Saturday, November 04, 2006

Gerrymandering Courtesy of the Constitution

I figured that the Democrats would have a hard time regaining control of the Senate because of the gerrymandering that redrew congressional house districts to give Republicans a better chance of winning. Turns out I was looking at the wrong chamber of the Senate.

The Constitution grants two Senate seats to each state regardless of its population. As a consequence, a majority of senators are elected by voters in 26 sparsely settled states that together contain less than 18 percent of the country’s population.

A few decades ago, this uneven distribution of power didn’t matter, because rural states regularly divided their votes between the two major parties. But in recent years, low-population states like Alaska, Kansas and Wyoming have voted as a conservative bloc, favoring Republican candidates by overwhelming margins.

Today the Republican Party holds an 11-seat Senate majority, but Republican senators represent 4.5 million fewer people than their Democratic colleagues, who tend to come from urban states like California, Illinois and New York. In the 2004 elections, Democratic candidates for the Senate captured nearly 10 percent more votes than Republicans nationwide, thanks to landslide support among urbanites. Yet the Republicans still managed to gain four seats, due to victories in rural states like South Dakota and South Carolina.

A similarly skewed outcome is possible this year. Democrats are widely expected to gain seats in Ohio and Pennsylvania. If they do, Democratic senators will represent some 10 to 20 million more Americans nationwide than Republican senators. But if rural voters in Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia swing conservative, the Republicans will cling to the narrow majority Mr. Rove has promised.
The Democrats represent 4.5 million more people but have 11 fewer seats. It is likely that after this election they will represent 10 to 20 million more people and still not have control of the Senate.

via NY Times


al fin said...

This was a crucial compromise necessary to get all the original states to sign on to the constitution. The House of Representatives is the legislative house with proportional representation. There had to be ways of making each state equal, regardless of size, or there never would have been a US.

Looking back over time, the compromise has succeeded exceptionally well over recent centuries, compared to virtually any other government with which you can compare over that time period.

Democracy in its pure form is vastly over-rated. It tends to break down quickly into mass violence and genocide. The US would never have lasted as a union without this type of compromise.6

Fat Knowledge said...


I agree with you that it was a crucial compromise needed to form the US.

I also agree that democracy has some issues. But, I would think that the way to handle it is independent institutions like the judiciary and federal reserve bank, where people are appointed and then not subject to the whims of the people. Having a Senate that is not representative of the underlying populations doesn't seem to help the government in any way that I am aware.

My concern is just that it gives rural citizens more influence than their numbers warrant. This shows up in the agricultural subsidies and homeland security dollars that are diverted from NYC and Washington to go to rural America.

What would I propose to change it? I don't know. To throw out a crazy idea: what about periodically redrawing state lines so each state has about the same population? Right now that would mean around 6 million per state. Split California into 5 states and combine the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming into one.

Anonymous said...

Here's the problem--most the folks living in sparsely populated western states are outdoorsmen. They're hunters, good with long range scoped rifles. Now, say in the unlikely happenstance their senators were willing to go along with a scheme like yours, they'd be picked off like flies on a honey jar. You just couldn't elect those senators fast enough to get them to Washington to vote for your scheme before they'd be approaching room temperature. It's the people who won't go along with schemes of changing the senate or the electoral college. It's the people who have it in their hands to make bloody mayhem (think Iraq) if high minded bureaucrats start playing with things that've worked a long time.

Fat Knowledge said...


Yikes! I have always thought of those in the rural areas to be good decent people, not potential insurgents.

My belief is still that everyone's vote should have equal weight. After this election, the Democratic senators represent 57% of the people and have 51% of the seats. So it is a bit closer now.

Also, looking at the 10 least populated states 6 are blue states, 3 red and 1 purple. So, I am not sure the net effect would necessarily be good for the Democrats.

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.