Thursday, December 29, 2005

And Now From Constitutional Left Field

Last night I was thinking about taxes. More specifically, I was thinking about how Californians pay more to the federal government in taxes then they get back in services. There are a number of reasons for this having to do with government costs and population density; but the most important reason may very well be the Constitutional makeup of the Senate, which is one of the most undemocratic parliamentary bodies in the industrialized world.

Since the Constitution mandates two senators, and two only, to each state, smaller states are disproportionately represented. A Senator from Wyoming, with its population of about 600,000, has the same power in Congress as a Senator from California, who represents 30 million citizens. This is inherently unfair, and is one of the reasons that the Senate is so unrepresentative of the nation; it's far more rural, more conservative, and more white then America is.

Not to mention the money! Because of the makeup of the Senate, that cackling troll Ted Stevens has the power to siphon off half a billion bucks for his useless Alaska bridges, while here in California, our infrastructure crumbles. Barbara Boxer may be able to come up with half a billion in pork as well, but in California, that much money isn't going to fix the potholes on the 5. This simply means that two neighbors in, say, Lake Tahoe, whose properties are across the state line from each other, are represented in a drastically different manner in Washington. This is simply an injustice.

For years, political activists and Constitutional theorists have scratched their heads trying to come up with a solution that would allow the Senate makeup to be more evenly democratic, giving every citizen a more equal voice irregardless of geography. But, as with the discussion of jettisoning the Electoral College, they always run upon the same stumbling block. Changing the way the Senate is constituted would require amending the Constitution. This would require smaller states to vote to give up some of their political power, a proposition that goes against human nature, indeed.

But this morning I woke up with an idea that might get around the 3/4 impasse to amending the actual constitution. I can't claim that this idea is original, or hasn't been proposed before. But this was the first time it had occurred to me.

Don't change the way Senators are elected. Change the way they vote.

As it is now, each Senator has one vote. This is what creates the imbalance, because each Senator represents a different population. But what if instead of one hundred votes for one hundred senators, there were, say, one thousand votes? These votes would then be divided by population.

If we divided a thousand votes equally amongst one hundred Senators, each one would receive ten votes. But instead, votes would be assigned according to each state's population. So California, which contains 10% of the nation's population, would get one hundred votes, divided equally between its two Senators. Each would wield a population-appropriate 50 votes. Meanwhile, the Senators from Utah, which has about two million people, or roughly .6% of the nation's population, would split six votes (we would round it to the nearest even number, to prevent vote fragments).

Every ten years, when the Constitutionally mandated census is finished, these vote percentages would be re-aligned to reflect the changing demographics of the nation, in the same way that the House makeup is changed around after the census.

So, here's the linchpin. I'm no congressional scholar, so you'll have to help me out here. Is there any reason why this plan would require a constitutional amendment? Or would the Senate simply be able to change it's own internal rules to enact this? If so, that would be a lot easier then amending the constitution. You would still face an uphill fight in the Senate, but since such a change would automatically benefit half the Senate, all you would really have to do is sway a few key votes. But there have to be legal issues here. What about the Vice-President's tie-breaking role? What if the smaller states sued? Help me out here people with some conjuncture.

Because if it could work without amending the Constitution, this may be revolutionary. Our nation has always believed that all citizens should be equal before the law. That should be true, no matter which side of the state line you live on.


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