With Democrats selecting a presidential candidate—it might not happen until the convention—and November’s election looming, I’m puzzled by “one citizen, one vote.” This principle poses two key questions.
One: Why should a 75-year-old military veteran, husband and father, homeowner, holder of a master’s degree, retired businessman and long-time taxpayer have the same single vote as an 18-year-old high school dropout making sandwiches at Subway and living with his folks?
You elitist, you answer, fuming as you read this. Don’t you know that this is America? That the United States represents the ideal of democracy? That every citizen has an equal right to choose our leaders from the local to the national levels?
I respond with question number two: You’re right, but why doesn’t the United States Senate play by those rules?
Following the Great Compromise of 1787, the Constitution granted each state two seats in the Senate. The small states feared being dominated by the large ones in a single legislative body based on proportional representation. The large states believed that such a body based on equal state voting would be unfair to their populations. And here we are.
California, with a 2010 census population of 37 million has two senators. Wyoming with 560,000 people also has two senators. Given the 66-1 population advantage of the Golden State, my individual opinions reflected in votes cast by California’s senators carry a lot less weight than those of a resident of the Equality State, interestingly Wyoming’s official nickname.
I get it that the Founders were challenged to form a single nation from thirteen former British colonies, each with its own interests and none with experience of a republican—small “r”—national government. But America has been around for a while, and the Senate has become wildly unresponsive to the majority of Americans—of both parties.
So let’s amend the Constitution and create the Perlstein Senate. It works like this:
The Senate retains 100 seats. Following each ten-year census, adjustments give the ten largest states—the top five alone, California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois total over 119 million Americans—three seats. The ten smallest states get one. These now include Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska and South Dakota. Lots of miles there but few people—barely over three million, less than three percent of the five largest. The thirty states in the middle retain two seats.
Citizens in three-seat states will still be proportionally underrepresented. But the Perlstein Senate acknowledges that small states often have vastly different interests—though not all—than large ones. A non-proportional Perlstein Senate remains a buffer against the tyranny of the majority but constitutes one far more reasonable.
Conservatives will go ballistic. They’ll point out that the vast majority of American counties voted Trump in 2016. True. Also meaningless. This statistic favors sagebrush over people. Besides, nothing will stop a state like Texas or Florida—purple though they are now—from electing three Republicans each.
Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address proposed government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” It’s time America took that to heart. Acceptance of the Perlstein Senate might have a snowball’s chance in hell, but it’s worth the effort to eliminate the political hell an undemocratic—lower-case “d”—Senate puts this country through.
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