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Democracy for the U.S. Senate

by Ron Diener

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DURHAM, N.C. - The irony of the current impeachment tempest in Washington, D.C., has been that the least democratic agency of government has been sitting in judgment of the second-least democratic agency.

The body that brought charges against the President of the United States has had the most democratic representation in Washington, but has also been out of step with the electorate.

The Senators that sat in judgment are the least democratically elected officers of the U.S. Government. With two Senators per state, no matter the population, the imbalances are and have been overwhelming. One vote for a Senator of Wyoming is now worth over sixty-five votes of Californians for their Senator. After reading anew the work of the founding fathers, one cannot help but believe that much of their efforts were simply stop-gap to get the constitution on the table and passed, with major unfinished business left to their successors. According to John Adams, the constitution itself was"extorted from a reluctant people by grinding necessity."

In 1869, after the U.S. House and Senate admitted Wyoming into the Union as a Territory, Congressman James B. Ashley (R, Ohio [Toledo]), who chaired the House Committee on the Territories, admitted that the patchwork of western territories had been a big mistake and should be remedied at such time that they were admitted as states. Later he called for the consolidation of Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska -- and possibly also Idaho -- into a single state.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, many politicians were looking creatively at ways of democratizing the United States throughout its government. No one believed that the founding fathers intended as a permanent solution that a state have a single representative in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate, according to Ashley. He urged leaders to do better.

Originally all U.S. Senators were elected by their respective state legislatures. Not long after the U.S. Constitution was ratified; consensus began to form that Senators should have been elected by the direct vote of the people, not by the several legislatures. Nevertheless, it took until 1913 to make the change, to have Senators voted directly by the people rather than by statehouse politicking. Only in the past eighty-five years have Senators been elected directly by the people. Many believed at the time of the Fourteenth Amendment to the constitution that this was the first step to democratize this most undemocratic body of government. Nothing of the sort.

Votes-per-Senator - A Sidebar
In 1938 the great historian of the Senate, George H. Haynes, compared the course of the increase in U.S. population with the deteriorating condition of democratic senatorial representation. He based his conclusions on the apportionment of the 1930 census, when the U.S. was half as populous as it is now. The situation has worsened considerably since then. The average skew at the time of the first election to the U.S. Senate was 4.6. By 1930 it had reached 14.5. The 1990 apportionment has brought the average skew to a record 15.7 -- and it will likely get worse.

The"One-Person One-Vote" decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court were applied to the states, not to the U.S. Government. The most important decisions were reached in the 1960s: Wesberry v Sanders (1964), Reynolds v Sims (1964) and Swann v Adams (1967). The justices inveighed against undemocratic institutions of state governments brought about by malapportionment, both state legislatures and state senates. Again, some critics thought that the door was opened to question representation of the U.S. Senate -- not but so. Undemocratic government cannot reform itself because it is an entrenched power.

In recent years there have been some creative solutions to the problem. A personal favorite is the proposal that there be fifty U.S. Senate districts, aligned by the U.S. Decennial Census, with two U.S. Senators and nine U.S. Representatives per Senate District. Each Senate District would represent approximately five million people. The districting would not be required to follow state lines.

The changes would be dramatic indeed. New England, currently with twelve Senators, would wind up with three U.S. Senatorial Districts and six Senators. Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska, now with twelve Senators, would have one U.S. Senate District and two Senators. Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington would be reduced to two U.S. Senatorial Districts, from eight Senators to two.

Meanwhile, California by itself would be entitled to six districts -- combined with Alaska, Arizona and Hawaii, this southwest corner of the U.S. and its Pacific neighbors would be represented by fourteen U.S. Senators. The combination of New York and New Jersey could have five districts, ten Senators. The combination of Illinois, Indiana and Iowa would have four U.S. Senate Districts. Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania would share four districts. Ohio by itself would have more than two U.S. Senate Districts -- in combination with Kentucky and Tennessee a total of five districts or ten Senators.

The lack of democratic representation in the U.S. Senate has long allowed the U.S. West to exploit public resources for private gain -- worsened in recent years by Political Action Committees. If the Rocky Mountain states had a total of six Senators instead of the current twenty-two, mining reform and grassland conservation would be passed quickly. The gross subsidies given to sparsely settled states would also end: irrigation and water resource"development," highway construction subsidies, the direct and indirect support to inefficient and corrupt county governments. Opposition to conservation efforts by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Parks would be at least muted.

The U.S. Constitution still needs work. It needed revision in the past to terminate accommodation to slave owners. Universal suffrage required constitutional amendment. The unresolved issues with Native Americans might require further retouching. Before continuing to foist off on others the U.S. Constitution as some sort of model, letís fix it and make it more democratic."One Person One Vote" -- apply this fundamental principle of democracy to the U.S. Senate.
A division tool.

RON DIENER, by trade a librarian, learned to read and write at a young age and enjoys it still. After working for thirty years in the field of library automation, he is working in Raleigh, North Carolina, at the Science Museum.

He worked with Bob Powers -- there's that name again -- in Columbus, Ohio, some years ago at the Columbus Free Press.

For a few years, he lived in Jackson, Wyoming, and worked at the local history society and in hospitality jobs. He moved to North Carolina to be near his brother John, about whom we are sure to hear more, much more. He has had a life-long interest in politics and public affairs, participated actively in political campaigns, spent his money and talents on trying to elect leftists and has written on same from time to time.


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