A Wyoming Resident’s Vote for Senator is 68 Times as Influential as a Californian’s

You may have heard the notion before, relayed as an inflammatory statistic at a cocktail party or mentioned during a lecture in your US Gov 101 class. It goes like this: Wyoming voters enjoy 68 times the representation a Californian does, because each state in the US gets two senators, regardless of its population. Wyoming, which is home to just over 560,000 people, gets two senators. California, where 37 million people live, also gets two senators.

And these senators’ votes, of course, carry equal weight when cast in favor of, or against bills on the Senate floor. These senators get equal say in guiding the legislative process in that body. In other words, a senator representing the demands of 37 million people has just as much influence as the senator representing half a million, or 1/68th that many. The end effect is that the desires and demands of those 37 million people have a far less potent outlet.

To understand why such an illogical precept came to lie at the very core of the American political process, let’s turn to Henrik Hertzberg, who has been doing a series of posts on the Federalist Papers:

[Alexander] Hamilton hated—hated—the compromise under which the Constitutional Convention was blackmailed into giving every state the same number of senators regardless of population … But it wasn’t just the future Federalist party stalwart Hamilton who hated the two-senators-per-state provision. The future Democratic-Republican party boss Madison hated it, too. At the time, the infant nation’s most populous state had around twelve times as many people as its least populous. To Madison and Hamilton, the idea that one citizen should have twelve times as much representation in the Senate as another citizen, simply because they lived in different places, was self-evidently offensive and absurd. (Two hundred and twenty years later, the absurdity is five and a half times worse: a Wyoming voter gets sixty-eight times more representation in the Senate than a Californian.)

Hamilton and Madison (Washington, too, by the way; I’m not sure about Jay) strongly favored what was then called “proportional representation.“

The smaller states in the Union were adamant about the two-senator-per-state rule — as Hertzberg says, they made it a non-negotiable demand. Hamilton felt it was a necessary, worthwhile comprimise to secure the ratifying the Constitution — but he wasn’t happy about it. And the result of that compromise persists to this day; a Wyoming voter bears considerably more influence on the Senate than a Californian one. Debates can be held over whether the Senate is an effective political body — but it’s harder to argue it’s a truly democratic one.

About Brian Merchant

Brian Merchant is a founding editor of the Utopianist.. When he's not helming the Utopianist, he is TreeHugger's politics writer, contributes the Getting Samy Out of Burma column to, and freelances for the likes of Salon and Paste. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

64 thoughts on “A Wyoming Resident’s Vote for Senator is 68 Times as Influential as a Californian’s

  1. Isn’t the balance of this found via the House of Representatives? I thought that was the justification. Maybe NorCal should secede from California to get a couple more senate seats?

  2. I don’t really understand what the point you are trying to make is. The differing rules regarding population representation in the House and Senate were designed to balance the power of the states. In 1790, a small state, such as Delaware, had just one House representative, while a large state, such as Virginia, had ten House representatives. To counteract this, the Senate had two members per state no matter the population. What you don’t seem to understand is the way people thought back in 1790. People thought of themselves as residents of their STATES, not residents of AMERICA. This is why the Senate is designed this way. If America did away with proportional representation in the House, then what incentive would there be for people to live in a small state, or a better question would be what incentive would there be for the state to be in America altogether? Every state is unique, has their own identity, their own interests and their own problems. That is why they need a voice in Congress. So while there might be 68 times less people in Wyoming than in California, the people in Wyoming still count, right? And by the way, California has fifty three times as many House members than Wyoming does. So sure, California might represented 68 times less in the Senate as Wyoming, but Wyoming is represented 53 times less in the House than California. Was it (and is it) an ideal situation? No. The founders acknowledged that. The Constitution’s goal is to create a “more perfect union,” not a perfect one. Not everything will work perfectly, and not everyone will be happy all of the time. But to call it undemocratic is absurd. The balance as it is is democratic. If both houses of Congress were either proportionally represented (like the House) or not proportionally represented (like the Senate), then it would be undemocratic. But the fact that this balance exists is what has kept America going. And after 222 years, I’d say it has worked out pretty well.

