An Immodest “Modest Proposal”

Talk about “thinking outside the box”!

Ever since the 2016 election, there has been increasing concern voiced about the blatantly undemocratic aspects of American governance–the Electoral College, of course, and the enormous impact of money in politics–but also the fact that the “majority” party in control of the Senate represents about fifteen million fewer people than the “minority” party.

Changing these inequities through the constitutional amendment process would be a fool’s errand. Given the political environment, and the difficulty of the process, it ain’t gonna happen.

We could work around the need for constitutional changes, however, if we followed the advice of a recent article in the Harvard Law Review. As Vox explains,

An unsigned note, entitled “Pack the Union: A Proposal to Admit New States for the Purpose of Amending the Constitution to Ensure Equal Representation” and published in the Harvard Law Review, offers an entirely constitutional way out of this dilemma: Add new states — a lot of new states — then use this bloc of states to rewrite the Constitution so that the United States has an election system “where every vote counts equally.”

To create a system where every vote counts equally, the Constitution must be amended. To do this, Congress should pass legislation reducing the size of Washington, D.C., to an area encompassing only a few core federal buildings and then admit the rest of the District’s 127 neighborhoods as states. These states — which could be added with a simple congressional majority — would add enough votes in Congress to ratify four amendments: (1) a transfer of the Senate’s power to a body that represents citizens equally; (2) an expansion of the House so that all citizens are represented in equal-sized districts; (3) a replacement of the Electoral College with a popular vote; and (4) a modification of the Constitution’s amendment process that would ensure future amendments are ratified by states representing most Americans.

The Constitution provides for the admission of new states through an ordinary act of Congress requiring a simple majority vote. If it weren’t for a different provision–one that prevents new states from being “carved out” of existing ones unless the legislature of the existing state consents– we might just root for the folks who are trying to divide California into three states.

Since it’s unlikely that California’s legislature– or that of any other state–would agree to be split, the alternative is to chop up the District of Columbia. That gets around the constitutional problem because Washington, DC, isn’t a state.

Similarly, the Constitution effectively prohibits amendments that eliminate Senate malapportionment. The Harvard note proposes getting around this problem by transferring the Senate’s powers to another body. “The Senate’s duties,” it argues, “could be changed without modifying its composition.

Details aside, however, the wild thing about this Harvard Law Review proposal is that it is absolutely, 100 percent constitutional. The Constitution provides that “new states may be admitted by the Congress into this union,” but it places no limits on the size of a state either in terms of population or in terms of physical space.

It turns out that there is a long and ignoble history of partisans admitting new states in order to give their party an added advantage in the Senate. Vox notes that In 1864, Republicans admitted Nevada — at the time a desert wasteland with a few thousand residents — in order to give the GOP two extra Senate seats.

We have two Dakotas because those same Republicans celebrated their 1888 victory by dividing the Republican Dakota Territory into two states, in order to get four senators rather than two. And thanks to gerrymandering, each rural vote is worth 1 1/3 of each urban vote.

As the article concludes:

So let’s be frank. The Harvard note’s proposal is ridiculous, but it is no more ridiculous than a system where the nearly 40 million people in California have no more Senate representation than the 578,759 people in Wyoming. As the Harvard note says of its own pitch, “radical as this proposal may sound, it is no more radical than a nominally democratic system of government that gives citizens widely disproportionate voting power depending on where they live.”

Just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean it makes sense.


  1. Yes, our politics have a long and tawdry history of partisan self-destruction. It continues today, but instead of us having a population of less than 100 million as in 1888, we are now well over 300 million. In spite of all the technical details, the concept of VOTING remains as the salvation of our democratic republic. When, at best, almost 30% of our eligible voters don’t vote in national elections, and, at best, only 30% vote at all in local elections, we have only ourselves to blame for our current situation.

    The political machines are smart. They know these numbers too. They play their games toward these numbers. And when the majority of the people actually vote, the representation is more like the people who DID vote. When the majority stays home, we get the likes of Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, Mark Meadows, Rand Paul, Matt Goetz, Devin Nunes and, God help the world, Donald Trump.

  2. I have long questioned the inequity of two Senators per state due to the inability to provide adequate representation for millions vs. thousands. I also question districts in states which straddle county lines; but what do I know.

    “Just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean it makes sense.”

    Why is statehood not considered for United States territories such as Puerto Rico? This would clear up Trump’s lack of knowledge regarding providing disaster relief for that island populated with American citizens…some of whom voted for him. Of course he also questioned aid for Hawaii because it is an island. We have one state, Alaska, which is located in another country entirely; many would say that doesn’t make sense. But this is a country which has allowed a mentally challenged, sex offender, sleazy businessman, liar and White Nationalist to subvert our government, encourage violence in our streets, schools and churches and all but destroyed diplomatic relations with all of this nation’s allies of many decades while sucking up to our enemies and allowing them access into allied countries to aid in his reelection campaign. We were safer and more respected by civilized counties under Nixon.

