Return the House of Representatives to the People
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Section VII
The Right Size
 


 
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

 

NOTE:

Need mathematical illustration of the common divisor requirement underlying G. Washington's first veto. This relates to the fractional remainder. I.e., what is the min & max graph of the size of the house in the absence of the fractional remainder -- this also synchs up with the one-person-one-vote principal.
 

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.



HISTORICAL CONTEXT

APPROACHING ONE PERSON, ONE VOTE

INTERNATIONAL
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 A.  The Difficult Question

The central and most contentious issue is: how do we determine the optimal district size for the House of Representatives? The optimal district size is that which achieves the best compromise between:

  • Smaller districts (to improve representation); and,
     
  • A larger House of Representatives (which reduces its efficacy)

Added to the challenge of striking this balance, are the following requirements:

  • It must achieve voter equity as proscribed by the one-person-one-vote rule.
     
  • The algorithm for determining the appropriate district size must also be able to endure the test of time (for increasing population sizes).
     
  • The correct size must be defined by a range (i.e., between a specified minimum & maximum value) rather than as a specific number since, as a practical matter, an exact number (such as 40,000) could never be uniformly achieved.

Nonetheless, it is imperative that this question be resolved, and doing so will require a blend of judgment and mathematics.
 

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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