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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Demographics is Making Us Less Democratic

The Daily Escape:

Sunset at Malin Head, Donegal, Ireland – 2019 photo by jip

There was an article by Phillip Bump in the WaPo (paywalled) “In about 20 years, half the population will live in eight states.  By 2040, 49.5% of our population will be living in the eight most populous states — California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. All are growing significantly faster than the collective population of the remaining 42 states.

Sounds like just an interesting demographic fact until you consider the implications for the US Senate. Matt Yglesias tweets:

When Yglesias says “four” instead of “two” he means the margin in percentage points of the 2020 national vote for president going to the Democrat. His point is that even with a weakened presidential candidate like Trump, it will be a long uphill climb for Democrats to control a majority in the Senate.

Last fall at the Kavanaugh hearings, many pointed out that Senators representing only 45% of voters were able to appoint him to the Supreme Court. Some said it was the first time that a president elected by a minority nominated a Supreme Court Justice who was appointed by a minority in the Senate to decide certain legal questions against the will of the majority of Americans.

And while California has about 68 times the number of people in Wyoming, their votes can cancel each other out in the Senate.

This demographic imbalance is the result of 1787’s “Connecticut Compromise”, which created our two houses of government. This was designed to balance federal power between large and small state populations. Today, equal representation in the Senate is a permanent feature of our system.

After each decennial census, the map of US House districts are redrawn and seats are shifted to states that have gained the most population. That means, leaving aside the gerrymandering issue, each state’s representation in the US House will roughly reflect its share of our total population.

This isn’t the case in the Senate, where the representation of all states is fixed at two Senators apiece. And that can’t be changed, because it’s based on a Constitutional provision (Article V) which establishes that an amendment requires a two-thirds vote of both Houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states. It also says: “No State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” It’s hard to imagine a situation where a small state would agree to give up one of its two Senators to another, larger state.

That was the essence of the Connecticut Compromise. The framers agreed to make the guarantee of equal power in the Senate beyond even the reach of the amendment process. It was a means of protecting the rights of the minority as “minorities” in 1787 were small states, while today, minority has an entirely different meaning.

Changing demographics has implications for the Electoral College as well. Each state’s votes are the sum of their House and Senate representatives with the total number of Electoral votes fixed at 538. If population growth moves representatives from rural states to the big eight in population, their share of votes in the Electoral College become larger as well.

There is a state-based movement to make the Electoral College represent the will of the majority of America’s voters. NPR reports that so far, 11 states have passed legislation that requires their Electoral College electors to vote for whoever wins the national vote total. To be effective, the move would require approval by states representing 270 electoral votes, the same number it takes to win the presidency. So far, they are 98 votes short of that goal.

Colorado appears poised to join as the 12th state. The state legislature passed the bill, and the governor is expected to sign it. New Mexico is considering it. This would be one way of restoring the idea that every vote in the country counts equally.

Wrongo’s pie-in-the-sky dream is that every American voter gets a third vote for a Senator in any other state. Then we could vote for, or against a Senator we wanted to see stay or go. Wrongo’s dream began when Strom Thurmond represented South Carolina, but imagine, being able to vote Lindsey Graham out of office today.

That would be a real masterpiece of one-person, one-vote in America.

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