A major conservative legislation-crafting group is looking to alter how Senate elections work in the United States.
The American Legislative Exchange Council is responsible for writing and advocating for conservative laws, including the repeal of renewable energy standards, voter identification efforts, and the infamous “Stand Your Ground” law that allowed George Zimmerman to walk free on the night he killed Trayvon Martin. Now, the group is considering pushing for legislation to change how U.S. Senators get elected.
In an agenda for a December meeting posted on ALEC’s website, one of the items up for review is language for a bill, called the Equal State’s Enfranchisement Act, that would allow state legislatures to add a candidate’s name to the ballot for a U.S. senate seat, along with the names of those nominated by voters.
“A nomination petition stating that the United States Senate is the office to be filled, the name and residence of the candidate and other information required by this section shall be filed with each Presiding Officer of the legislature of the state of __________,” the model legislation states. “The petition shall be filed at the same time as primary nomination papers and petitions are required to be filed.” The language also adds that at least 20 percent of the “then-sitting members of the legislature” must sign onto the nomination.
If ALEC’s members decide to further pursue this act and manage to get it passed in any state, it would be an assault to the 17th Amendment of the Constitution.
For over a century, Senators were elected by state legislatures. This often led to stalemates, leaving Senate seats open for months at a time. But in 1913, the country ratified the 17th Amendment, which stipulates that Americans are to directly elect their senators:
The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislatures.
While this proposal isn’t full repeal of the 17th Amendment (it still allows voters a final say in who becomes a Senator and preserves party nomination of candidates), it is the latest in a long line of efforts to roll back, and potentially eventually repeal, the amendment. Several Senate candidates have argued that their own elections should be decided by state legislatures, and they’re even joined in that opinion by a sitting Supreme Court Justice. During the Texas race for Lieutenant Governor, both candidates unabashedly voiced their support for repealing it, saying that without it the country wouldn’t see “Gross overreaches of the federal government, like Obamacare.”
But on the whole, voters overwhelmingly disagree. In a Huffington Post poll conducted this month, 71 percent of voters said Senators should be elected by popular vote, and 64 percent said they believe the 17th Amendment should remain in place. A political science professor at Southern Methodist University, Cal Jillson, summed up the opposition this way when speaking with the Houston Chronicle: “We’ve moved away from the idea of white male elites guiding the authority to the idea that every citizen should have an equal role.” (HT: Huffington Post)