Q1: Aren’t the districts’ populations supposed to grow along with
the general population?
A1: No. Because smaller congressional districts greatly improve constituent monitoring of legislators and enhance legislators’ representation of constituent interests, most of the framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (and the states that ratified them) expected that the following principles would always apply:
- The size of the congressional districts should remain relatively small (e.g., no larger than 60,000). Instead, the average district size is approximately 700,000 and growing.
- The number of federal Representatives should grow proportionately with the general population. Instead, Congress has fixed the total number of Representatives at 435 ever since 1913.
- The Congressional districts should be equivalently sized across the nation pursuant to the one-person-one-vote principle. Instead, some House districts are currently nearly twice the size of others.
In fact, Federalist Papers 55 and 56 explicitly promised, without qualification, that there would be one Representative for every thirty-thousand inhabitants.
[See “Selling the Constitution” in Section I ]
Q2: How did the number of Representatives become fixed at 435?
A2: Because Congress passed a bill in 1929 to do so, as described by one Representative at the time:
“The bill seeks to prescribe a national policy under which the membership of the House shall never exceed 435 unless Congress, by affirmative action, overturns the formula and abandons the policy enunciated by this bill. I am unalterably opposed to limiting the membership of the House to the arbitrary number of 435. Why 435? Why not 400? Why not 300? Why not 250, 450, 535, or 600? Why is this number 435 sacred? What merit is there in having a membership of 435 that we would not have if the membership were 335 or 535? There is no sanctity in the number 435 … There is absolutely no reason, philosophy, or common sense in arbitrarily fixing the membership of the House at 435 or at any other number.”
[Missouri Representative Ralph Lozier, 1928]
The challenge posed by Representative Lozier in 1928 is still valid: is 435 a sacrosanct number or should it be subject to debate?
Q3: What is wrong with super-sized Congressional districts?
A3: As shown throughout this web pamphlet, a variety of adverse consequences have resulted from the enormous expansion of the Congressional districts. Some of these are relatively self-evident while others are far less conspicuous. These adverse consequences include the following:
- The federal House of Representatives is in egregious violation of the one person one vote principle due to the range in size of congressional districts across the country.
- The average continuous tenure of all Representatives serving in the 108th Congress (2003 - 2005) was 10.2 years. Of all the Representatives in the 108th Congress who sought reelection to the 109th, over 97% won. Once elected, Representatives become virtually undefeatable even if their performance in office has been mediocre, incompetent, or worse.
- The candidate who has a chameleonlike ability to appear agreeable (or at least not disagreeable) to the dominant constituency groups is most likely to prevail in an election over candidates who take principled stands. As a result, the diverse views and values of the American people are not being faithfully represented in the federal House.
- The smaller the House, relative to the total population, the greater is the risk of unethical collusion or myopic groupthink. In contrast “Numerous bodies … are less subject to venality and corruption”. [James Madison, 14-August-1789]
- In growing super-sized districts, far too much of the Representative’s time is consumed by campaigning for reelection every two years. Campaigning to a district of 50,000, for example, would require far less time and effort than campaigning to nearly 800,000. Reducing the time spent campaigning would allow the legislator to devote more time to their primary responsibilities (e.g., reading legislation, providing constituency services, etc.).
- Except for those who are independently wealthy, election and reelection campaigns in super-sized districts require that the Representatives solicit considerable sums of money on a nearly continuous basis. Raising the large sums required is not only unseemly and time-consuming, but can also create the appearance (if not the actuality) of corruption and, furthermore, requires a dependency upon lobbyists and other special interests for campaign funds.
- The President and Vice-President are indirectly elected via the Electoral College, the size of which is largely a function of the number of House Representatives. For reasons that can only be explained mathematically, the smaller the Electoral College the less likely it will reflect the popular vote. [Section IX: The Electoral College]
As a result of the foregoing, citizens have been gradually becoming estranged from the federal government and, feeling disaffected, are failing to vote at alarmingly high rates. Low voter turnout creates a political vacuum that is frequently filled by mobilized fringe interest groups which can exert an inordinate influence over the outcome of elections.
The purpose of our federal House should not only be to represent the citizenry, but also to protect the citizens from the government. As is shown in this web pamphlet, the House of Representatives has devolved into a virtual oligarchy. It is also worth noting that the United States has the second largest House districts in the world (with India having the largest). [Source: Section III]
Q4: What is the Solution?
A4:The solution is to substantially increase the number of congressional districts in accordance with the original vision of the Founding Fathers. Thirty-thousand.org advocates the bill passed by the House in 1789: to require there be at least one Representative for every 50,000 people. At the current population level of approximately 300 million people, that formulation would require a minimum of 6,000 congressional districts.
