Section 3: Reforming the Senate

This proposal is modular. The Preamble, Section 1, and Section 2 could stand on its own. If ratified, the people would soon thereafter end equal state suffrage in the Senate and abolish the Electoral College.

This would make this proposal simple in some ways, but complicated in others. We would have severed the link between reforming the Senate and Electoral College and simple majority rule. Advocates would have to explain that this proposal is a necessary precondition to reforming the Senate and the Electoral College. Opponents would claim that making amendments easier is not really about the Senate, but is a prelude to banning gay marriage, repealing the Second Amendment, capping tax rates, etc. Conspiracy theories may bloom in any case, but they would likely be particularly intense in this case.

A comprehensive amendment would be longer, but that is actually a virtue. Everything would be spelled out, with a lesser emphasis about what, if anything, comes next. Simple majority rule may seem less controversial precisely because it will be explicitly linked to reforming the Senate and election of the president. Here is a Main Street-simple argument: “If you think the Electoral College is stupid, here is your one chance to end it. By the way, we have not been able to end it so far because the amendment power has been based on supermajorities, so we are fixing that, too.” It is not just a matter of one popular provision dragging a less certain one across the finish line. A comprehensive amendment will have an undeniable, simple theme. We the People shall have equal voting power over the law.

As for reforming the Senate, there are three main options. This is the simplest:

In all proceedings in the Senate, including committees of the Senate, each Senator shall have one vote for each person in his or her State, according to the last census.

In other words, retain bicameralism, two senators per state, six year terms, and the powers of the Senate; change one thing only: each Senator shall have one vote. Then the Senate will be perfectly proportional with respect to the states, even if tiny Guam becomes a state.

This design is not necessarily the optimal design for the Senate for all time. If this proposal is ratified, future generations may make any number of amendments to the design of the Senate. This should not be upsetting. Systems evolve. This design is simply a more perfect realization of the proposition that all people are created equal and will undoubtedly lead to public policy that is more conducive to the happiness of the majority of Americans. The minimization of change makes this option likely to command the support of a larger proportion of Americans than any more complicated design.

Another option is unicameralism: solving inequality in the Senate by abolishing the Senate. The extreme gridlock and dysfunction in Washington may make this option appealing to many, but this is a more radical change, more alien to American habits of thinking about legislatures, and sure to encounter more resistance. Let’s make the amendment power and the Senate more consistent with the proposition that all people are created equal, and then any advocates for unicameralism can make their case for change later under the simple majoritarian amendment power.

The third option is anything more complicated: senators elected from representative districts, regions, party lists, etc. There are infinite permutations. It would be hard to build a consensus on one.

The power of the Vice President of the United States to serve as the President of the Senate and to cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate is repealed.

This is housecleaning. John Adams cast a lot of tie-breaking votes when there were only 26 senators. As the Senate grew and then the filibuster developed, these tie-breaking votes became less and less common. This proposal would make them almost impossible. Let’s simplify.