The Wyoming Effect

In 1790, two years after the Constitutional Convention, the population of the United States numbered at roughly 4 Million. In 2018, the population of the U.S. numbers around 329 Million. Outside of 17 amendments and the Bill of Rights, our Constitution has not changed since 1790, despite a 99% increase in population, and an addition of millions of square miles of land. Sectional and national interests have grown and shifted to an awe-inspiring extent since the inception of our nation, and our government has molded itself to fit those interests in many ways...but not all.

The House of Representatives and the Senate play a massive role in everyday American life; their members create the basic laws that underpin the fabric of the nation from criminal justice procedures to school funding. These two Congressional houses, however, are dangerously unstable.

The House of Representatives (House), has 435 members, each representing a congressional district of roughly 700,000 people. These members are re-allocated due to population shifts every ten years, but at this point in US history, they remain relatively stable. More populous states are allotted more districts with more representatives, and no state can have fewer than one representative regardless of the size of their population. Makes sense, right? The issue at hand is the Senate. Each state is allocated two Senators, regardless of its population. California has a population of roughly 40 million -- 2 Senators. Wyoming has a population of roughly 600,000; they get 2 Senators too.

Here’s where the pushback shows up: “Well there's historical precedent! It makes sense that everyone gets equal representation in at least one house!” Historical precedent is a phenomenal argument, until you look at the numbers. In 1790, the population of Delaware was about 59,000, and the population of Virginia was about 747,000 (these were the least and most populous states at the time, respectively). This puts the population of Virginia at about thirteen times the population of Delaware. This is certainly a relatively large gap, but the idea of the Senate was that all states deserved equal voices because of sectional interests. In the context of the modern day, California’s population of 4o million is slightly over 66 times larger than Wyoming. Both states are represented in the Senate by the same number of representatives. Put simply, each person in Wyoming receives the same representation as 66 Californians.

Now, you may see the argument, but still say “but what about the House! Surely it’s all balanced out by the House!” While the House is extremely important when it comes to passing laws and creating basic ordinances, it is only one half of the congress. To pass anything, the Senate must also approve of it. Funny enough, if you start from the bottom up, you could pass a bill in the senate with approval from only 18% of the population. If you go from the top down, you would need 83%. The tax reform bill passed in 2017 was passed by 51 senators who represented only 43.6% of the population. Something is fundamentally wrong in the system. Wait, there’s more! Certain critical positions such as those in the Cabinet or on the Judiciary are confirmable only by the Senate. Kavanaugh’s recent confirmation never even had to pass through the House of Representatives. The disparity in the Senate has immense ripple effects which can be felt in the Judiciary, and the Executive branches.

If you were disheartened by this before, you’re going to be really upset when I tell you that there’s no clear way to fix this situation. When the Constitution was written, nobody thought that the Union would last 200+ years. Thomas Jefferson thought that there would be another revolution within 20 years. But here we are, with a country governed by an archaic document, woefully unequipped to handle the modern trials and tribulations of our national size. It is the responsibility of our generation to find a solution to the Wyoming effect, because if we don’t, then, I believe, in 50 years, there will no longer be a Union.