It is unlikely to gain a hearing, never mind be adopted by the Republican-controlled Legislature, but a measure sponsored by two South Florida Democrats proposing a U.S. Constitutional amendment to give states with populations over 6 million a third U.S. Senator is, at least, an interesting cocktail party conversation-starter.
Sen. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, filed Senate Memorial 1652, petitioning Congress to address an “unprecedented disparity” that delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia didn’t anticipate when they established “equal suffrage” in the U.S. Senate and “proportional suffrage” in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The U.S. Senate “has become extremely mal-apportioned to the degree that soon, 30 percent of the country’s population will elect 70 percent of (its) members,” SM 1652 states. “Conversely 70 percent of the country’s population will elect only 30 percent of the members of the U.S. Senate, a disparity fraught with unhappy consequences for the vast majority of the country’s population.”
The memorial – a petition addressed to an executive agency or another legislative body, usually Congress – has not been assigned to a committee.
Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, is expected to file a House companion either before or shortly after the Legislature’s 60-day session begins on Tuesday.
Under the scenario laid out by SM 1652, 19 states – most likely 20 after the 2020 Census – would qualify for a third U.S. Senate seat. The measure notes that the combined population of the 19 states is “approximately 10 times the population” of the rest of the states combined.
Berman’s proposal maintains that adding a third U.S. Senator for the most populated states would be “a modest increase, but still be a workable number of senators, and would still provide ample protection for smaller states from being dominated by larger states.”
According to SM 1652, when the Constitution was drafted in 1787, the population disparity between large states, such as Virginia, and small states, such as Delaware and Rhode Island, was about 10 to 1.
With California’s population now at 40 million people, Texas at 29 million and Florida nearly 22 million, ”the ratio between some states is closer to 100 to 1, something undreamed of by the founding fathers,” according to the measure.
Agitation for Senate reform and reshaping the Electoral College is not exclusive to Florida Democrats nor is it a new concept.
In 1995, U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-Mass., predicted, “Sometime in the next century the United States is going to have to address the question of apportionment in the Senate.”
The “equal suffrage” clause in the U.S. Constitution is repeatedly cited as increasingly “untenable” as population disparities give voters in smaller states significantly greater efficacy than those in larger states.
University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business Professor Eric W. Orts in a January 2019 article in The Atlantic wrote, “Today the voting power of a citizen in Wyoming, the smallest state in terms of population, is about 67 times that of a citizen in the largest state of California, and the disparities among the states are only increasing. The situation is untenable.”
Using 2017 census estimates and “the Rule of 100,” a rule of thumb used by financial professionals to simplify asset allocation, Orts suggested a more fairly constructed Senate would allocate just one U.S. Senator to 26 states, two U.S. Senators to 12 states, between three and five to eight states, six each to Florida and New York, nine to Texas and 12 to California.
“This apportionment shows how out of whack the current Senate has become,” he wrote.
Other Senate reform ideas floated recently include breaking up larger states into smaller ones and calling for a national referendum to reform the Senate.
Retired Rep. John Dingell, Jr., D-Mich., has suggested the best way to address the alleged disparity is to simply abolish the U.S. Senate altogether.
The petition seeks to amend two clauses in the U.S. Constitution, including one that may not be legally alterable.
Under Article I, “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State.” However, the ensuing Article V clearly adds that, “no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.”
“Were this system not provided for directly in the United States Constitution, it would be manifestly unconstitutional for reasons including that the system would be a denial of equal protection, and of the one person, one vote principle prevalent in all other elections,” SM 1652 states.