The big states and the liitle ones.

13coloniesmap1775usa "But while the Senate simply requires a majority of its 100 members to select the vice- president, the House must vote by states, with each state delegation having a single vote, and a majority of the states (at least 26 of 50) required to agree on the winner.

This is called "the unit rule". The founding fathers centred the idea on the fact that the nation was a confederation of states rather than a pure democracy of individual voters. Just as the electoral college is state-based, the House selection of the president in the case of deadlock revolves around the states.

The unit rule has been employed twice in US history, in the long-ago elections of 1800, when Thomas Jefferson emerged as president, and 1824, when John Quincy Adams was elected. "  Larry Sabato


Larry Sabato, then a little known political science professor at the University of Virginia, was a "talking head" at the Republican state convention that nominated George "Macaca" Allen for governor of Virginia.  Sabato confidently predicted that Allen would never be elected.   Somehow, Sabato has come to be an authority on many things.

This article is quite entertaining.  It puzzles over the intricacies of US election law in the eventuality that there is a tie vote in the Electoral College. What fun!  The federal nature of the US union is always the subject of complaint in election years.  The basic issue is that the little states (in population) have, in many ways, the same political weight as the big states.   In the US Senate, this factor is always with us, the product of the Great Compromise that made the union a possibility in the first place.  A lot of people do not like that.  I suppose that they live in big states.  Sabato makes the statement that US "values" are different now than they were….  I doubt that.  Perhaps political science professors have different values than they once did, but, then, there were no political science professors on hand when the constitution of the United States was written.  Thank God.

The futility of the discussions concerning American federalism always impresses.  The little states are clearly not going to accept any constitutional amendments that deprive them of the division of function and power that was the basis of the union to begin with.  A bargain is a bargain.

How about a constitutional convention?  Yes, how about it?  Could the scope of the changes wrought by such a convention be limited in advance?  The first constitutional convention seized control of the process and created a new kind of government.  It had been called to modify the Articles of Confederation.  Would the new document be subject to ratification by the states?  What would happen if some states did not ratify?

Let sleeping states lie.  pl

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28 Responses to The big states and the liitle ones.

  1. g. powell says:

    California has 12% of the U.S. population and its share continues to grow. It also contributes disproportionately to national GDP and tax revenue relative to its population.
    How long do you think it will be content with the current arrangement of comprising only 2% of the senate? I think it’s inevitable that a constitutional crisis will eventually emerge.

  2. John Howley says:

    Heard this guy on Bill Moyers last year. He argued for a constitutional convention.
    “Sanford Levinson is Professor of Government at the University of Texas and W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr. Centennial Chair in Law at the University of Texas Law School. Levinson is the author of four books, most recently, OUR UNDEMOCRATIC CONSTITUTION: WHERE THE CONSTITUTION GOES WRONG (AND HOW WE THE PEOPLE CAN CORRECT IT). He blogs regularly both at Balkinization and his own site devoted to Our Undemocratic Constitution.”

  3. Andy says:

    G. Powell,
    California can easily avert “crisis” by splitting itself into two or more states.

  4. Nancy K says:

    A good idea may be for the larger states like mine, I live in Calif to break into 3 states thus having 6 senators instead of 2. I don’t believe the founding fathers could invision such inadaquecy in the system. Somehow it just does not seem fair that South Dakota should have as much say. But oh well it isn’t like DC listens to any of us anyway.

  5. Patrick Lang says:

    Seems like a good idea for the big states to divide themselves up. California might become N to S:
    – Sasquatch
    – Sausalito
    – Reagan
    – Abalone
    – Bracero
    How’s that? pl

  6. Fred says:

    To those in big states who complain about a lack of power one is very tempted to say ‘”boo hoo”. To small states one need only look to Alaska and wonder why they get the ‘gold mine’ of earmarks and the rest of America the ‘shaft’ of the bills; but one need look no further than the seniority and effectiveness of one’s Senate and congressional delegation. That’s why Senators Stevens and Lieberman are still (for now) in office.
    A constitutional convention? That is nothing more than a bail out for Washington Lobbyists. Good help us.

  7. Maureen Lang says:

    Are you telling me I should then be living somewhere between Abalone & Bracero? Confusing.
    Reminds me of the old, old joke about a gent wandering around lost in downtown Los Angeles. Punchline was, “so then he went up & down Olive & thought it was Grand.”
    Slight attempt @ humor on a decidely unhumorous morning…

  8. No Constitutional convention in sight but if one does appear federal taxation issues are likely to make it lively. Interestingly, the fact that Congress must ratify Interstate Compacts (agreements between the states) might be a vehicle for some political reform. Unlikely but possible. After all since 9/11 Congress has failed to pass legislation allowing Governors to appoint Representatives (as they can Senators) on their death (or more likely where 50% or more of Congress died suddenly as in an attack) and I argue that ability to reform political institutions is very unlikely. So just make sure Peasants have pitchforks sharpened and available when US equivalent of the Bastille needs storming.

