Return the House of Representatives to the People
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Section VI
How Representative are our Representatives?
 


 
In This Section:

  A. 
 

In This Web Pamphlet:

I. The Promise: A Representational House

II. A Brief History of Apportionment

III.
Our Imperial House

IV.
The Incumbency Franchise

V.
Congress vs. the Constitution

VI.

VII.

VIII.

IX.
The Electoral College

X.

Appendix.
Search & Additional Resources

 


 

How do we determine the optimal district size for the House of Representatives?

It is because of the inherent difficulty of answering this question that this issue remains unresolved more than two centuries after the Constitutional Convention.

The thirty-thousand number specified in the Constitution (as a minimum) should be viewed as emblematic of the high degree of participatory democracy envisioned by the framers and ratifiers of the Constitution.
 

 
Sections
II. The Incumbency Franchise

IV.

V.


VI. The Right Size

 A.  The Difficult Question

 B. 
 

VII.
VIII.
IX.
X.

The House of Representatives was intended — by the creators and ratifiers of our Constitution — to be the most democratic branch of our government. Instead, as a virtual oligarchy, the House has become less and less representative of the citizens and increasingly susceptible to corrupting influences.
 

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 A.  ----
 
 
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, this insidious disenfranchisement has substantially reduced the ability of racial and/or ideological minorities to gain influence within the House. We should all be extremely concerned about the dearth of diversity among our House Representatives.

Bloated districts inevitably lead to a bland homogenization of representation in which ambiguous & generic pseudo-positions are the standard. The deleterious consequences of this include a greater sense of apathy and alienation among the general population.

The House should be comprised of clearly principled men and women rather than poll-watching chameleons. Even if the legislative outcomes were to be the same (in a truly diverse & representative House), a greater proportion of the general public would feel that, at a minimum, their views were clearly presented, thereby inspiring greater confidence in the final result of the process.
 

Excerpted from
“Civil Rights 101”

civilrights.org

Establishing unusually large voting districts in areas with a geographical concentration of certain minority groups, for example, can discriminate against those groups by burying them within a larger white voting majority. This dilutes the voting power of minority groups that could otherwise constitute an influential voting bloc. Similarly, some civil rights groups have challenged “at-large” districts that lead to discrimination against minorities. Smaller districts can also be drawn in such a way that the voting power of a minority group is diluted by dividing a geographical concentration of minorities into several districts that are predominantly white. Minority voting power may also be diluted by encompassing an extremely large minority group into one district, rather than allowing that group to have an influence over several districts.

 
 

In one very important respect, the need for improved representation (through smaller districts) is more critical now than was it in 1788. The powers of the federal government — including the legislative branch — have far exceeded (in terms of breadth and reach) anything contemplated by the Constitution’s framers and ratifiers. This vast expansion of central governmental power, which runs contrary to the original intent of the Constitution, was no doubt a key assumption underlying the debate on the appropriate size of House districts (see the quote in right sidebar).

   


“I acknowledge that a complete representation would make the legislature too numerous; and therefore it is our duty to limit the powers, and form the checks on the government, in proportion to the smallness of the number.”

— Melancton Smith
MONDAY, June 23, 1788

The Debates In The Convention
Of The State Of New York,
On The Adoption Of
The Federal Constitution.

[Full Text]


Additional Quotes Concerning
the Subject of House Size

 

 
In any case, thirty-thousand.org believes that it is better to err on the side of a more representative House even at the cost of some efficacy for that assembly. That is, it is essential to our republic that we improve representation even though the consequence may be that it takes weeks (or months) longer to pass new legislation in the larger House of Representatives.

The purpose of this section is to provide some context which may be helpful for arriving at a proper solution to this unresolved problem.
 

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 B.  The Solution Proposed by the House Itself

On September 25, 1789, the First Congress of the United States proposed to the state legislatures twelve amendments to deal with arguments that had most frequently been advanced against the Constitution. Of these twelve, articles three through twelve were ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures, thereby becoming the first ten amendments of our Constitution (the Bill of Rights).

The very first of these twelve proposed amendments attempted to close the very contentious unresolved issue with respect to determining the appropriate size of the House. This amendment was never ratified. The story behind the rise and fall of the originally-proposed, but never ratified, first amendment is both interesting and relatively complex (see “Article the first...”, in Section III).

  

Article the first...
READING THE FINE PRINT: “less” vs. “more

Below, on the left, is the original version drafted by the House of Representatives. On the right is the defective version produced by a House-Senate conference committee. The two versions are identical except for the word “less” in the last sentence of the House version (left) was replaced by the word “more” in the final version (right).
 

“...nor less than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.”

Passed by the
House of Representatives
August 24, 1789

After the first enumeration, required by the first Article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.

Amendments Passed by the House of Representatives: Transcript
(University of Chicago)

 

“...nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.”

Proposed by
Congress
September 25, 1789

After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.

Original Twelve Amendments: Transcript
(National Archives)

 

The important thing to know is that the proposed — but never ratified — first amendment puts forth a faulty formula (i.e., an internally-contradictory arithmetical formula).

 

produced a very workable solution to the problem at hand. Unfortuneately, final version of this amendment

this version was subsequently made defective, perhaps inadvertantly, during a hasty House-Senate conference that was convened to resolve different versions of this bill.

This defect not only neutralized a key aspect of the House’s version, but it also introduced an arithmetical impossibility into “Article the first...” that evidently wasn’t noticed until it was too late.

Unfortuneately, the final version (on the right) was subsequently made defective, perhaps inadvertantly, during a hasty House-Senate conference that was convened to resolve different versions of this bill.

This defect not only neutralized a key aspect of the House’s version, but it also introduced an arithmetical impossibility into “Article the first...” that evidently wasn’t noticed until it was too late.
 
 

 

By enlarging too much the number of electors, you render the representatives too little acquainted with all their local circumstances and lesser interests; as by reducing it too much, you render him unduly attached to these, and too little fit to comprehend and pursue great and national objects.

James Madison
The Federalist No. 10
November 22, 1787

 

 

Article by Margo Anderson

Rein Taagepera and Matthew S. Shugart, who analyze apportionment systems around the world, have found that the size of the largest legislative body of a national legislature today tends to be the cube root of the population — a number that, when multiplied by itself twice, yields the voting-age population. For example, the voting-age population was 203,578,000 in 1990, and the whole number closest to being the cube root of that population is 588 (588 x 588 x 588 = 203,297,472). Although that formula tracked the size of the House fairly well between 1790 and 1910, the discrepancy between the current House size and the "cube root of population" rule is so great that restoring that relationship would require adding more than 150 members to the House (see figure below).

 

 

LINK

 

 

CIA World Fact Book

 
 


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“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free ... 
      it expects what never was and never will be.”

– Thomas Jefferson
  
Links to this web site appreciated.
11July2004
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