As it turns out, one for every 50,000 people is not an arbitrary ratio. With some Congressional districts nearly twice as large as others, the House is now in egregious violation of the constitutional principle of one person one vote. Achieving minimal parity among the districts requires that we reduce the population difference — between the smallest and largest districts — to less than 5%. Calculating the number of Representatives necessary to reach this level of parity (for any given population level) is a matter of mathematics. At a current population level of approximately 300 million people, over 6,300 Representatives would be required to bring the House into compliance with one-person-one-vote. If we are not willing to apply this principle to the nation’s supreme assembly, then there is little value in imposing it upon our subordinate ones.
Q5: Do we need more politicians?
A5: No, we clearly do not; instead, we need more representation.
In this context, a “politician” is a person who is more concerned about winning favor or retaining power than about maintaining principles. It is contended here that, as the congressional districts became larger, those candidates who are cleverly ambiguous in expressing their positions will usually prevail over candidates who clearly take principled stands. This is because as districts grow larger they become increasingly diverse; in which case it becomes more likely that single-issue opposition can be effectively mobilized against a principled candidate relative to at least one of his or her positions. This process is further exacerbated by high citizen apathy: low voter turnout magnifies the political power of mobilized fringe groups.
However, as districts become smaller the politician’s more discreditable skills (i.e., dissimulation and obfuscation) will become less advantageous. In fact, these skills will likely become detrimental due to people’s innate ability to perceive such guile. Voters in relatively small districts will come to demand that candidates clearly articulate unambiguous positions.
Q6: What about the diverse views and values of the American people?
A6: The diverse views and values of the American people are currently being homogenized within super-sized political districts resulting in the election of politicians rather than Representatives. These elected politicians rarely represent or champion clearly defined principles; instead, many function as career conciliators who can derive greater success by serving the special interest groups than by bravely advancing principles.
In contrast, in a larger House the diverse views and values of the American people will find full expression through their Representatives. The House will return to being a people’s House in which the diverse interests and concerns of the American people can be openly championed. Of course, that does not mean that everyone’s positions will prevail; that can never happen, nor should it. However, you will at least hear one or more Representatives earnestly and unambiguously advocating your view (whatever that is). Perhaps in being heard, it will affect the outcome of the matter under consideration. Or perhaps it will not change the outcome at all but, at least, it will have been clearly articulated. Just as importantly, having been competently advocated in that eminent forum, the views expressed may eventually change the minds of others.
Q7: Wouldn’t more Representatives mean a bigger government?
A7: It is important to make a distinction between governance and government. In this context, “governance” refers to the management of the “government” (at the legislative and budgetary level) by our elected representatives. In contrast, government encompasses the institutions and bureaucracy that are created and funded for the purpose of implementing the legislation established by our representatives. It is argued in this web pamphlet that increasing the number of our representatives in the federal House (i.e., increasing the size of governance) would, in fact, ultimately reduce the overall cost of government.
As the number of Representatives increases and they become more representative of the people— the House will be compelled to reduce the size of the government. This is because the smaller congressional districts will greatly improve constituent monitoring of legislators, enhance legislators’ representation of constituent interests, and hence result in lower levels of government spending. Empirical support for this argument is provided by a paper entitled Constituency Size and Government Spending which shows that the determining factor for government spending is constituency size — the number of constituents per representative — and not the size of the legislature.
Q8: Even with reduced federal expenditures, wouldn’t it be too costly
to add all these Representatives?
A8: To put this in perspective, suppose that it would cost an additional two billion dollars annually to increase the number of Representatives to 6,000 (this includes both compensation and supporting infrastructure). Though a sizable sum, it must be viewed relative to federal expenditures which total approximately 2.7 trillion dollars. Thirty-Thousand.org believes that this larger Representative body would more than offset their total costs through judicious stewardship: to recoup this additional expense they need only reduce federal expenditures by 1/10 of 1% (i.e., one-tenth of one percent). Because examples of government extravagance and waste are legion, it is quite feasible to beneficially achieve such a reduction in federal expenditures. For example, it has been estimated that the 2007 budget contains $2.4 billion of blatant pork-barrel spending [Source: Citizens Against Government Waste].
With respect to the Representatives’ numerous staff, Thirty-Thousand.org believes that the total staff size should not be increased as the number of Representatives increases. The principal justification for the congressional staffs in the first place was the need to provide constituency services to increasingly populous districts. In other words, Congress’s solution to the problem of super-sized House districts was to augment their personal staffs rather than divide their huge federal fiefdoms into smaller congressional districts.
