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U.S. News
17: Election of senators

Wednesday, November 27, 2002


Popular elections weren't all that popular with the authors of the Constitution. The president was to be chosen by an Electoral College. Members of the Senate were to be selected by state legislatures. Even Robert M. La Follette, the paragon of populism in the early 20th century, was picked for his early terms by the general assembly of Wisconsin. Five times the Senate rejected measures to mandate that all of its members be selected by popular vote. It was only after revelations that some in its ranks, such as W.A. Clark of Montana, were paying outright to win over legislators in their home states, that the 17th amendment -- mandating that senators be chosen by popular vote -- made it through a recalcitrant Senate.

Popular election has made the Senate less homogenous. In Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, left, a conservative from Western Pennsylvania, and moderate Arlen Specter, from Philadelphia, work side by side, differing on such issues as legal abortion, the impeachment of President Clinton and some judicial nominations. Both are Republicans. Specter was elected to the Senate in 1980 and Santorum joined him 14 years later.

Amendment XVII: 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.

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