A group of voters from a sparsely populated region in Maryland want to form their own state, and they are threatening to secede from Maryland in order to do so. The group, which calls itself the Western Maryland Initiative (WMI), is dissatisfied with the fact that, in a democracy, people with minority views are frequently outvoted by people with more common views. As the Washington Post explains, this movement — as well as similar movements in places like Colorado and California — arose because a “population boom in urban areas such as Baltimore and the Maryland suburbs near the District, the Boulder-Denver areas in Colorado, and in Detroit have filled state legislatures with liberal policymakers pushing progressive agendas out of sync with rural residents, who feel increasingly isolated and marginalized.”
The five western Maryland counties that would secede under the WMI’s proposal make up just 11 percent of the state’s population — less than 650,000 people. That means that the new state would have only slightly more people than the District of Columbia, although, unlike D.C., if Western Maryland were to secede from Maryland it would still receive two entire U.S. Senators and a representative in the House.
This effort to carve a blood red state from the barely populated areas of blue Maryland is unlikely to succeed. The Constitution provides that “no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.” But the effort highlights three absurdities about the way small states are given a disproportionate among of influence in American government. If Western Maryland became a state, it wouldn’t even be the least populous state in the country. That honor goes to Wyoming, with its 576,412 residents. Indeed, because each state receives two senators regardless of population, a voter in Wyoming has 66 times as much representation in the Senate as a voter in the most populous state, California.
Additionally, each state is entitled to at least one representative in the House, regardless of its population. Thus, Western Maryland would receive an entire House member despite its small population. Though the House is not nearly as malapportioned as the Senate, the requirement that each state receive at least one representative creates absurdities of its own. Wyoming receives one representative for the just over half a million residents living in the state. Meanwhile, just over the border in Montana, the poor residents of that state only receive one representative for their more than one million residents.
Finally, the Electoral College would guarantee Western Maryland three entire electoral votes. Currently, the Electoral College gives Wyoming residents more than three times as much say in a presidential election as California residents. California receives approximately one electoral vote for every 690,000 residents, while Wyoming enjoys approximately one vote for every 190,000 residents. If Western Maryland became a state, it would look a whole lot more like Wyoming than it would like California.
In other words, whatever the virtue of giving the conservative residents of a sparsely populated region of Maryland more control over their local affairs, the absurd way that the United States allocates power at the federal level precludes allowing such rump movements to secede from their states. Wyoming, with its two senators and exaggerated influence in the House and Electoral College is already an affront to democracy — the Western Maryland Initiative would give us another Wyoming.