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Opinion

Why should moving to a different state change the power of your political voice?

That's exactly the situation today with the US Senate. Because the Senate guarantees two seats regardless of population, one voter in Wyoming gets as much influence on lawmaking as 66 Californians. It's time to change this outdated structure.

By Timothy Rieger / July 6, 2011



Miami

Imagine if Washington gave your politically opposite relatives vastly greater political power – 10, 20, even 70 times normal – simply because they lived in a small state.

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You'd be outraged, and rightly so.

Yet that's exactly the situation we find ourselves in today with the US Senate. Because the Senate guarantees two seats regardless of population, the 563,000 people of Wyoming have as much influence in one-half of the federal lawmaking process as the 37 million people of California.

Yet folks in big states like California, Texas, and New York should consider themselves lucky. At least they do not have the double insult that we Floridians, 18.8 million of us, are forced to endure: having two senators on opposite ends of the political spectrum, both of whom claim to represent the values of Floridians.

The US Senate is said to be a product of the Founders' genius. But if the Great Compromise of 1787 that gave us a bicameral legislature helped the nation take shape, its legacy today is a democratic eyesore. The Senate disadvantages residents of large states while simultaneously holding out the prospect that voters will have their interests canceled out by a state's other senator. And that raises the question: In a modern, mobile America, should the value of our political voice really be defined by where we live?

The outdated origin of the Senate

In Federalist Paper No. 62, James Madison justified the creation of the malapportioned, undemocratic Senate in part by writing:

"But it is superfluous to try, by the standard of theory, a part of the Constitution which is allowed on all hands to be the result, not of theory, but 'of a spirit of amity, and that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable.' "

Yet the "peculiarity of our political situation" in 1787 – namely that the 13 Colonies saw themselves as largely separate countries, thus necessitating a Senate that put small states on equal footing with large states – is about as operative in 2011 as the horse and buggy. Of course, this does not in any way suggest that our political situation today is any less peculiar.

'Cancel Out Our Votes or Die'

For example, on one of the most controversial domestic issues of the day, health-care reform, Floridians have elected two senators who work at cross-purposes with each other: one who voted for the law requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance, Bill Nelson (D), and the other, Marco Rubio (R), who encourages efforts to have the law declared unconstitutional. Though Florida's state motto is "In God We Trust," a more fitting motto would be "In Contradiction We Exist."

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