The Senate barely confirmed Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s nominee to be the next Secretary of Education, on Tuesday. Senators split 50–50, with Vice President Pence casting the tie-breaking vote.
DeVos attracted bipartisan opposition — Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cast “no” votes — after she failed basic questions about education policy during her confirmation hearing.
DeVos did not appear to understand the difference between testing that measures growth (how much a student has learned since their last test) and proficiency (whether a student has reached a certain baseline). She blanked on a major law protecting children with disabilities. At one point, she said guns might be needed in schools to “protect from potential grizzlies.”
And yet the Senate was evenly divided over whether DeVos should be placed in charge of a cabinet agency that she seems to know little about. That is because the Senate is itself malapportioned to give voters in smaller states much greater voices than other voters.
The 50 senators who opposed DeVos represent 179,381,386 people, while the 50 senators who supported her represent only 143,064,962 individuals.
ThinkProgress calculated these numbers using 2016 population estimates from the U.S. Census. In states where both senators supported DeVos, we allocated the entire state’s population to the “FOR” column. Likewise, in states where both senators opposed her, we allocated their state’s entire population to the “AGAINST” column. In states where the two senators split their votes, we allocated half of the state’s population to “FOR” and half to “AGAINST.”
You can check our work here.
The most populous state in the union is California, with 39,250,017 residents. The least populous is Wyoming, with 585,501. That means that a voter in Wyoming has more than 67 times as much representation in the Senate as a voter in California.
And that’s how we got an Education secretary who doesn’t know very basic things about education.