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Constitution Monday: Direct Election of Senators

Here is the 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

AMENDMENT XVII

Passed by Congress May 13, 1912. Ratified April 8, 1913.

Note: Article I, section 3, of the Constitution was modified by the 17th amendment.

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.

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

These days we taking voting for our Senators for granted and many of us assume that’s just the way it’s always been. But it’s only been true for less than half the lifetime of our country. Before 1913, Senators were elected by their state legislatures. It was built that way into the original Constitution as a way of protecting States rights. The House of Representatives was considered “the people’s house” while the Senate consisted of men expected to follow the wishes of their state governments.

By the early 1900s it was widely felt that the US Senate was wildly out of touch with people back home and in the grip of special interests. The backers of the 17th Amendment felt that making Senators directly accountable to the voters of their state would break this close alliance with special interests. It was an experiment. Do you think we’re better off? Should we go back to indirect elections? If not, what should we do?

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