17 September 2009


In 1910, Congress decided they no longer wanted to follow the Constitution.

Well, it's actually arguable when exactly that decision was made, but in 1910, the size of the House of Representatives was frozen at 435. It had steadily increased since the founding, expanding from 65 as it tracked the growth of the population. This was in keeping with the second section of the first article of the Constitution, which says in part:
The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative.

This wasn't convenient to them, though, since increases in population with western expansion threatened the east's dominance. So they froze it, and it has stayed that size ever since.

This is why a voter in Delaware has a third again as much representation as I and other Florida voters do; the tiny states of the northeast each get a representative, whereas the rest of the country in the populous states has to divide the same-sized pie among a swelling number of voters.

A recent NYT editorial reminded me of this problem that had been bothering me for some time. But I don't see a solution. The House is already unwieldy and operates as a reflexive mob, so more than doubling or tripling its size to follow the Constitution would need to be accompanied by some kind of reforms to make it an effective body. What could those reforms be? I don't know.

EDIT: No doubt prompted by the same editorial, Nate Silver at 538 weighs in on the topic, sort of, arguing that instead an additional 50 Senate seats should be distributed based on population. It has some merit.
Right idea, wrong chamber.

Indeed, the better idea would be to push for a constitutional amendment not to eliminate the Senate, or even to make it exactly like the House, but to at least move it closer toward more equipopulous representation. For example, if we added another 50 senate seats, to be redistributed based on population above and beyond the guaranteed two each state already receives, that would bring it in somewhat closer proportion. We could even set an upper limit so that no state has, say, more than five as well as none having fewer than two. That would actually go some distance, however partial, toward remedying the grotesque disparities of the Senate--and yet still give smaller states a disproportionate share of the seats relative to their population shares, just not as disproportionate.

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