Thursday, February 12, 2015

DC Still Has Taxation Without Representation And The Structural Imbalance In The US Senate

I got to thinking about this issue again when I heard that Congress is trying to block DC from enacting its recently passed initiative to legalize marijuanaDC started challenging Congress on this, then a few days ago backed off.      [Note: check date of this post to determine if you should look for more current updates.] 

So, here are some facts:
  • Wyoming has an estimated 2014 population of 584,153.  [source is US Census table for all these state population figures.]
  • Vermont  has an estimated 2014 population of 626, 562.
  • Alaska has an estimated 2014 population of 736,732.
  • North Dakota has an estimated 2014 population of 739,482.
  • South Dakota  has an estimated 2014 population of 853,175.
  • Delaware has an estimated 2014 population of 935,614.

Each of these states has one voting member of the House of Representatives and two US Senators.  

Washington DC has an estimated 2014 population of 658,893.   

DC has one non-voting member of the House and zero US Senators.

Of course, people in California, who have two US Senators, might wish that Alaska, Wyoming, and North Dakota, and a bunch of other states be combined to share their US Senators.

California has an estimated 2014 population of 38,802,500.

California does have 53 members of the US House.

In 1800, not too long after the constitution was implemented,  the largest state (Virginia = 807,683) was 12.5 times the size of smallest state (Delaware = 64,273). [Numbers from Wikipedia.]  The intent of having two senators for each state was to protect the small states from being overwhelmed by the larger number of representatives of the large states.  But today the small states get way more representation in the Senate than the large states. 

Today, the largest state (California = 38,802,500) is  66 times the size of the smallest state (Wyoming = 584,153.)

I doubt the framers of the constitution foresaw that increasing gap between the large and small states. But I suspect it's one of the structural factors that skews the congress to theRight (along with gerrymandering).  The largest 15 states are way more Democratic than Republican and the smallest 15 states are slightly more Republican.

Smallest States'
State Senators'
563,626 Wyoming RR
625,741 Vermont DI
736,732 Alaska RR
739,482 North Dakota DR
853,175 South Dakota RR
935,614 Delaware DR
1,023,579 Montana DR
1,055,173 Rhode Island DD
1,326,813 New Hampshire DR
1,330,089 .Maine RI
1,419,561 Hawaii DD
1,634,464 Idaho RR
1,852,994 West Virginia DR
1,881,503 Nebraska RR
2,085,572 New Mexico DD
D=12 R=16  I=2

Largest States' Populations States Senators' Parties
38,802,500 California DD
25,145,561 Texas RR
19,893,297 Florida DR
19,746,227 New York DD
12,880,580 Illinois DR
12,787,209 Pennsylvania DR
11,594,163 Ohio DR
10,097,343 Georgia RR
9,943,964 North Carolina RR
9,909,877 Michigan DD
8,938,175 New Jersey DD
8,001,024 Virginia DD
6,745,408 Massachusetts DD
6,731,484 Arizona RR
6,724,540 Washington DD
D=18 R=12

18 million people in the 15 smallest states have 30 senators. They elected 53% R, 40% D, and 6% I.
207 million people in 15 largest states have 30 senators.  They elected 66% D and 33% R.

Large states have ten times the population and the same number of senators. 

Senators are elected by the whole state, so, once the state boundaries are set, the districts can't be gerrymandered.  But, as you can see, the states themselves, have such unequal populations that the largest states which vote overwhelmingly Democratic, are grossly underrepresented.  The House districts are defined in redistricting and so gerrymandering can effect the outcomes there.  If you look at the voting results of most house districts, you'll see the incumbents win by significant majorities.   All this skews the results in a way that doesn't necessarily represent the views of US citizens. 

In the senate, without significant change to the US constitution, this isn't going to change.  A long New York Times article  (I couldn't find a date, but there's a 2013 © on the bottom of the page) says:
"To be sure, some scholars and members of Congress view the small-state advantage as a vital part of the constitutional structure and say the growth of that advantage is no cause for worry. Others say it is an authentic but insoluble problem.
What is certain is that the power of the smaller states is large and growing. Political scientists call it a striking exception to the democratic principle of “one person, one vote.” Indeed, they say, the Senate may be the least democratic legislative chamber in any developed nation."

Can DC get two senators and a representative without a constitutional amendment?   FairVote says yes:
While DC residents did have representation in the early 1790’s, DC residents lost their right to vote in 1801 after the passage of the Organic Act, when Congress voted to take control of the District of Columbia. This occurred just ten years after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and a mere 26 years after the famous declaration by Sam Adams--“No Taxation Without Representation”-- a version on the motto remains on DC license plates today.

FairVote firmly stands behind the right of every U.S. citizen to have a meaningful vote. DC residents are no different than all other Americans and should not be treated as such. If Congress can take away voting rights of citizens, then surely it can replace them. Every DC resident should be able to elect a voting member of the House of Representatives and two U.S. Senators.  [emphasis added]
In a more lawyerly piece, in 2006, Kenneth Starr (yes, that Kenneth Starr) and Patricia M. Wald* offer three points in favor of representation of the residents of DC.  First, they argue the representation is a basic tenet of the US and there's nothing in the Constitution to suggest the framers intended to disenfranchise residents of the District, which wasn't created until 1803 out of parts of Virginia and Maryland.  Then they argue that Congress has the power to do it:
Second, Congress's specific power over the District of Columbia is one of the broadest of all its powers. In the words of the Constitution, "Congress shall have power . . . to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever" over the District. In a 1984 case decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, on which we both sat, Judge Abner Mikva noted that through this constitutional provision, the Framers gave Congress "a unique and sovereign power" over the District. In that same case, Judge (now Justice) Antonin Scalia wrote that the broad language of the power gave Congress "extraordinary and plenary" power over our nation's capital. And in another case, that same court held that this broad power gave Congress authority to "provide for the general welfare of citizens within the District of Columbia by any and every act of legislation which it may deem conducive to that end." It is hard to imagine a broader, more comprehensive congressional power than this; and it is also hard to imagine that the power could not be used to advance a fundamental principle of our Constitution -- that the right to vote should be extended to all citizens.

But given that DC voter registration is 75% Democratic and 17% Republican,  there's little chance that  Congress is going to give DC two senators any time soon.

*The Wald bio is definitely worth reading.

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