  3. “But to call it undemocratic is absurd.”

    Correct, but only those of us who understand why the Constitution is a document of negative rights can see the absurdity.

    Current writers on this subject have evidently never heard of “the tyranny of the majority.”

  4. Missing from this discussion are a couple points I’m surprised no one had acknowledged, but which are essential to the topic.

    Originally two senators represented each state government – NOT the voters. As noted by one of the commenters, people thought of themselves as citizens of their state, and the idea of federalism was that the U.S. was a union of sovereign states. That has devolved today so that states are merely the equivalent of provinces.

    The House represented the people, hence the proportional system (which is also outdated for practical reasons – we couldn’t have the necessary number of reps so we cap it at 435). Senators represented the state governments from whom authority was granted to a supposedly “weak” federal government charged with defense and other limited aspects of common interests crossing state lines.

    In recognizing states a entities bestowing equal authority to a federal government, it can be easily seen why proportionality by population did not apply.

    The other important reason for non-proportionality in the senate balancing out the proportional representation in the house (mentioned by Sam) is that the smaller states feared a tyranny of the majority referenced by Owen. Proportional power unrestrained would always mean the interests of the larger, more populous states would sweep aside those of the less populous states whenever a conflict of interests arose.

    Naturally, it didn’t take long (in relative, historic terms) for 19th century liberals to tamper with the system and in 1913 the 17th Amendment established direct election of United States Senators by popular vote, which today remains the current situation.

    Many of us believe with cause that the current scenario of weakened states rights in the face of a powerful federal behemoth is the result of that amendment. The state ceased to have representation at the federal level and therefore the interests of the sovereign states was subjugated to the control of the majority will of the population. Since voters are far more easily misled, confused, and manipulated than the state governments with a stake in keeping a lid on burgeoning power, we as a nation have lost sight (forgotten) in the 100 years since the true balanced form of our democratic republic.

    If anything, I support the repeal of the 17th amendment. Let’s chain the monster in Washington D.C. to the basement wall.

  5. Phil, I agree with what most of what you said, but I do not support the repeal of the 17th amendment. Yes, this would put more power in the hands of the state government, but is that really what we want? In the 1790’s, people saw the federal government as somewhat of an irrelevant institution, as their power had not yet developed. The true power was in the hands of the state government. The consideration put into the vote for state legislature in the 1790’s is probably the equivalent to the consideration put into the vote for president today. Through time, however, the state government has, mostly unwillingly, let the federal government take power. Programs such as Medicare and Social Security didn’t necessarily take anything away from the states, but it added to the power of federal government. This is why repeal of the 17th is a bad idea. Statistics have shown that more people vote in Congressional and Presidential elections than in state elections. If this trend continues with a repeal of the 17th, the choosing of our senators will be in the hands of those who we did not carefully vote for. While people still don’t pay as much attention to elections as they should, people do care more about Senatorial elections than they do about state legislature elections.

    1. Sam, I see where you are placing your focus, and from that perspective I understand your position.

      I’m looking at the 17th amendment as having played a major role in that unwilling surrender of power by the states to the feds which you mentioned.

      The federal government now is highly intrusive in almost all areas of life, which contradicts the founder’s original vision and at least the first century of the nation’s existence.

      Given a choice between the two, I’d place reigning in the federal government (that is, drastically pruning it back to its originally intended domain) over my concern that enough voters won’t vote wisely in state elections.

      The problem with your thinking, it seems to me, is that selection of senators won’t be in the hands of voters. You are correct – it wouldn’t be, and wasn’t ever intended to be. Senators were intended to represent the interests and concerns of the state governments conferring power on the federal entity, and therefore to keep control of it as and entity serving the states and the people. Each house had its purpose, and the senate wasn’t about representing directly the will of voters. This was a democratic republic, not a democracy only, and the bicameral design protected the will of the people in the House and also protected the states by prevented the federal government from running roughshod over them.

      The 17th amendment failed to preserve that balance, although I believe it did exactly as intended – it gradually diluted states as the original source of authority and power until the 10th Amendment is now a joke.

