Nov 20, 2020 | OPINION | By Emma McDermott | Illustration by Xixi Qin
After learning the results of the 2020 election, it has become abundantly clear that the U.S. must reevaluate and redesign how voting is done. The chorus of alt-right voices whining that Democrats and Joe Biden stole the election –– a claim that is beyond ridiculous, by the way –– is correct about one thing: not every vote is equal because residents of less populous states are overrepresented in the world’s greatest deliberative body, the U.S. Senate. It’s time that the U.S. start living up to the promise that one vote is one vote, and we might as well abolish the Electoral College while we’re at it.
Section III of Article I of the U.S. Constitution states that “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State,” a guarantee that larger, more populous states would not be able to rule over less populous states. At the time of its writing, the Founding Fathers were writing the Constitution on the heels of the profoundly ineffective Articles of Confederation while trying to entice smaller states to ratify it. The notion that even Rhode Island would matter as much as Pennsylvania in the Upper House of Congress was attractive to those who feared that large urban centers would control the government and there would be nothing the little guys could do to stop them. Thus, every state was guaranteed representation by two senators in the Senate.
Despite the initial draw of this promise, its consequential impacts have created a system of government that wildly favors less populous states. As of the results of the Nov. 3 election, Democrats hold 48 Senate seats, two of which are held by Independents who vote with the Democratic bloc, and Republicans hold 50 seats. Both seats in Georgia, currently both occupied by Republicans, are headed to runoffs in January. This might seem like a reasonable allotment of seats to each party on the surface, but when the numbers of constituents being represented by each senator are examined, preferential treatment is exposed, almost always in favor of Republicans.
The state of California, which is heavily Democratic, is made up of over 39.5 million people. The state of Wyoming, which is heavily Republican, is made up of just over half a million people. Both send the same number of senators to Washington D.C. For the sake of argument, let’s look at this issue and reverse the parties. Texas, represented by Republicans in the Senate, has a population of 29 million while Vermont, represented by Democrats, has a population of just over 600,000.
Some people would argue that this doesn’t matter because the U.S. House of Representatives –– where states are allotted seats based on population –– balances the Senate out. There is certainly some legitimacy to this argument, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Senate is the Upper Chamber and is, at the end of the day, the most powerful. It is the Senate that votes to confirm judicial and cabinet appointees –– people who are not elected and are generally thought of in higher regard than Congresspeople.
There is also the argument that the California–Idaho and Texas–Vermont imbalances eventually end up balancing each other out. This, however, is not the case. California, New York and Illinois, three of the largest Democratic states who each send two Democrats to the Senate, represent over 71.6 million people. Texas, Florida, and North Carolina, three of the most populous Republican states, excluding Ohio thanks to Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, represent 60.97 million people.
This imbalance is reinforced even more by the large number of less populous states that elect Republican senators, giving low population states an elevated voice. Thus, Republicans are overrepresented in the Senate on the sole basis that every state is guaranteed two seats. There is certainly value in making sure that just because a state is small it is not overlooked. But the scenario we find ourselves in –– one where the population of Wyoming has as much power as the vastly larger population of California –– is grossly unequal. It is no wonder that Kentucky Senator and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is poised to retain his majority. The system is biased to favor less populous states, and a majority of these less populous states send Republican senators who, at the end of the day, do not reflect what the majority of Americans want.