  9. Nancy K says:

    Sounds like a good plan to me.

  10. WP says:

    Here is another interesting scenario. Suppose the voting system in one or more states simply failed systemically so that no winner was actually achieved. On example of this possibility is a case where electronic voting machines were used and it was proven they were hacked so that no result could be determined and the supreme court of the state deemed the whole election void.
    Then the matter would be sent to the Legislature. Or be tied up in numerous state and federal courts past the Constitutional deadline for the meeting of the electoral college. The interesting issue is whether with a failed election, would Bush/Cheney just stay in power?
    On the evening when Bush v. Gore was issued out of the Supreme Court I read the decision and I thought that on remand, the Florida Supreme Court should have just voided the election and sent the matter to the Florida Legislature for resolution as provided in the U. S. Constitution. While, Florida might have gone to Bush anyway, at least the decision would have been political instead of a fiat. Who knows, the Florida Legislature might have made some compromise that would have been more transparent, creative, and fair than that which happened. They might have just set a revote with better rules. In any case, I think the Florida Supreme Court made a terrible mistake in just taking the Supreme Court’s decision and assuming it meant Bush won. If you read the decision, you will see that on remand, there was an avenue to send the case to the polititions answerable to the people.

  11. Will says:

    I”ve always wandered what the reaction among Virginians was about their state being split up during the Civil War?
    Two ways to look at. Divide and conquer. But on the other hand, their Senatorial voting power was doubled.
    Of course, two different countries? mountain vs. coast and hills. KY and many other states were carved out of erstwhile VA.
    TN was once part of NC. Polk, though born in TN, marticulated at UNC- Chapel Hill- I guess NC was considered the mother state.

  12. different clue says:

    I read somewhere that the Republic Of Texas, as a condition of joining the United States of America, insisted upon (and got) the right-in-perpetuity to divide itself into 5 States with 2 Senators apiece any old time it wants to; without having to even consult the other States.
    Another problem with pure
    by-the-numbers democracy is that Urbo-Suburbanites can could get together to oppress and exploit Smalltown-Ruralites as severely as they please. So
    Greater Chicago and New York
    City would join together in voting against the shared interests of Upstate New York and Downstate Illinois, for example.
    But back to States as State of Michigan
    is a midsize State on the way to becoming a small State. The joke is “Welcome
    to Michigan. A little less crowded every year.”

  13. g. powell says:

    Can states split and merge at will, without an ok from the federal government? Is there any mechanism for this? The Virginia example would be instructive, but I’m not aware of how that was handled during a national crisis.

  14. Cieran says:

    Re: divvying up the state of California…
    California has a rich history of dividing itself up into regions. The state of Jefferson (the far northern end) was formed in 1941 via a secession attempt, and tolls were collected to support the new state’s economy… though once Pearl Harbor was bombed, its citizens gave up their dreams of forming what would have been the 49th state.
    I lived in that region for many years, and sentiment against being lumped with folks “down south” remains strong. And the water question (California’s fresh water resources are found in the north, while its population is increasingly in the south) is reviving that sentiment.
    Usually people think of “Northern vs Southern” in California, but it’s a patchwork of inland valley vs coast superimposed on the Bay Area vs LA dichotomy, and just to confuse matters further, everybody much north of Sacramento wants little or no part of the rest of the state.
    Places like Siskiyou County (where some of the last Indian wars were fought, and where Ulysses S. Grant went AWOL rather than report to Fort Jones for duty) have virtually nothing in common with urban California, and especially with LA or San Diego. The far northern end of California really is a different (and incredibly beautiful) country.

  15. Patrick Lang says:

    In re new states – Article 4, Clause 1 begins thusly;
    “Congress is empowered by Section Three to admit new states to the Union. No state, however, may be formed within the jurisdiction of another, or by the joining of different states or parts of different states, without the consent of all state legislatures concerned.”
    That’s the procedure.
    In the case of Virginia, IMO this was simply a case of force majeure and raisons d’etat justified after the fact by the US Supreme Court several times. The loyalist rump of the Virginia General Assembly voted for secession from the commonwealth in 1862 and then constituted itself as the legislature of the new “state” of West Virginia. We do not want them back.
    From the Confederate point of view this was simply an extra-legal action taken by an occupying power. Judah Benjamin and Claude Devereux assure me that this is true.
    In re California, I think “Sasquatch” would be a better name for the far northern successor “state.” pl

  16. bstr says:

    I just returned from California. Where I attended a birthday party with in-laws. All of these were descendents of the Oklahoma evacuation of the thirties. Each a resident of either blue collar or red neck towns.Not a single person present under fifty years of age intended to vote for McCain.Please don’t break up California yet.

  17. Cieran says:

    In re California, I think “Sasquatch” would be a better name for the far northern successor “state.”
    Agreed, if the “Jefferson” of the proposed state’s name refers to Thomas Jefferson.
    But the old-timers who told me about this mythical state gave me the strong sense that they were referring to Jefferson Davis in their naming efforts. And just north of Yreka (the capital of that state) along the Klamath River is a little-known monument to Davis.
    So I have a suspicion that the name referred to the reluctant secessionist , not the founding father. And given your interest in the war between the states, I thought you might find that to be an interesting angle.

  18. different clue says:

    In Michigan’s Upper Penninsula there is a wax-and-wane movement to seccede
    from Michigan and name the new state Superior. Superior for the “Yoopers” and Michigan for the “Trolls”.
    If Northernmost California were to seccede, perhaps they could formalize
    and polish the name Sasquatch into something like Sasquatchia or Sasquatchansas. Or if they wanted to base the name on their signature Siskiyou region, they could call it Siskiana or Siskidaho.

  19. Indigestible says:

    From what I’ve heard of far northern California maybe the state should be called Marijuania? (Postal code MJ)
    I knew West Virginia was born of Virginia’s rib but I didn’t know the mechanics of it … very interesting.
    Maine entered the Union with Missouri in the Missouri Compromise. I always thought it was a Capitol Hill rather than a Beacon Hill (Mass Legislature) political deal. I’ll have to look deeper into that.
    The New England states seem to have lots of towns with the same common English place names (Manchester, MA, NH, CT, VT for example) except for Maine. I figured it was because they were part of Mass and Mass proper got first pick on the ‘good’ names.

  20. mike says:

    Indigestible –
    There is a Manchester in Maine, settled I believe a decade or so prior to the first Constitutional Convention. Lots of Mancunians or Mancs as they are called immigrated to the New England area in the 17th century.

  21. g. powell says:

    Here is my proposal for constitutional refrom (we’re going to have big changes in any case with the collapse of the economy:
    The number of states is set at 50. It’s a nice round number, the stars fit on the flag nicely.
    No state shall have more senators than representatives.
    Montana, Idaho plus Wyoming merge. The Dakotas merge.
    Spilt Calif, Texas (that should be fun) Florida and NY.
    I need to get rid of one more state. Maybe make Alaska a territory again.

  22. Will says:

    re CA OUCH
    there is an already
    Alta California
    Baja California
    in the literature of
    the Raza

  23. Patrick Lang says:

    If you look at the section of Article 4 that I quoted, you will see that what you propose can not be achieved without the consent of the states. The states will not agree to be reorganized out of existence. They share sovereignty with the federal government and the people.
    Force majeure as a method? Not possible. The federal government lacks the capability, even if it had the desire. pl

  24. rjj says:

    I need to get rid of one more state. Maybe make Alaska a territory again.

    Merge Massachusetts with Vermont, Maine with New Hampshire (these people are happier with their own kind) and you can split California into three. The Sasquatchians will be poorer, happier, and more fit (in the Darwinian sense) with a higher base mechanicals/creative class ratio. It would be ideal if they could annex those inland preserves of the vocational arts (such as Bakersfield, where you can still find skilled machinists and other virtuosi of the practical). Perhaps some sort of relocation program …

  25. Trever says:

    Why not just expand the House of Representatives- this is one reason we conduct a census. Larger states get representation according to size while smaller states still maintain their position via the Senate. This would seem to be the solution provided by our forefathers.
    I also wonder if expansion might not also positively affect campaign finance.

  26. AJM says:

    Sorry. Lots of the founders were proto-political scientists and read deeply in the political theory of their time. Ignorance is not a virtue.

  27. Patrick Lang says:

    Your comment is incomprehensible to me. pl

  28. Twit says:

    AJM: There is wide chasm between political PHILOSOPHERS and political ‘scientists.’ The Founders were well versed in the former, and thankfully unpolluted by the latter. Philosophy is at core the ‘study of wisdom,’ so political philosophy is in essence the study of wise governance of society.
    Political science on the other hand is in essence a mostly superficial, drawn-out, self-referencing conversation among US and UK professors.
    In 100 years, this conversation will be largely irrelevant, but political philosophy will live on.

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