Reforming the US Constitution, Part 1: Representation

The Constitution of the United States was developed at a time when slavery was integral to the economy and political structure. And it was written by men who lived under the Articles of Confederation, which was intended chiefly to preserve the sovereignty of the states. The participants in the Second Continental Congress that drafted the U.S. Constitution were representatives of states, as required by the Articles of Confederation. These and other influences made the Founders eager to preserve the rights and powers of the separate states in the institutions of the new government.

But they went too far. Members of the Senate are representatives of the separate states. Members of the House are representatives of localities that are subdivisions within a state. The end result is that state and local influences dominate the federal government. It is not too much to say that the only elected figure in the U.S. government that truly represents national goals and aspirations is the President. This must be changed.

To put some numbers on it, the state of Wyoming has a population of about 570,000 (as of 2020), and it has 1 representative in the House and 2 Senators. California has a population of about 39,750,000 and has 53 representatives in the House and 2 Senators. Wyoming’s representation in the House is in the proportion of 1 to 570,000; but California’s representation is only 1 per 750,000. If California’s representation in the House were in the same proportion as Wyoming’s then California would have 69 representatives, not 53.

Matters are even worse in the Senate. Wyoming gets two Senators, who together represent 570,000 people. California also has two Senators, but they represent 39,750,000 people. The result of this is that a citizen in Wyoming has roughly 139 times greater representation in the Senate than does a Californian. The nine states of California, Texas, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Georgia, and North Carolina represent more than half the total population of the United States– but they only have 18 out of 100 votes in the Senate. That isn’t just unfair– it ensures that the interests of states with small populations will dominate public discourse.

We have two houses of government, the House of Representatives and the Senate, that are both designed to represent local issues. The allocation of membership in the House is clearly skewed toward smaller states, and that should be rectified. The rule should be that the unit of allocation in the House is the population of the smallest state. That is not what we have today.

The Senate has become so grossly over-representative of smaller states that it has become dominated by interests that are not aligned with those of the general public, or the nation. I therefore propose that the Senate be redesigned to represent national interests, rather than state interests. This would be accomplished by fixing the number of Senators, and by electing each Senator from an equal portion of the randomized national populace. The total number of members in the Senate should be a number which is generally agreed to be conducive to deliberation, but not dithering. My guess is that the ideal number would be between 100 and 300, but it should be determined by studies of how large groups of humans best work collaboratively toward common goals.

This method for representation in the Senate will give the body a necessarily national focus, which the House does not have. Local politics are important, and their significance to the national debate should be preserved. The House of Representatives does a fine job of bringing local issues to the national scene. But if both houses of Congress represent localities then the best interests of the nation get drowned out. Changing the Senate to represent national interests will provide a counterbalance to the local perspectives represented in the House– one that is sorely lacking today.

Tip O’Neill is famous for having said that all politics are local. That is precisely the sort of statement one would expect to hear from a member of the House of Representatives. But the over-representation of state and local issues at the national level has mired American political discourse in provincial squabbles. It is time to reshape the Congress to represent both local and national interests. Doing so, I believe, will move this country toward a national vision that is clearly absent from public discourse today.

Copyright (c) 2020 by David S. Moore

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