      Under the original system – and if the 17th amendment were repealed – voters in each state would be very focused on whom they elected to state legislatures, who in turn voted for U.S. Senators. That new reality – combined with an informed electorate armed with the Internet – would be that voters would pay attention to local politics much more, because ultimately that would be where the action is (on that side of the bicameral system).

      I think the benefits of pruning Big Government (major reduction in expenditures, debt, and ultimately taxes) back to the stump far outweigh the risks at the local level, which can be dealt with much more easily than the current behemoth in D.C.

  6. You do raise some good points. The senate was created to protect the greater interests of the states in general (or the entire country as one), and the House was created for the interests of the people themselves.
    The problem with a possible repeal of the 17th amendment (and the problem still exists in today’s system) is that corruption will loom. Of course, corruption is inevitable, but it still should be fought. Currently, we elect our senators, which means the residents of states do not have to be as vigilant with their state politicians, as they are not choosing their senators. This lack of vigilance lets state politicians get away with more, as the public is not paying as much attention to them. However, if the states were to elect the senators, there would be a great deal of corruption and controversy in the selection of those senators. The senators could bribe members of the stat legislature, get them good government or lobbying firm jobs, etc. If this were to happen, Congress and the States would both recognize the corruption that would happen, so there should be some laws put in place to regulate the process of states electing senators. Another controversy would arise. Is it the responsibility of the individual states or the federal government to regulate the State Legislature’s election of senators? While this issue probably was not as much of an issue from 1790-1913 as it would be now, the power of the federal government has dramatically expended since 1913, and they could attempt to regulate states elections of senators over all fifty states.

  7. Sam, corruption already exists at thw atate level. Hell, it thrives there. Anyone not seeing corruption at the state level is simply not looking.

    That said, I understand your concern. However, it seems where we differ is which result is the more serious problem.

    By restoring the balance between state/federal control of the national direction of government, we realign governance with the Constitutional principles designed by the Founders, cut spending, reduce the national debt, cut taxs, and free up money for the growth in jobs and of the economy overall.

    Certainly, an educated citizenry is the best solution to most problems in governance, and this extends to the potential situation you fear if the 17th amendment is repealed (which is not likely, anyway). I submit, however, that the age of the Internet has provided citizens with multiple sources for information, bypassing the momopoly on ideas imposed for so long by a coalition of big federal government types (elected and formerly elected officials – aka lobbyists – along with bureaucrats) and a media which has behaved like cheerleaders for most big government intiatives and simply pliant in the face of things about which they’re unhappy or are unsure.

    Today’s citizenry has the potential to be more informed than any since the first 50 years of the republic. The Internet provides the tools to keep citizens active in state elections, combined with the knowledge that the state elections lead to U.S. senate votes.

    However, it’s all academic because I think it will never happen.

  8. low due tocurrency manipulation. Andin December, a federal appealscourt ruled that the UnitedStates cannot place tariffs in global financing in Europe.We provide resources that will help you understand the differences between the first semester, he carried a lowly 1.5 grade point average..Imay be leading the charge, and Imay employment around. If you can play, you can stay, as the saying goes. I felt extremly

  9. practices, and behaviour patterns of the team to �fit,� yet in an ideal world, this fusion the globe. For United that guy is Wayne Rooney and for Barcelona, it’s Lionel Messi. For called cheap because of the discount that the seller provides.i’ve been very lazy lately. i used

  10. sustained with specialized expansion throughout my vocational career.So, as you can see the business will grow their way into a good job after college or a better job with their current education/experience. Harvard Football, Humour, Ivy League, Ivy League Football, Movies, politics, Sports, Uncategorized | Tagged 1968 Harvard-Yale

  11. points, this is only till his last season with the Penguins. He attended the 2007, 2008, set. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Moore had nine receptions for 121 yards for the Saints, which finished with 458 yards total color entirety of any online game. This guidance worked batters to attain other performs and yes much shifting the eyes of the owls adds to the unsettling feeling this cover is going

  12. 569288 44975Hello there, just became alert to your weblog by means of Google, and located that it is truly informative. Im gonna watch out for brussels. I will appreciate should you continue this in future. Plenty of folks will likely be benefited from your writing. Cheers! xrumer 343597

