WITH THE MIDTERM elections just a few days from now, are you aware that 18% of the country’s voting population elects more than half of our senators? Our smallest states like Wyoming, Vermont and Alaska, with between 600,000 and 750,000 residents, each have two senators just like our most populous states: California with 40 million, Texas with 30 million, Florida with about 22 million.

Sept. 17 was the 235th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution in 1787. It’s now known as Constitution Day. The vote was five states to four with Massachusetts divided. In that document, every state, regardless of size, would enjoy equal representation in the U.S. Senate.



As originally designed, the Senate wasn’t elected directly by the people; senators were appointed by the state Legislatures. This was to ensure the interests of the individual states were protected. The House of Representatives was to be “the people’s house.”

It was Roger Sherman of Connecticut who proposed a “further proviso” declaring that no state shall be deprived of its equal vote in the Senate. That idea was rejected, but later, the framers reversed course. They made the equal state vote in the Senate a part of the Constitution and went on to make the clause “not subject to amendment.”

James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and others assumed that if the more populous states could reach consensus on a new constitution, the less populous states would ultimately yield to their decision. Madison believed that the small states could be persuaded that they neither needed nor deserved an equal vote in either house of Congress.



Madison’s confidence proved misguided. How different would American politics have been if the large states had prevailed. What if they hadn’t agreed to make the equal state vote clause not subject to amendment?

I got this information from an article in the Wall Street Journal written by Jack Rakove. He is a professor of history and American studies emeritus at Stanford University. He also is an author and former winner of a Pulitzer Prize in history.

“George Washington was the Federal Convention presiding officer and James Madison was later called the Father of the Constitution. The equal state vote provision was a compromise that has since been questioned many times. At the time, Virginia and Pennsylvania had big populations, while Delaware was less populated.”

According to Rakove, the standard rationale for the equal state vote in the Senate is that residents of less populous states have distinctive interests that need special protection. Conversely, the more populous states are thought to share some other set of interests that might incline them to dominate their less populous neighbors.

Madison understood the absurdity of these views, wrote Rakove. People never vote on the basis of the size of the state in which they live; except in a situation like 1787, when they are voting on the rules of voting and have a vested advantage to preserve.

As citizens or lawmakers, we vote on the basis of our interests and opinions, age and occupation, religious or ethnic or racial identity. But we never ask what’s good for the small or large states. Madison said “The larger states were no more connected to each other than to the other states.”

The idea that citizens of the less populous states needed special protections in one house of Congress remains the most enduring fallacy in the American constitutional tradition, said Rakove. Senators from Wyoming and Vermont don’t make common cause with each other simply because these are our least populous states. There also is no alliance between California and Texas.

How will Tuesday’s vote go? Most people feel their party is less bad than the other. The fact is, most people dislike being distracted by the political discourse. They are focused on their daily lives, taking care of their families, putting food on their tables and gasoline in their vehicles, having a satisfying job that pays for their needs and caring for their sick parents.