Abolish the U.S. Senate

Yesterday, Stephen Colbert had a chance to sit down with Sen. Elizabeth Warren to talk about the latest gridlock in Washington. It took a surprising turn when Stephen asked, point blank, "Why shouldn't we just get rid of the Senate?" This seemed to catch Sen. Warren off guard, and instead of thinking through the answer she gave a snippet from her stump speech that could have been cut right from the 2020 primaries Clip via YouTube. I expected nothing less, considering the Senator would likely not get invited to talk shows and fancy galas if the Senate was abolished.

However, Mr. Colbert is correct. The Senate is an anti-democratic institution. To recap, the Senate has two representatives from every state, which means that Wyoming and California both have the same number of representatives. Why is that bad? It means California, a state with nearly 40 million people has the same number of representatives as Wyoming with only about 581,000 people. That means a person in Wyoming has over 68 times the representation in the Senate as one person in California. If we look at a sum of how many people each party represents in the Senate, we see that Democrats have 51 representatives for 187 million people, while the 59 Republicans only represent 137 million, meaning each Republican voter has 32% more representation that a Democratic voter. This was the reason for the 1960's rulings of Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims, which coined the term "one person, one vote." The ruling impacted only the Senates in each State, where state Senates were made up of one representative from each county regardless of whether that county had over one million people or only ten thousand. Today, states have to draw district boundaries for both their House and Senate representatives that have equal population within those districts. However, that ruling has not carried over the to U.S. Senate.

Has the Senate always been so anti-democratic? As per usual, the Senate is rooted in the political reality of the United States at the time of our founding. While the original 13 colonies worked together to fight and defend against Great Britain during the revolutionary war, the population of white males who owned property in the U.S. (those who were eligible to vote) was significantly skewed. While the south had a large population due to enslaved Blacks, its total voting population was extremely small compared to the northern colonies. Yet, the south had provided a significant source of funds to General Washington and the revolutionary army. Rather than apportion representatives to the Senate according to a percentage of the total U.S. population, the southern states demanded that each state be given two representatives, regardless of their population (for those interested, check out Colin Woodard's American Nations). This also gave the southern states outsized representation the Senate during the founding, and today allows a minority of the U.S. population to rule over the majority.

It's for this reason that people have recommended that all Democrats need to do to "flip the Senate" is to encourage 100,000 Democrats to move to Wyoming. It's also why the obscene housing costs in blue states like California and New York have been a boon for Democrat Senate seats in states like Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and most likely Texas in the near future.

However, Democrats shouldn't have to rely on "Californication" of other states to ensure the Senate remains a democratic institution. We should work to abolish the Senate, and move to a unicameral, party-proportional parliamentary system. The other country that performed such a feat? New Zealand! (More examples can be found in Lee Drutman's Breaking the Two-Pary Doom Loop.)

This matters for many reasons, but one that is particularly egregious is that people who are in the minority party of their state feel that they have virtually no representation on the Senate. Ask any Republican living in a deep blue state (or vice-versa). Furthermore, it results in entrenched incumbents that are virtually impossible to vote out of office, so even if you do belong to the majority party, your Senators are likely to be millionaires who want to protect the status-quo rather than push for widely popular reforms.

Another advantage to abolishing the senate is to bring greater accountability to Government. How many times to we have to hear that a bill has passed, only to then be quickly followed that we must now wait for a second representative body to pass the same exact bill. Abolishing the senate will remove the ability for Congressional representatives to point fingers at one another, and reduce the headache of duplicate paperwork. I, for one, am ready to get out the shredder.