Q. 24: Who Does a U.S. Senator Represent?

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A United States Senator represents all the people of the state.

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.

Who does a U.S. Senator represent?

Answer:

All people of the state.

The following is a full explanation of the USCIS question:

U.S. Senators Represent Everyone in Their State

Today, a United States Senator represents everyone in their state. But that was not always the case. Rather, this representation is a result of the 17th Amendment. Before the ratification of the 17th Amendment, United States Senators only represented the state government who appointed them to their position.

The 17th Amendment

Prior to the ratification of the 17th Amendment, senators were appointed to their United States Senate seat by each state legislature. To fill their two available seats, the legislature, not the people, voted for the senator. This appointed senator only represented the interests of the state government.

By 1850, many senatorial seats remained vacant for years due to deadlocks. Some states went as far as redefining the word quorum so that they were able to appoint a senator to the United States Congress with a plurality rather than the required simple majority.

There were also questions of whether the appointed senators had the necessary competency for the position or if they were merely appointed as a result of graft and corruption. After several thorough investigations into their members, the Senate discovered that several of their colleagues had been appointed due to corruption. 

Subsequently, their appointments were nullified through a floor vote.

The 17th Amendment was enacted to combat the issues of deadlock, graft, and corruption, as well as proper representation. The amendment took the power of appointment away from state legislatures and gave that power to the people. By 1913, every state in the Union had begun electing senatorial representation through the popular vote.

Equal Suffrage Under the Constitution

Equal suffrage is a constitutional right guaranteed under Article 5 of the Constitution. According to this right, it is declared that the Constitution may not be amended in any way that would otherwise deprive a state of its right of representation in the Senate. This right to equal representation ensures that each of the 50 states is represented by two senators. For this reason, the most populous states in the Union have the same number of senators as the least populous states.

Article 5 is very clear that this right only belongs to states and not to districts or territories of the United States. As a result, neither the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, nor any of the other territories have senatorial representation, despite the fact that they all elected non-voting members to the House of Representatives.

Six-Year Terms in Office

Since the founding of the United States, senators have always served six-year terms. Regardless of whether they were appointed by the state legislature or elected by popular vote, a senator may only serve six years at a time.

Like the House of Representatives, the terms of the 100 United States senators are staggered so that one-third of the seats will hold an election every two years. To do this, the Senate is divided into three classes, for which no state has both senators in the same class. As a result, unless there is a special election, only one of the state’s senators will be up for reelection at a time.

Although each senator is limited to a term of six years, that position is not term-limited. In other words, there are no limitations set by the Constitution as to the total number of terms that a senator may be reelected to. As a result, senators who properly represent the people of their state are often reelected time and time again. The longest-serving senator to date is Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, who passed away in 2010, halfway through his ninth term in office.

Senate Elections

In the United States, the first Tuesday immediately following the first Monday of November is known as election day. Election day occurs every two years on even-numbered years. During this biennial Senate race, voters all across the country elect representatives for their districts, senators for their states, and the president of the United States. Most states also have a number of state and local elections on the same date.

Congressional representatives are elected based on districts. A state can have multiple districts, and in some cases, large metropolitan areas may be divided into multiple different districts. But unlike choosing your congressman or congresswoman, when you vote for a senator, you elect someone to represent everyone throughout the state.

However, the power to hold these elections falls to the state level. As a result, each state has its own rules and regulations for the conduction of elections. In 45 of the 50 US states, a primary is held so that members of either party can choose which candidate they want to see on the ballot in November. In the remaining states, there are usually a large number of candidates appearing on the ballot, and if none of them win a plurality, then the two candidates with the most votes will face a runoff election.

Qualifications Required for Senators

The qualifications for a senator are outlined in Section 3 of Article 1 of the Constitution. Accordingly, a senatorial candidate must be 30 years of age or older. While only natural citizens can run for president, an immigrant may run for Senate so long as they have been a legal citizen for a minimum of nine years before the election.

On the other hand, Congressional candidates only need to be 25 years of age. And immigrants may run for a congressional office as long as they have been citizens for at least seven years before the election. In Federalist No. 62, James Madison explained the importance of more stringent requirements for senatorial candidates versus congressional candidates. He believed that to become a senator, one must have the propriety of a stable character which comes through the acquisition of experience and understanding.

Senate Vacancies

Although the 17th Amendment took away the power of the state legislature to appoint senators, it also gave power to the state’s governor to appoint a replacement until a special election can take place. This is a result of the understanding that the legislative branch of the United States federal government must continue to operate regardless of whether its members pass away or resigns. Naturally, since it takes time to hold a special election, it makes sense for a governor to make a temporary appointment until a replacement can be elected.

However, as with much of the election process, the power to elect senators falls to the individual state governments. With over 50 states in the Union, the rules for appointments and special elections vary greatly from state to state. 

Five U.S. states do not allow the governor to make appointments at all. In nine states, the governor is allowed to make an appointment, provided that a special election is held as soon as possible. The remaining states provide the governor with the power to appoint a replacement who will serve the remaining term of the senator he or she is replacing in Washington DC.

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