Finally, regarding the additional cost of a larger number of Representatives, Thirty-Thousand.org agrees that “The man who would seriously object to this expense, to secure his liberties, does not deserve to enjoy them. Besides, by increasing the number of representatives, we open a door for the admission of the substantial yeomanry of our country, who, being possessed of the habits of economy, will be cautious of imprudent expenditures, by which means a greater saving will be made of public money than is sufficient to support them.”
[Melancton Smith; June 21, 1788; Debates in the Convention of the State of New York]
Q9: How would that many Representatives get anything done?
A9: This question can be restated as: would they get even less accomplished than they do already? The question also presumes that a reduction in legislation may somehow be detrimental to the citizenry. In any case, if there were indeed a principle which assured us that a smaller legislative body would be much more productive, then the Senate — consisting of only 100 members — would certainly be a paragon of productivity. However, there is no evidence to indicate this is so. Experience teaches us that once more than a few dozen people assemble, the possibility that all can participate in a productive and meaningful dialogue disappears. Moreover, the notion that we now have a deliberative body, in the historical sense, is largely a myth; that is why those visiting Congress while it is in session usually find the large chambers to be nearly empty. Virtually all work accomplished, in Congress, is performed by various subcommittees and, regardless of the size of the House, ever will it be so.
Regarding the ability of a large assembly to pass legislation, consider the millions of California voters who have, for many decades, voted on hundreds of statewide propositions. In doing so California is, in effect, the world’s largest assembly. It is therefore easy to imagine 6,000 Representatives voting up or down on major legislation which was itself formulated by internal coalitions organized around specific legislative objectives.
Q10: How do all those Representatives fit into one building?
A10: They don’t. As Winston Churchill observed “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” The solution is simply to think outside the box or, in this case, outside of the House chamber.
It is important to consider how the world looked, in 1787, when the Constitution was drafted. Prior to the establishment of the federal post office, in 1789, mail delivery was especially slow and limited. Engine-powered railroad travel did not become possible until the 1820s and telegraphic communication was not even conceived until the 1830s. Consequently, when the Constitution was being drafted, the only way to actually communicate and collaborate was to assemble at one location. And the only way to do that was to travel on foot or by horse.
It is no longer necessary, or even advantageous, to require that all Representatives convene in one location (nor is it explicitly required by the Constitution). Current technology makes available a host of other means for virtually assembling and voting on bills; the broad range of solutions which could be implemented are outside of the scope of this web pamphlet. However, for the purpose of visualizing one practical concept — among many that could be suggested — thirty-thousand.org proposes the creation of additional federal cities. Imagine if four new federal cities were created in four distinct locations around the country (in addition to the one already established in Washington, D.C.). To the extent that assembly was required, it could take place within the regional federal capitol buildings, which could be further interconnected via video conferencing.
Implementing geographically distributed governance — geographically decentralizing the House of Representatives — would also greatly reduce the value of Washington as a strategic military target for our nation’s enemies. As we were reminded on September 11, 2001, decapitation of the federal government is a very real risk due to the fact that all three branches are concentrated in one small area. In conjunction with an adequate succession plan for the Senate and the Executive branch, the distribution of federal Representatives across the nation would ensure the continuity of the federal government regardless of the contingency. In fact, the very existence of a decentralized federal governance will itself reduce the likelihood of a military attack against the governing infrastructure.
Q11: Would Congress voluntarily increase the number of Representatives?
A11: If enough pressure was brought to bear, Congress might grant a token increase in the number of Representatives. However, Congress will never voluntarily agree to increase the number by the amount required to return political power to the citizens. As observed in 1788:
“...the relative weight of influence of the different states will be the same, with the number of representatives at sixty-five as at six hundred, and that of the individual members greater; for each member’s share of power will decrease as the number of the House of Representatives increases. If, therefore, this maxim be true, that men are unwilling to relinquish powers which they once possess, we are not to expect the House of Representatives will be inclined to enlarge the numbers. The same motive will operate to influence the President and Senate to oppose the increase of the number of representatives; for, in proportion as the House of Representatives is augmented, they will feel their own power diminished. It is, therefore, of the highest importance that a suitable number of representatives should be established by the Constitution.”[Melancton Smith; June 21, 1788; Debates in the Convention of the State of New York]
The only way to ensure proportionally equitable representation in the House is to mandate it with an amendment to the Constitution. In 1789, the first congress proposed Article the first to do just that.
Q12: What is “Article the first”?