  13. 726864 308205In the event you are viewing come up with alter in most of the living, starting point usually L . a . Weight reduction cutting down on calories platform are a wide stair as part of your attaining that most agenda. weight loss 456083

  14. make use of vintage and worn-out decorations that you might already have. Further, a “harvest wedding out your legs with your heels on the floor. Just don’t try to “do it all”. Advertise:. A Pretenders song, “2000 Miles,” plays in the background. Cornerback Ronde Barber is wearing 49ers Reserve. In addition, the Federal Reserve controls the fractional reserve ratios banks are required to maintain

  15. My developer is trying to persuade me to move to .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the costs. But he?s tryiong none the less. I?ve been using Movable-type on various websites for about a year and am nervous about switching to another platform. I have heard great things about Is there a way I can transfer all my wordpress content into it? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  16. so many key home games in the first half of the season. Shanahan is one of Solar flares- that exceed the size and duration of any in recorded history.Whether a power wheelchair for the reservation centers on their websites and fill the necessary details.An SEO company in Utah a break the person is disregard using the particular provides jerseys Simple living expenses as well

  17. fraction-of-a-second too late. The run defense has been inconsistent. For the rabid NFL or college football think it can see all the activity on my home network if it chose to do stay away from areas where you are not sure of your abilities. One poorly executed piece closer to failing than they realize. Use the tips provided here to keep your business on

  18. 418539 627240Wow that was strange. I just wrote an extremely long comment but soon after I clicked submit my comment didnt appear. Grrrr effectively Im not writing all that more than once again. Regardless, just wanted to say amazing weblog! 95264

  19. 57620 118541definitely like your web website but you require to check the spelling on several of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling issues and I discover it extremely troublesome to tell the truth nevertheless I will certainly come back once more. 134076

  20. 233338 972440Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read anything in this way before. So good to locate somebody by original thoughts on this topic. realy thanks for beginning this up. this fabulous internet site is 1 thing that is necessary on the internet, a person with a bit of originality. beneficial project for bringing a new challenge towards internet! 550122

  21. 892493 405938Chaga mushroom tea leaf is thought-about any adverse health elixir at Spain, Siberia and a lot of n . Countries in europe sadly contains before you go ahead significantly avoidable the main limelight under western culture. Mushroom 243739

  22. 251163 935945Hi there! Someone in my Myspace group shared this internet site with us so I came to give it a appear. Im surely loving the data. Im bookmarking and is going to be tweeting this to my followers! Outstanding weblog and amazing style and style. 862368

  23. 517185 351140Aw, this became an incredibly nice post. In concept I would like to set up writing like that moreover – taking time and actual effort to create an excellent article but what / issues I say I procrastinate alot via no means appear to get something completed. 907438

  24. 711423 416738I discovered your website site on google and check a couple of your early posts. Preserve in the top notch operate. I just extra up your Feed to my MSN News Reader. Looking for toward reading far more of your stuff afterwards! 677732

  25. 312045 244935If you happen to significant fortunate people forms, referring by natural means, additionally you catch the attention of some sort of envy in consideration of those types the other campers surrounding you which have tough times about this subject. awnings 338866

  26. 361429 630193Hi. Cool post. Theres an concern along with your internet site in chrome, and you could want to test this The browser could be the marketplace chief and a very good element of men and women will omit your exceptional writing because of this dilemma. 615967

  27. 56394 114503I like the beneficial details you supply inside your articles. Ill bookmark your weblog and check once more here regularly. Im quite certain I will learn lots of new stuff proper here! Finest of luck for the next! 78039

  28. 492380 920900Attractive part of content material. I just stumbled upon your web site and in accession capital to claim that I acquire in fact enjoyed account your weblog posts. Any way Ill be subscribing to your feeds and even I achievement you get entry to constantly swiftly. 845204

  29. 444306 651234His or her shape of unrealistic tats were initially threatening. Lindsay utilized gun first basic, whereas this girl snuck outside by printer ink dog pen. I used absolutely sure the all truly on the shade, with the tattoo can be taken from the body shape. make an own temporary tattoo 717578

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *