Vox and several other sources recently reported on the composition of the incoming Congress, noting that “winning” can no longer be defined as “getting the most votes.”
On Tuesday, 33 US senators elected in November will be sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden — including 12 who are new to the chamber. The class includes 22 Republicans and 11 Democrats, a big reason why the GOP has a 54-46 majority in the Senate overall.
But here’s a crazy fact: those 46 Democrats got more votes than the 54 Republicans across the 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections. According to Nathan Nicholson, a researcher at the voting reform advocacy group FairVote, “the 46 Democratic caucus members in the 114th Congress received a total of 67.8 million votes in winning their seats, while the 54 Republican caucus members received 47.1 million votes.”
The writer used these numbers to make the point that the Senate–a body to which all states, large or small, send two senators–is undemocratic.
I want to make a different point, and one that I find much more troubling. The Senate, after all, was intended to be less representative than the House. We may disagree with those initial choices, but in the case of the Senate, the system is working as designed.
When it comes to Congress and the nation’s statehouses, however, “one person, one vote” is no longer an accurate description of American elections. We have disenfranchised urban voters, and given control of the country’s policymaking to rural America.
In the 2012 Congressional elections, Democratic candidates for the House received over a million more votes than Republicans, yet the GOP easily retained control. In state after state, rural voters have a disproportionate voice–drowning out the political preferences of urban inhabitants–partially as a result of gerrymandering and partially as a result of residential “sorting.”
The first Constitution counted African-Americans as 2/3 of a citizen [update: my bad. Slaves were 3/5ths, not 2/3ds]. Today, we count people in cities (where, I’m sure coincidentally, most minorities still live) as 2/3ds of a voter.
I don’t know what you call that, but it isn’t democracy.