December 6, 2021

Voting Power in the Senate

As the Constitutional Convention deliberated in Independence Hall in 1787, a significant debate emerged that pitted the smaller states against the larger ones. The issue of representation within a proposed dual system, known as the House of Representatives and the Senate, had created a fiery dilemma that was threatening to break up the convention and put formation of a new national government in doubt.

Voting Power in the Senate - The Constitution with a gavel on top and the United States of America flag draped next to it

The larger states held that because they contributed more financially to the well-being of the country, they should enjoy greater representation in both the House and the Senate. The smaller states viewed this as a direct assault on their sovereignty; diminishing their ability to wield any power within the confines of the newly constructed Constitution.

After weeks of heated debate and political clashes a compromise was adopted on July 16, 1787. Only one vote separated the positions. The Connecticut Compromise granted proportional representation to the lower House (the Representatives) and equal representation to the upper house (the Senate). In the House of Representatives representation would be based on the state’s population as reported by the most recent census.  In the Senate, each state would be represented by two Senators no matter the population disparity.

According to the United States census of 1790, there were roughly 4 million people living in the country’s 13 states. Pennsylvania led the way with about 430,000 and the smallest state Rhode Island had about 68,000. This amounted to an approximate 6:1 margin, which at the time was viewed as a sizeable difference. 

Today almost 330 million people reside in the United States of America. Additionally, the largest state is now California with a population of just under 40 million. Wyoming ranks as the smallest state whose 579,000 residents is only slightly above par with largest states at the time of the Connecticut Compromise. This means that over the last 233 years the disparity between the smallest and largest states has grown from a modest 6:1 margin to a noteworthy 68:1 margin. Today, the residents of Wyoming boast 68 times the voting power in the Senate than the residents of California.