will of the majority.  However, the power of the Senate, and the control it gives to less populous states, has skewed power into the hands of a minority of the population.  With a Republican-led, overwhelmingly conservative Senate, representing a minority of the US citizenry, we have seen a dangerous, incompetent, unqualified, criminal buffoon escape an impeachment whose facts were so blatantly obvious that only legislative negligence by a political cabal interested solely in retaining power could ignore them.

In addition to the power the Senate holds, the Electoral College system used to elect presidents has also given greater influence to less-populated states as all states receive two electoral votes by virtue of of their statehood, regardless of overall population.  This gives greater voting power to less populated states compared to their more populated counterparts — for instance, in 2016, one electoral vote in Wyoming represented around 200,000 citizens, while one electoral vote in California represented over 700,000 citizens.  As a result, two presidents have won the Presidency of the United States even though they lost a plurality of the vote in the last five elections.

This is not democracy.

Our legislature and our electoral system has enabled a minority of the people to rule, rather than the majority.  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again — it’s time to abolish the Senate.  And the Electoral College has outlived its usefulness.

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