Sasse’s call to repeal 17th Amendment reflects broader attack on democracy


Carolyn Kaster / AP

In this Sept. 27, 2018, file photo, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., walks on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Until the early 20th century, U.S. senators were chosen by state legislatures and not by the voters themselves. But the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913 changed that, allowing all Americans to vote for their senators.

A wonderful step forward for our nation’s democracy, don’t you think? Putting the election of senators in people’s hands on a statewide vote placed it outside of the possibility of gerrymandering, state-level power brokers and corruption. Who would possibly be opposed the public choosing its senators?

Brace yourself: The answer is today’s Republican Party.

Last week, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse called to repeal the 17th Amendment and proposed robbing Americans of their votes for the Senate.

Of course, Sasse didn’t mention the part about robbing people of voting power. But that would be the effect of his proposal, which is part of a coast-to-coast attempt by Republicans to weaken voting rights and tilt the system permanently in their favor.

Sasse posed the repeal in a column in The Wall Street Journal, presenting it as a way to address party tribalism in the Senate and restore bipartisanship. He offered a loony premise that letting state lawmakers pick their senators would increase local control by somehow lessening the influence of national political players on state politics.

Meanwhile, he completely ignores the countless occasions in recent years where the federal courts have found outrageous violations of voting rights and representation at the state level. In America, sadly, corruption at the statehouse level is by far the most common form of political corruption – at least until Donald Trump and his mafiosos arrived in Washington. The statehouse is not where the Senate should be chosen.

Sasse’s claims are sheer blather. This is about one thing -- another attempt to take democracy out of the hands of the many and put it in the hands of the few.

It’s one of the modern Republican Party’s central causes, which we see in a dizzying number of ways.

Sometimes it’s outlandish gerrymandering to greatly reduce the power of Democratic or minority voters. Sometimes it’s GOP-imposed voter restrictions in various states, such as moving polling sites to inconvenient places, eliminating or reducing early voting, or opposing mail-in voting.

Sometimes it’s manipulating the vote, such as when Wisconsin lawmakers tried to reduce turnout in that state’s primary this year by forcing voters to the polls during the heart of the pandemic.

Then there’s outright fraud and cheating — forging ballots, throwing away ballots, sending out phony ballots to trick voters into filing those instead of legitimate ones, etc.

Republicans are doing all of this, and more, in a full-out assault on democracy that goes beyond voting. Let’s not forget that in states where Democratic governors were elected in 2018, lame-duck Republican-controlled Legislatures imposed restrictions on those governors’ powers before they could be inaugurated.

The will of the electorate is of no interest to Republicans.

The GOP’s thrust is to rig the system before they’re hit by an incoming tidal wave of young voters and a rising number of Americans of color -- voters who typically favor Democrats. Republicans know their days are numbered.

If they were smart and open to new ideas and people, if they wanted to actually earn their offices by responding to the public, the GOP would embrace issues of youth and extend a hand to voters of color. Instead they try to disenfranchise them.

Now comes Sasse and his bid to repeal the 17th Amendment, which is another part of his party’s desperate attempt to pull up the ladder behind it.

It’s the epitome of being anti-American. For 107 years, we’ve had the right to vote for our senators as opposed to allowing our go-betweens to do it. That’s as it should be in a country that cherishes democracy, and has defended it against powers that would take away our voting rights.

In November, voters can tell the Republicans what they think loudly and clearly about efforts to limit American voices — with their votes.

After all, if the assaults on the vote from the GOP continue, perhaps the 19th Amendment – the right for women to vote, which just notched its 100th anniversary – might be next on the GOP chopping block.