The Structure of the Senate in Washington, D.C. - dummies

The Structure of the Senate in Washington, D.C.

By Greg Rushford

The Senate in Washington, D.C., is composed of two elected officials from each state in the Union, so the Senate has 100 members. In the Senate, each state gets an equal vote: Wyoming and California each have two representatives, as do Alaska and New York.

Equal representation in the Senate was an essential component of the Great Compromise of the Constitutional Convention (back in 1787), reassuring smaller states that their voices would not be drowned out by the more populous ones.

Senators serve six-year terms, and Senate races are staggered so this body doesn’t experience radical turnover in any given election year; one-third of Senate seats are up for election every two years. (Historical tidbit: Initially, senators weren’t elected, but rather appointed by state legislatures.) Someone has to be at least 30 years old to run for a Senate seat.

The Senate is considered a higher chamber than the House, the upper house of Congress. That does not mean that it’s more powerful than the House; in fact, because the Senate cannot introduce revenue and appropriations bills, you can argue that the House has more power. However, the Senate has greater oversight over the executive branch than the House does because it can approve or reject nominations and treaties.