The 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution is one that determines the manner or system in which United States Senators are to be appointed. It also provided for a term length for Senators, as well as procedures to be considered in the event that a State has a vacancy in the Senate.
The 17th Amendment was proposed on May 13th, 1912, with Connecticut being the last state needed to complete the ratification process for Constitutional Amendments on April 8th, 1913. From that date forward, all United States Senators would be appointed through a direct election by popular vote.
The 17th Amendment proposes that the Senate will be composed of two Senators from each state. Each Senator is to hold the position for a term of six years. Each Senator of a state will have one vote. In the case that a vacancy in the Senate in any state arises, the governor or executive authority of that state has the right to fill the vacancy by appointing a replacement through a popular vote.
Prior to the 17th Amendment, a governor had the authority to appoint a replacement of his choosing on an immediate basis. The appointed official would have to meet the requirements for such an office and would only serve until the next legislature would meet. One of the reasons that the 17th Amendment was adopted as one of the Constitutional Amendments is in direct relation to vacancies in the Senate existing for long periods of time. The election of Senators would often be deadlocked due to different parties holding control over the different Houses and their political interests would be a matter of conflict.
Prior to the popular vote election system, Senators would be appointed, and thus, several situations arose where officials would be appointed through the influence of outside factors, such as industries and financial interest groups, and investigations of bribery and corruption were a concern. Therefore, it became more apparent that Senators should be elected by the general populace of the State.
Before it became one of the Constitutional Amendments, the concept of Senator elections through a popular vote was being implemented by certain states. The “Oregon System” referred to the practice of states using their primary elections as a way to elect the citizen’s choice for a Senator position. More and more states would adopt this system as their choice for the election of Senators. However, investigations regarding the election of an Illinois Senator through unlawful practices made it clear that only Constitutional Amendments would solve this growing concern.
By 1910, almost two-thirds of the United States had implemented the practice of Senatorial elections through a popular vote which, under Article V of the United States Constitution, allows for the creation of a convention to proposed Amendments, pressuring Congress to propose an Amendment.
Although the 17th Amendment has proven to be one of the more successful Constitutional Amendments, it has been much disputed in recent years, with some factions even calling for its total repeal. Some politicians believe that the 17th Amendment gives too much power and authority to the United States Congress, allowing for special interest groups to influence the direct election of Senators.
Another key reason many oppose the 17th Amendment is due to the fact that 46 of the 50 states allow the governor to appoint a replacement in the Senate due to a vacancy. Even though the replacement is subject to be removed because an election is to be held, some may hold the position until the next general election is to be held. As of 2009, a bill was proposed to amend the power of governors to appoint Senators by repealing the clause entirely.