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Half Of The U.S. Population Lives On Just A Tiny Amount Of Land

And when Los Angeles county alone has the same population as 11 U.S. states combined, the politics of the U.S. Senate become increasingly skewed and unequal.

Half Of The U.S. Population Lives On Just A Tiny Amount Of Land
[Top Photo: Baerbel Schmidt/Getty Images]

If you live in Wyoming, you have 66 times the voting power in the Senate of someone in California. In Vermont, you have 30 times the voting power of someone across the state border in New York.

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It’s simple math: Every state has two United States senators, but each has very different populations, and the gap keeps getting bigger as more people move to a handful of cities on the coasts.

A series of new maps from Jishai Evers, CEO of Dadaviz, makes the point clear. Los Angeles county, the largest county in the country, has the same population as 11 states combined. Half of the entire population of the U.S. lives in 4% of its counties.

Votes from different states are so far from being equal that some have called the U.S. Senate the least democratic legislative chamber in any democracy.

It’s not a new problem, but it keeps getting worse. “It continues to push the Senate out of step,” says Frances Lee, a government and politics professor at the University of Maryland who studies the disparity. “This becomes progressively more relevant when there are issues that divide the large states from the small states.”

As big states keep getting bigger, they’re also becoming more urban and liberal, while most smaller states stay rural and more conservative, causing splits on everything from gun control to immigration. The Senate is also less likely to consider urban issues.

“Urban transportation is something the Senate doesn’t take much interest in,” Lee says. “Labor unions do much better in the House than the Senate. There are long-term tilts of priorities and preferences between these two institutions that are grounded in the bases of representation.”

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Since the Constitution guarantees two Senators per state, it’s not something that’s likely to change. “The one way to change is to break states apart,” she says. “Large states could subdivide.” Though some want to start chopping up California into six new states (“West California” would have roughly the same population as Ohio or Illinois, while the state of Silicon Valley would be the size of Massachusetts), it’s probably unlikely to happen soon.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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