A12: Contrary to popular belief, the Bill of Rights document drafted in 1789 contains twelve articles of amendment (not ten). Of those twelve, only the last ten were ratified to the U.S. Constitution prior to 1791. As a result, our Constitution’s “First Amendment” had originally been proposed as Article the third, and the “Second Amendment” was originally Article the fourth, and so forth. And, to further confuse matters, the Bill of Rights’ Article the second was not ratified until 200 years later ― as the 27th Amendment ― which finally limited Congress’ ability to increase its own compensation. However, Article the first ― the very first amendment proposed in the Bill of Rights ― was never ratified.
As passed by the House, Article the first would have required there be at least one Representative for every 50,000 people at larger population levels. The Senate’s version required one Representative for every 60,000. However, the would-be first amendment was effectively sabotaged by an ostensibly minor modification made at the last-minute by a joint House-Senate committee. In fact, this modification not only subverted the amendment’s purpose, but it also introduced a mathematical defect which would have later rendered it inexecutable. Largely because this subtle modification was generally unnoticed initially, Article the first was affirmed by every state except Delaware. Had the proposed amendment not been crippled then it might have eventually been ratified (as originally worded) and, as a result, we would now have approximately 6,000 Representatives! [For a complete analysis read “The Minimum and Maximum Size of the U. S. House of Representatives”.]
Q13: How could such an amendment ever come about?
A13: Congress should reconvene a joint House-Senate committee to develop a coherent compromise to the House and Senate versions of Article the first as they were originally proposed in 1789. The resulting amendment should be consistent with the original intent and not impugned by questions of subterfuge or chicanery. Once the amendment is properly worded, the states and the citizenry would be able to finally and unambiguously declare their position on this matter.
However, because Congress will never place such an amendment before the people for consideration, Thirty-Thousand.org believes it will be necessary for the state legislatures to call a convention (in accordance with Article Five of the Constitution) solely for the purpose of proposing this amendment.
Q14: Who would advocate and support the creation of such an amendment?
A14: Only that small portion of the citizenry who could be described as patriots; that is, those who understand the principles of freedom and liberty upon which this great nation was founded and, furthermore, are willing to make personal sacrifices to defend those freedoms. Unfortunately, most of the inhabitants of this blessed nation take our remaining liberties entirely for granted and naively assume that what is will always be so.
Q15: Who would oppose the creation of such an amendment?
A15: Without exception, every influential political and economic special interest operating in this nation will strenuously oppose enlarging the House to the extent necessary to return political power to the citizens. The investment in the status quo is extensive and deep. Powerful special interest groups as well as the federal lobbyist industry depend on their ability to influence a very small number of House members (and Senators) in order to affect legislative and policy outcomes. It will become impossible to effect the same level of influence upon the House when it consists of thousands of Representatives, especially if those many Representatives are living back in the real world — among their constituency — rather than being concentrated in the surreal parallel universe known as Washington, D.C.
Consequently, there is a long list of powerful institutional forces that will oppose this amendment: multinational corporations, most industry trade groups, labor unions, the Republican Party, the Democrat Party, the House of Representatives, the Senate, the federal executive branch and last, but not least, most foreign governments. These disparate forces, which normally do not collaborate with one another, will be united in defending the oligarchy in the federal House of Representatives.
Q16: What can I do to help?
A16: Spread the word. Talk to your friends. This is a revolution — a patriotic and constitutional revolution — so it is essential that we find those few people who can understand what is at stake and are willing to work towards advancing this mission.
Communicating this mission to others, and enlisting their support, is a great challenge for the following reasons:
- The relationship between representation and population is an abstract concept which is not easily understood.
- Most people, fearing change, will naturally wish to preserve the status quo.
- As an inherently nonpartisan endeavor, this cause can not leverage existing political organizations (without risking having its mission subverted to serve an ulterior partisan goal).
- Widespread apathy: the tendency of citizens to shirk civic duties in favor of frivolous pursuits has become nearly epidemic.
- The inertia of members of the intelligentsia: many of these — primarily in certain sectors of the academic community — are intellectually wedded to the old model and therefore resistant to change, especially one that would disempower the elites and return political power to the citizens.
- Most insidiously, many people may now prefer the sense of complacency (however illusional) afforded by living in an elitocracy (i.e., to be governed by those very few of superior abilities who know what is best for the rest of us). Hopefully, these people will take comfort in knowing that the Senate and the Office of the President will (and should) continue to operate as elite institutions even after the federal House is comprised of many ordinary folks.
Given all of the foregoing, the important point to understand is that the primary obstacle to this campaign is not the combination of powerful institutional forces identified above. Instead, the true enemy is public indifference and widespread ignorance.