One Change to Fix the Government
There are so many challenges that face our nation today: the lingering pandemic, climate change, systemic racial and economic inequality, rising inflation, the threat of white supremacist violence, and constant threats to our democratic institutions. Miraculously, a large majority of the American people agree action is required and offer broad support for proposed solutions.
Why then, if there is energy and willingness to pass legislation to tackle many of these problems, are we stuck in the mud? The answer lies in our institutions’ failure to respond to the needs and demands of the American people, especially the Senate. One simple solution would make possible the reforms to address the widespread flaws in twenty-first century American life — make Senate representation based on population. The lack of responsibility to the American people is at the heart of almost all challenges facing the nation and this reform would restore popular will to the heart of our institutions. Of course, that solution is anything but simple.
Article I of the Constitution currently appoints two senators per state, while representatives for each state are appointed based on population. In 1787, the delegates at the Constitutional Convention agreed on this compromise to assuage the fears of smaller states. That compromise might have made sense in 1790, when Virginia, the largest state, had a population of 747,160, while the smallest state, Delaware, had 59,094 residents. In other words, Delaware’s population was roughly 1/13 that of Virginia.
In 2020, California, the largest state, has 39.5 million residents, while Wyoming, the smallest, has 576,851, or 1/69 California’s population. The framers of the Constitution could have never imagined how extreme the imbalance would become. By 2040, 70% of Americans are expected to live in the 15 largest states. Meaning 30 senators will represent 70% of the population, while 70 senators will represent only 30%.
As a result, voters struggle to hold senators accountable, and they are much more beholden to party concerns than those of the American people. For example, as Democratic senators negotiated the terms of the Build Back Better bill, all Republicans refused to support the bill. Republican…