Wednesday, January 20, 2010


The Senate: Due for a Change

The recent election in Massachusetts has changed the make-up of the Senate. With the new Senator Brown, Republican, replacing the late Senator Kennedy, Democrat, the balance in the Senate is now 41 Reublicans, 57 Democrats, and two Independents (who vote with the Democrats). The Republicans now have the votes needed to stop any legislation they don't like by filibuster. Pundits, political consultants, and others are commenting about the effect of this election on the President's proposed reform of the health care system.

The result of this election points up the unrepresentative nature of the federal legislature. In particular, Senators are elected from "rotten boroughs," so called because the districts represented (whole states) vary greatly in population. The most populous state, California, has more than ten percent of the population of the country but elects only two senators. The least populous state, Wyoming, has less than 0.2 percent of the population and also elects two senators. The least populous 25 states have about one-sixth of the total population and elect half the Senators.

The federal system of representation is not fair because representatives of one-sixth of the population can dictate what reforms they will permit the other representatives to enact. This unfairness was not a big problem in the early days of the republic. To the ordinary citizen, the federal government was far away and had very little effect on life. There was no FBI to catch bank robbers; there was no Social Security and no Medicare to take care of the elderly in their declining years; there were no environmental regulations; no federal income tax; no restrictions on the buying and selling of human slaves. Individuals were affected by various local governments, particularly governments of towns or townships and counties. Even states were rather far away and had little influence on daily life.

The consequences of the election in Massachusetts shows that today the unfair allocation of senators has great consequences to all of us. It is long past time for a change in the way senators are allocated among the states.


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