Q. 19: We Elect a US Senator for How Many Years?

United States Capitol dome
United States Senators are elected to serve a six-year term.

To pass the US citizenship test, you will have to answer 10 of a possible 100 questions. The following question is from the USCIS test.

We elect a US Senator for how many years?

Answer:

Six.

The following is a full explanation of the USCIS question:

United States Senators and Their Term of Service

The United States Constitution has provided the foundation for the rule of law in America for nearly 250 years, proving itself as one of the world’s most successful constitutions. It employs a system of checks and balances to ensure that no one branch of government becomes too powerful. The legislative branch is composed of a bicameral Congress, with a Senate and House of Representatives, and is delegated the highest number of responsibilities within the federal government.

Senators serve a six-year term, the longest term length established by the constitution. They are categorized into separate classes, each comprising roughly one-third of the body, with a different class being elected every two years. As only one-third of members are elected every national election, the turnover of the Senate is much less significant than the House, reflecting the Founding Fathers’ desire to provide steady, consistent leadership in this body.

Senator Qualifications and Requirements

Senators need to be at least 30 years old, a citizen of the United States for at least nine years, and a resident of the state they are seeking election from. They are entitled to receive compensation from the United States government and are not subject to term limits. They are prohibited from being appointed to a civil office created during their term of service or whose compensation was increased during that time.

Specific Responsibilities of the Senate/Senators

Senators work closely with the president on the appointment of all civil officers and judges, providing important advice and input. The Senate must approve all appointments by the president and any treaties made by the president with foreign nations. The United States Constitution declares that two-thirds of senators must approve all treaties made with foreign nations but does not specify an amount for the nomination of civil officers and judges, implying that a majority vote is adequate.

The Senate is in charge of trying any civil officer or judge impeached by the House, including the president or vice president. A two-thirds vote is required to convict the impeached individual and remove them from office. While the Senate tries the case, the chief justice presides over the trial. 

The Senate also must choose a President pro tempore, a senator responsible for presiding over the Senate if the vice president isn’t available. This officer is fourth in line in the presidential order of succession, behind the president, vice president, and House Speaker. If no presidential or vice-presidential candidate wins a majority of electoral votes in an election, the Senate is responsible for choosing the vice president.

General Responsibilities of the Senate/Senators

The Senate has many collective responsibilities with the House, including issuing and collecting taxes, tariffs, and other forms of revenue. While no bills dealing with taxes can originate from the Senate, senators can include amendments to any bills about taxation passed by the House. The Senate is also authorized to borrow money on the government’s credit and regulate all forms of interstate and foreign commerce.

The Senate, along with the House, is responsible for writing all laws regulating naturalization and creating a system for dealing with bankruptcies. It is authorized to print money and establish a consistent monetary system across the country, a very important need at the outset of its creation. It is also responsible for determining any punishments for creating counterfeit currency.

In conjunction with the House, the Senate is in charge of developing and maintaining a postal system and roads, creating copyright laws, and establishing federal courts as needed under the authority of the Supreme Court. It can help raise and support armed forces, regulate all aspects of the armed forces, and issue letters of reprisal. Finally, two-thirds of senators and two-thirds of members of the House can override a president’s veto on legislation.

Election of Senators and the 17th Amendment

In the original constitution, senators were elected by the state legislature, instead of by a direct vote of the people. The indirect process reflected the concerns the Founding Fathers had toward the perils of total democracy, recognizing that an effective republican government required safeguards to prevent the tyranny of the majority. The only members of the federal government elected by a direct vote in the original United States Constitution are members of the House. 

The 17th Amendment changed the election of senators from an indirect vote of the people through the state legislature to a direct vote by the people. It was proposed by the 62nd Congress in 1912 and ratified on April 8, 1913, after three-quarters of state legislatures approved the measure.

The change in the voting process arose as a result of corruption in Senate elections where candidates would often buy votes from members of the state legislature and the frequent occurrence of electoral deadlocks where legislatures could not agree on a candidate.

Political Constituency of Senators in the 21st Century

The Senate has been almost equally divided between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party for most of the 21st Century. From 2001 to 2021, Democrats have averaged 50.3 seats, and Republicans 49.7 seats. The only significant Senate majority occurred in the 111th Congress from 2009-2011, when Democrats controlled 58 seats.

The current Senate make-up of 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans illustrates the current political divide in the United States that has prevented either party from amassing a significant presence in the Senate. As long as the two-party system dominates American politics, it’s unlikely that one will gain a substantial advantage over the other.

Upcoming 2022 Mid-Term Election

The upcoming 2022 mid-term election has many competitive Senate races in key battleground states that can potentially change the balance of power in the Senate significantly. Some of the closest races include Senate seats in Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Hampshire, Arizona, and Nevada. While Republicans seem well-positioned to pick up about 3-5 seats, Democrats have historically performed well in close Senate races in recent elections. 

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