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A House Poorly Divided

Following the 13th census, in 1910, Congress enlarged the House to 435 members from 386 members and there it has remained, even as the number of Americans has more than tripled, from 92 million to 308 million. Ever since, the apportionment process has been able to allot new House seats to the fastest-growing states only by taking them away from states growing more slowly. Voters in some states have considerably more electoral clout than voters in others.

According to the Census Bureau, there are now 710,767 Americans in the average congressional district. But with every state constitutionally entitled to at least one House seat, and with the membership of the House frozen at 435, districts can deviate widely from the average.

An egregious violation of the “one man, one vote” principle is the inequality between Rhode Island’s two congressional districts, with 528,000 voters each, and Montana’s lone district, with 994,000. So great is that disparity, observes Scott Scharpen, the founder of an organization called Apportionment.US, that it takes 188 voters in Montana to equal 100 voters in Rhode Island.

The lawsuit, Clemons v. Department of Commerce, challenges the constitutionality of the law that permanently freezes the number of representatives in the U.S. House at 435 members. The case was filed in the US Supreme Court in September 2009.
The plaintiffs:

John Tyler Clemons, Jessica Wagner, Krystal Brunner, Lisa Schea and Frank Mylar

Mr. Clemons is a registered voter in the state of Mississippi; Ms. Wagner is a registered voter in the state of Montana; Ms. Brunner is a registered voter in the state of South Dakota; Ms. Schea is a registered voter in the state of Delaware; Mr. Mylar is a registered voter in the state of Utah.

The Supreme Court on December 13, 2010 refused to take up a lawsuit, initiated by Scharpen and others, that sought an order forcing Congress to dramatically enlarge the House of Representatives in order to equalize congressional districts. Unsurprisingly, the court ruled that the size of Congress is for members of Congress, not judges, to decide.

Scott Scharpen concludes the matter,

From the filing of the lawsuit in September 2009 up to last week’s ruling, the picture is now complete. Congress has ignored this issue for a half century. Both the Justice Department and the Solicitor General repeatedly stated that equality and proportionality of representation are not required. And the U.S. Supreme Court sidestepped the topic altogether. The result? American voters’ right to equality will continue to be deferred.

Now some of you might be thinking it is good news for conservatives who want small government that the Supreme Court refused to take up this case. Here is the problem I have with that kind of thinking. I want a government where the laws of the land are made by a legislative branch of the government that is most representative of We the People instead of a government where the laws of the land are made by commissars serving only to do what a President gives executive orders for them to do. If I wanted a small government like that I should live in Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, or North Korea.

Gamecock has wrote an excellent piece about a major issue our nation has got to deal with.

It seems a disconnect has developed between We the People and those we elect to represent us. Regulation without representation cannot stand.

I think the disconnect began a century ago when they stopped adding every 10 years approximately 50 seats to the US House so there would be no dilution of their power. We will never know the path not taken, but the size of the federal government executive branch grew a lot more in the last 100 years than it did in the previous 100 years when numbers of seats in the House grew with every 10 year census.

The larger districts grow, the less representative lawmakers become. Since 1910, the average number of constituents per House member has climbed from 210,000 to more than 710,000. Over the same span, members of Congress have grown more remote, more undefeatable, more beholden to special interests, and less capable of reflecting the diversity of their districts’ values and views. Congress worked better when the size of the House was elastic. The Framers reckoned congressional districts should contain about 30,000 constituents; districts comprising nearly three-quarters of a million would have struck them as ludicrous. The House has not increased its membership in 100 years even though the population of our country has more than tripled.

Scott Scharpen has listed here a list of 9 advantages of a larger U.S. House of Representatives:

  1. INCREASED accountability – as district sizes become smaller, each voter’s influence on their representative increases.
  2. DECREASED government spending – this seems counter-intuitive, but the data strongly support significant reductions in aggregate spending as the House grows in membership.
  3. INCREASED competition – the principles of free markets tell us that when competition is present, we get increased quality at a lower cost. With more House seats, races will be more competitive. The best illustrative example is comparing small New Hampshire (400 state house members with a high turnover rate of over 30%), to California, with its embarrassing lack of competition (state house of only 80 members with NO turnover – a 100% incumbent success rate for the past 4 election cycles).
  4. INCREASED voter turnout – data support that the smaller the district sizes, the greater percentage of voters turn out for the election
  5. DECREASED cost of running for office – the average winning campaign for a U.S. House seat in 2008 was approximately $1.5 million. This enormous financial barrier to entry prevents ‘average’ citizens from entering national politics, and gives incumbents a great advantage. If the average district size were reduced, more everyday Americans could run for public office.
  6. DECREASED scope of individual representatives – the problem with the current model is that power is too concentrated, making individual representatives much too influential in the legislative process. Diminishing their individual scope and influence should reduce the need for continual media appearances and campaigning, and re-focus their efforts on serving constituents as citizen-legislators.
  7. INCREASED freedom – a strong relationship exists between district size and freedom. At the state level, the smaller the average district size, the higher that state scores on various freedom indices.
  8. DECREASED propensity for gerrymandering – With a lot more districts, the concept of creating an oddball-shaped gerrymandered district makes much less sense and yields less value as compared to today’s model.
  9. INCREASED cost of lobbying – it’s much cheaper and easier to lobby 435 people than a significantly larger number. More representatives may equate to less influence of lobbyists and more protection for the American people.

On reason number nine I remind you of an important number in US politics. The number 270 is known by many political junkies to represent the number of votes of the Electoral College needed to become POTUS. That number also has represented for the last 100 years the minimum number of people needed to create a new federal agency or program.

218 House votes + 50 Senate votes + 1 VP Senate tie-breaker vote + 1 POTUS bill signing

Below I have listed what a US House of Representatives would look like with 935 members. It would take 468 votes to pass a bill. It would take 520 Electoral votes to elect a US President. Each House district would represent an average population of 330,209 instead of the current average population of 710,767.

  1. California 113
  2. Texas 76
  3. New York 59
  4. Florida 57
  5. Illinois 39
  6. Pennsylvania 38
  7. Ohio 35
  8. Michigan 30
  9. Georgia 29
  10. North Carolina 29
  11. New Jersey 27
  12. Virginia 24
  13. Washington 20
  14. Indiana 20
  15. Massachessetts 20
  16. Arizona 19
  17. Tennessee 19
  18. Missouri 18
  19. Wisconsin 17
  20. Maryland 17
  21. Minnesota 16
  22. Colorado 15
  23. Alabama 14
  24. South Carolina 14
  25. Louisiana 14
  26. Kentucky 13
  27. Oregon 12
  28. Oklahoma 11
  29. Connecticut 11
  30. Mississippi 9
  31. Arkansas 9
  32. Kansas 9
  33. Iowa 9
  34. Nevada 8
  35. Utah 8
  36. Nebraska 6
  37. New Mexico 6
  38. West Virginia 6
  39. Idaho 5
  40. New Hampshire 4
  41. Maine 4
  42. Hawaii 4
  43. Delaware 3
  44. Rhode Island 3
  45. Montana 3
  46. North Dakota 2
  47. South Dakota 2
  48. Vermont 2
  49. Alaska 2
  50. Wyoming 2

Cross-posted at The Minority Report

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