How Does the Senate Count?


Our Constitution has left us with some unintended consequences. The worst of which may be allocating Senate seats to places where people don’t live in large numbers. The result is a wide disparity in representation, with the minority of people being represented as the majority.


by Blake Pembroke

A couple weeks ago, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, received 1,233,055 votes from his Kentucky voters. The last time Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer was up for election, he received 5,221,967 votes from his New York voters. Even though more than four times more people selected Schumer to have their voices heard compared to McConnell’s voters, each occupies one seat in the Senate where they have an equal vote on issues such as who sits on the Supreme Court, passing health care legislation, dealing with climate change and who gets tax breaks.

This made me wonder how this plays out in the overall Senate in our supposedly representational democracy, not just among the leaders in each party but as a whole.


Math by Way of the U.S. Senate

One way to look at who the Senate represents is by total population in each state. There are 100 U.S. senators and the state populations they represent total 330.6 million people. The current balance in the U.S. Senate is 53 Republican and 47 Democrats (including two independents.) Allocating the state populations represented by red and blue Senate seats, the 53 Republican senators represent a total population of 159.5 million people and the 47 Democrats represent 171.1 million people.

That means that on average each Republican senator represents 3 million people, and every Democratic senator represents 3.6 million people. Another way to look at this is that when the Senate votes on party lines, as it seems to do regularly, the Republican majority in the Senate represents 48.2% of the country’s population, while the Democratic minority represents 51.8% of the country’s population. Looking at the average family size, each member of the Senate’s Democratic minority represents almost 200,000 more American families than each senator the Republican “majority” on average.


The U.S. Senate Math Applied to Presidential Elections

For those who care more about presidential elections than the peculiarities of the U.S. Senate, the Electoral College system we have for selecting the president, automatically allocates two electors to each state, one for each Senate seat. Wyoming, for example, gets three electors instead of one elector based on its tiny population.

The final electoral count in the 2020 election was 306 for Joe Biden and 232 for Donald Trump, 56.9% to 43.1% of the Electoral College. If the Electoral College was based on true representation of population by eliminating the two electors automatically allocated for each state’s senate seats, the results of the 2020 election would be 254 to 182 in favor of Biden, 58.3% to 41.7%. Our Electoral College system automatically skews the results in favor of Republicans by 1.4%. This isn’t political opinion, it’s just actual math.

The current construction of the Electoral College tilts the scale towards Republicans and ignores the representation of 4.6 million people by design, a population roughly equal to Kentucky, Oregon or Louisiana.

Blake Pembroke, Nov. 16, 2020


The people of Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia are not represented by a U.S. senator so their populations are subtracted from the total 334.4 million U.S. population to get 330.6 million.

Coincidentally the Electoral College split in 2020, 306-232, is exactly the same split in the 2016 election that Trump continuously called his “landslide” victory.

The District of Columbia gets three electoral votes as if they had 2 U.S. senators, which they don’t, so the total electors in a Senate-less Electoral College is 436, which is 538 – 102.