  3. This morning’s blog info is very interesting. Who knew that the Dakotas used to be one state?

    This bit of history points out that people with money and power will always figure out a way to game the system in order to get what they want and it has been going on in this so-called Democracy since it began.

    Now I need to research why the founders decided to give each state or territory the same number of senators without regard to the size of their population. It has always been unfair representation.

  4. Vernon,

    Re your comment that we have only ourselves to blame for the lack of people voting, I must qualify your statement a bit.

    1. Civics education (real civics education) has not been considered to be important for decades. Why? My theory is that white people have enjoyed the power and we have made sure that people of color cannot access any true level of power. Most public education systems became complacent about civics and most people of color have known since they were young that trying to obtain equality is a nonstarter so why bother.

    2. Gerrymandering became so sophisticated with the use of computer algorithms that it became clear to people who want to run for office against the powerful white R party don’t have a chance, so why bother.

    According to the Indiana State Democrat Party leaders in Indy, I live in one of the two most red districts in this state. When I was seriously considering running for a state senate position three years ago I asked them what my chances were if I ran and I did not want them to sugar coat it. I was told that I had no chance at all and because of this they would not invest any money or time in my campaign. They needed to spend all of their money on the campaigns where the candidate had a real chance of winning.

    In addition, our district’s state representative has held his office for almost 34 years. He has said he would retire before the last 3 elections, but ends up running again and easily winning without putting forth any effort. My assumption is that the powerful R party cannot find a suitable candidate to replace him so they talk him into staying in office. He has gone public this time in the newspapers about retiring, but the candidate they found to replace him pulled out after one week so they are busy looking for someone else that will fulfill their wishes. He has been Indiana’s co-chair for ALEC and has made them very happy by presenting bills from their bill mill and getting them passed.

    An extremely intelligent and qualified Democrat ran against him 2 years ago. She campaigned very hard and covered every mile of the district. He didn’t lift a finger and won by almost 80%.

    Bottom line – who has the time to try to fight the R system when you know going in that you won’t have a chance? It takes so much time and energy and the Ds in my territory will never have the money to win an election.

  5. Our Founders were dealing with 13 states, were they not?

    Both political parties could advocate for publicly-financed elections and limit the money flowing into elections, but neither one dares to take the step. We’d get representatives in Washington versus career politicians who become millionaires serving the interests of our Oligarchy.

    Harvard’s letter is creative, but an extremely unnecessary workaround more apparent issues. Mitch McConnell was paid well to block legislation proposed by Congress and Obama. He’s still getting paid well, but not by Kentuckians. Not by people in his district.

    And as Vernon pointed out, voter apathy is further rotting the USA from the inside. Plato warned us about voter apathy; “we will be ruled by our inferiors.”

    And we cannot stop at just the money influence; we also have to address the impact of lobbyists in our statehouses and D.C. Once again, these influencers do not come from a congressional or senatorial district…they come from corporations, unions, etc.

    The money in politics has killed this democracy over time, resulting in voter apathy. “The love of money is the root of all problems.”

    Let’s address the root causes and quit seeking expansive workarounds.

  6. A huge MEA CULPA; United States Territories do not vote for president of the U.S. and do not have full representation in Congress. They do not have Electoral College representation. Exactly what did I see them vote for in the 2016 National Conventions? How, why and who made the decision to transfer ALL Republican presidential votes to Trump at the end of the Roll Call votes? The ultimate act of Gerrymandering by Republicans? It appears in history that every Republican Convention vote in all states went to Trump which was not the actual vote record. In the National Democratic Convention I watched Bernie Sanders submit his support and his vote to Hillary Clinton but he maintained his historical 46% of the Democratic vote as was his right.

    We need to address problems within the current state election process before considering adding states by any process in an effort to rewrite the Constitution to correct “…the blatantly undemocratic aspects of American governance–the Electoral College, of course, and the enormous impact of money in politics–but also the fact that the “majority” party in control of the Senate represents about fifteen million fewer people than the “minority” party”. Clarification in the area of impeachment is now in the spotlight; Trump has already turned his defense into a national and legal sideshow by choosing attorneys, each with more baggage than Hillary, making their positions questionable before the unknown Senate trial process begins. Dershowitz has stated he isn’t working on Trump’s defense but is clarifying the Constitution regarding impeachment. Will this be addressed…AGAIN…by Democratic House members in their presentation of facts?

  7. Here here Vernon,

    The Puerto Ricans could have a little revenge, LOL. And we could also look at Guam, and American Samoa along with a portion of the district of Columbia.

