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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 It's time to change this outdated structure.

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New Hampshire, with its tiny population of 1.3 million, is in the same boat. The state is represented in the Senate by Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, who voted for the health-care bill, and a Republican, Kelly Ayotte, who has pledged to repeal it. Perhaps New Hampshire should consider changing its famous motto "Live Free or Die" to "Cancel Out Our Votes or Die." The change would be apropos. Ditto for Ohio and Pennsylvania, among other split-personality states.

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A better alternative to tinkering with state mottos, however much fun that may be, would be to change the existing Senate structure itself. Such a change, of course, would entail coming to grips with what Madison would likely view as the modern "peculiarity of our political situation."

Crossing state lines changes voter influence

The chief characteristic of today's political peculiarity is undoubtedly the fact that moving from one state to another can result in the immediate diminution or increase of a citizen's voice in national politics. Move from Nevada to California, for example, and you substantially decrease the power of your vote, and thus your voice, to influence national affairs – simply by crossing a state line.

In 1787, for the purpose of forging a United States of America, it was reasonable for Madison and others to argue to residents of large states that their sacrifice in equal legislative clout was worth it. Yet in 2011, when the 626,000 residents of Vermont have the same clout in one-half of the federal lawmaking process as the 25 million residents of Texas, the sacrifice deserves reconsideration.

In the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, to cite just one example, more Americans are questioning why we are spending billions every month for nation-building in Afghanistan. In concert with the House of Representatives, the US Senate has the power to curb that spending, but it won't muster the will until it accurately represents the will of the American people.

The question must be asked: In this information age, what is it about residents of Delaware, Wyoming, or Rhode Island that endows them with greater wisdom on the major issues facing the nation? Why do the opinions of those in small states – no offense, folks in Cheyenne – matter more than those in large states, like California, Texas, New York, and Florida?

They don't, of course. But as long as the status quo Senate structure is maintained, the nation will continue with the pretense that they do.

Timothy Rieger is a Miami-based writer. Read his proposal to modernize the US Senate at timothyrieger.wordpress.com

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