Opinionated @ CFE

A 17th Amendment Reality Check


There have been a lot of waves made lately over candidates who want to overturn the 17th Amendment and return the selection of US Senators to the various legislatures. Certainly, I believe the system of appointed Senators made a lot of sense. It allowed states to directly have a say in the affairs of the national government, contained the power of the political elites to a single house of Congress, and created a much more deliberative body that would act as a check on popular sentiment. All that said, I don’t think the genie can be put back in the bottle quite that easily.

The biggest roadblock is Congress itself. Senators would be essentially asked to vote against their own re-election prospects. Any Senator not on good terms with the legislature of their home state could find themselves quickly out of a job. You then still need 38 state legislatures to sign off on repealing the amendment to get it to go into effect. All of this would need to happen in the midst of citizens likely protesting moving a previously elected position to an appointed one.

Even if a repeal of the 17th Amendment passed, there is nothing to restrict a legislature from retaining a de facto system of direct election anyway. Just a few years before the ratification of the amendment, 29 states allowed some form of popular vote for senators. There’s no reason to believe that most, if not all, states won’t pass statutes to preserve the status quo.

In short, even if a repeal of the 17th Amendment was probable (which it isn’t), it isn’t likely to even change anything. It’s nice to theorize about rolling it back, but taking a hard-line policy position on it as a candidate amounts to so much grandstanding.

6 Responses to A 17th Amendment Reality Check

  1. Ronald D. Hunt

    We need more democracy in our government not less. The reform we need is for the house to be elected either by national proportional vote or multi-member districts with transferable voting and for the senate to be elected via single transferable votes. Another good measure would be to increase the size of the house to 600 and the size of the senate to 200(4seats per state), and lock the size of the house to exactly 3 times larger then the senate. Add in public funding of elections and that would put the people back in charge of our government. This reform would also end the problem of garrymandering for the most part once and for all.

    Another good thing we could do is change the terms of the house and the senate. Having to campaign every 2 years(given not an issue for the senate) is costly and makes it to hard for our government to legislate issues with long term thinking in mind. Changing the house to be elected every 4 years and the senate to be elected every 8 years(half replaced every 4 years). This would make it so our legislators could work on solving issues rather then starting the next campaign the minute they finish their last campaign.

  2. A national proportional vote as you propose would make the states little more than political subdivisions, something I’m not comfortable with. Putting more on the ever-incapable federal government seems like a losing proposition.

    I’ve heard proposals to expand the House (which I’m greatly in favor of), but never a proposal to expand the Senate. It could go either way since Senators would still be elected state-wide.

  3. Ronald D. Hunt

    A national proportional vote as you propose would make the states little more than political subdivisions,

    Alot of people seem to have a problem with the national proportional voting system, That is why I list multi member districts with transferable vote voting as an alternative that would keep it state based but still provide that much needed multi party reform. Multi-member districts also make it possible for odd things like regional party’s to successfully win elections, or for members of a party to win/loose against other members of the same party allowing voters to dump incumbents without sending their vote to the opposing party that they disagree with or are against.

    Putting more on the ever-incapable federal government seems like a losing proposition.

    Part of the problem is in the rules of the senate here, when 41% of the senate can block the will of 59% of the senate nothing will ever get done by either party.

    We have seen the house pass bill after bill after bill, and the senate can’t pass a simple unemployment filling deadline extension. The senate needs to end the filibuster.

  4. Okay, I can see that point. It sounds like what a lot of other countries do and yes, it does allow for third parties to more easily pick up seats. I’m more in favor of IRV combined with at least a doubling of the size of the House as a way to allow better electoral options.

    As much as people blame the Senate rules, Bush was able to do just about whatever he wanted with a slim 51-seat majority. Blaming the Senate and the filibuster is convenient, but hardly the reality.

  5. Ronald D. Hunt

    The republican agenda can be almost entirely passed under rules that pass the bird rule via reconciliation, Rules that where used 6 times under the bush administration. Almost everything can be shown to cost money and as such can be cut to reduce the deficit under reconciliation, where as a new program or added regulations(to say the oil industry or the financial industry) can not be passed that way.

    You can not pass much in the way of healthcare/unemployment benefits/new regulations etc under reconciliation.

    Further Democrats are a big tent party, their are democrats who are very conservative and would support wide bits of the republican agenda, while the reverse is not true. Even Snow and Collins the so called “moderate” republicans are rare to step out of party line, even for things that their are wide 80%+ supported in their districts(like say unemployment filing deadline extensions).

    California just passed an IRV system where the top 2 winners of each primary are sent ballot, IRV just sounds like a way for the 2 major party’s to further make it difficult for third party’s to win. As such I couldn’t support such a system.

  6. I don’t know enough about the nuts and bolts of the Senate to comment on that, but I do think that setting a higher bar for passage in that house is a good thing. The Senate is supposed to be much more deliberative and slow-moving than the House to act as a check upon the whims of the majority (which, as we’ve seen over history, seem to change suddenly and frequently). At least one of the houses should be taking their time instead of always being in a rush to pass something, the latter of which gives us “presents” like the PATRIOT Act.

    As far as IRV, what California has is NOT IRV. IRV allows you to rank all candidates in order of preference. If there isn’t a candidate with a majority of the vote, the lowest-ranked candidate is eliminated and their votes redistributed to other candidates based on the ranking of votes cast. This continues until someone ends up with a majority. It works very well because instead of feeling like you “waste” your vote on a third party or independent candidate, you can always know that you have a contingency vote in your second choice.

    What California is doing, just moving the top two vote-getters to the general, is a nonpartisan blanket primary (or Jungle Primary as it’s known in Louisiana). Not the same thing at all and you’re right, it’s not a particularly good system unless you’re looking to perpetuate the gerrymander and the two-party system.

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