  8. Since I’m tired of quoting deTocqueville, I’ll just say that he was right and leave it at that.

  9. Vernon + Nancy + an enforced, stronger Voting Rights Act + making Veterans Day also Election Day would be “in the box” and go a long way.

  10. Lester; who, other than government offices, schools and some banks actually shut down on national holidays? What is to be gained by converting election day to a national holiday unless businesses are forced to shut down like bars and liquor sales were closed between 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in Indiana years ago?

  11. Nancy,

    Good points all. One of the factors of those algorithms you mentioned regarding gerrymandering is voter turnout.

    George Lakoff’s very informative book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant” goes to great lengths to explain the differences between Republicans of today and Democrats. The biggest difference is that Republicans will do ANYTHING just to win elections and get in power. Once in power, they simply give in to their donors’ demands. It’s worth the read to help underscore my points about the importance of voting.

    As a former educator, it isn’t only civics that goes begging for quality in our schools, it’s also science. I had students in Texas tell me to my face that their parents and their ministers say that science teachers and scientists are the spawn of Satan. I’m not making that up.

  12. Jo Ann – yes, only about 20% of other businesses have Veteran’s Day as a holiday, but that would help and, potentially increase, if when declared by a different President, the messaging of the change could be powerful – “Vote to honor the folks who died to give you that right…”

  13. May I suggest that we follow Jonathon Swift’s Proposal and just sell the Senators for food? They themselves could very well supply some, and by confiscating the wealth they accrue during their tenure, the poor could be guaranteed a Universal Basic Income (ie: food and shelter) for generations.
    And that would not be as complicated as admitting more states, which would probably end up wanting to protect their own two, eventually, anyway!

  14. Democracy is such a critical concept that supporting freedom for all is worth defending however it can be. While I absolutely hate the games being plaid by Republicans desperate for power they have to be stopped and if counter-games are the only way, so be it. However democracy needs to be restored it should be based on strategies that close all of the doors after gong through them to future use for trivial or political purposes.

  15. Vernon,

    It is unfortunate that the students who told you science teachers and scientists are the spawn of Satan actually attend church services that employ the real spawn of Satan as their preachers.

  16. How important is freedom for we the people? In my mind our freedom comes from one source, the ability to hire and fire those who we consent to be governed by. The execution of that requires one person one equal vote for each eligible American. We need to assure ourselves that that is established through any means necessary.

  17. Nancy,

    I know. I see those practices as child abuse. Those kids will forever be poisoned by that stuff. It sickens and saddens me beyond words. I didn’t let the kids see my tears for them.

  18. One person, one vote, one equal share of public campaign funding
    would make ever voter an equally influential campaign contributor.
    Other reform must wait until Big Money is driven out of our politics.

  19. Nancy at 7:39 a.m.: That “extremely intelligent and qualified Democrat” is running again. Please help spread the word.

  20. Ginny,

    I don’t think she is running again because a Democrat party chair has filed to run for that office. District 18.

  21. Earth to everyone: He’s simply NOT the guy for this enormous job. Don’t give him one more chance to NOT do the job.

  22. The Modest Proposal was by Jonathan Swift for Ireland about the time the Trading Posts were erected, poles, throughout the Wabash and Mississippi Valley. The imported bookfare was about famine relief cannibalism by infanticide — that strong theme in English-language books and now YouTube audiobooks and films. Since 1963, we may have a case where Rome fiddles while Caesar burns.

  23. I like the proposal, but it is a fantasy.
    For the record, the territories (and DC) have non-voting representatives in Congress but do participate in the Presidential nomination process for both parties.
    Puerto Rico voted in 2012 and 2017 for statehood, but both were very low turnout elections.
    Meanwhile, DC residents rightly complain about taxation without representation.

    Years ago I had proposed the compromise DC Constitutional Amendment (Congress was not going to grant statehood for DC), that would recognize a special status for DC and give them voting representation in the House and have them vote for and be represented by Maryland in the Senate (DC was a square cut out of Virginia and Maryland, but Virginia took their portion back). None of my friends in the District liked my idea – they all wanted to be a state.

    Political admission of states actually goes back to all of the compromises before the Civil War, so I am all for admitting “Democratic” territories and the District (or maybe SE, SW, NE, and NW – four states) – pro-Republican territories can wait

  24. TRUMP 2020!!!!! The Democratic party is Racist, untrustworthy and backstabbing to the American people. When they don’t get their way they play very very dirty I cannot believe the way your governors and your senators and your Congress people even act. They think they’re going to cure racism by hating others.WOW. They have come from the party of slavery the KKK and now antifa.

  25. I found three listings on Facebook for Dennis Urquhart; none of them are Americans or live in this country. Whichever one you are; welcome Dennis, read the blog and our comments and learn truths about Trump, Google for the comments he has made about island countries.

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