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Regionalism, Rotten Boroughs, Race, and Realignment: The Seventeenth Amendment and the Politics of Representation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 1999

University of California, Santa Cruz


Struggles, both political and intellectual, over electoral structures – the legal arrangements, to borrow from Harold Lasswell, of who gets to vote for what, when, and how – are probably as old as democracy. Suffrage, its expansion and contraction, is no doubt the most prominent historical feature in the politics and study of electoral structures. But the “how” and “for what” of voting have also played crucial, though perhaps less understood, roles in the politics of democratization. However important the right of suffrage, political power is also allocated by both the “space,” for lack of a better word, that a vote occupies and affects (for example, districts or at-large) and the object of the vote (for example, representation or a referendum). Electoral structures are the quintessential “mobilization of bias.”E.E. Schattschneider, The Semisovereign People: a Realist's View of Democracy in America (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960). See also, Benjamin Ginsberg, The Consequences of Consent: Elections, Citizen Control, and Popular Acquiescence (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1982). And they remain, in this era of universal suffrage, an ongoing object of contention even in stable regimes such as the United States.Indeed, few issues have such a consistent legal and political presence at all levels of American government. Most recently, the controversy over majority-minority districts has produced a significant political struggle involving state governments, Congress, the executive branch, and the courts, as well as a rapidly expanding scholarly debate over the rights and wrongs, and causes and effects of forms of minority representation: Abigail M. Thernstrom, Whose Votes Count?: Affirmative Action and Minority Voting Rights (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987); Lani Guinier, The Tyranny of the Majority (New York: Free Press, 1994); Carol M. Swain, Black Faces, Black Interests (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995); David Lublin, The Paradox of Representation: Racial Gerrymandering and Minority Interests in Congress (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997).

Research Article
1999 Cambridge University Press

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