Remembering a Constitutional Congress

We should thus be thankful that, in its 1911 Reapportionment Bill, Congress chose to fix the House at 435 members.  That number has been defaulted from census to census, reapportionment to reapportionment, up to the present day because Congress has chosen not to change it.


It is time to revisit that calculus.


Article I, Section 2 of The Constitution had each member of the House representing 30,000 people.  With a population of about 300 million citizens today, the House should consist of about 10,000 members.  We should thus be thankful that, in its 1911 Reapportionment Bill, Congress chose to fix the House at 435 members.  That number has been defaulted from census to census, reapportionment to reapportionment, up to the present day because Congress has chosen not to change it.


It is time to revisit that calculus.


As most Americans have discovered in the last two national elections, the President is not chosen by a popular vote; he or she is chosen by the Electoral College.  The number of electors is 538: one for each member of Congress.  Each state is entitled to one member in the House, and two Senators without regard to population; DC gets 3.  For example, California has 53 members in the House of Representatives and 2 Senators, and therefore it has 55 votes in the Electoral College.  This is the most of any state.  At the other end of the spectrum are states like Montana, Vermont, Delaware, Arkansas, Wyoming and The Dakotas, each with 3.  


In its original configuration and up until 1911 there would have been little difference between the electoral vote and the popular vote.  Throughout the 19th century Congress had on several previous occasions limited the number of House members, therefore apportionments still closely tracked the same number of citizens to their respective Representatives.  However, by the next census and congressional reapportionment, a full century would have passed.  Without trying to belabor the obvious, things have changed since then.


The 53 Congressmen from California represent about 615,000 people each; the one Congressman from Wyoming represents about 500,000; and the one Congressman from Montana represents about 900,000.  The eighteen states with 5 or less electors have a total population of about 20 million yet they have more combined electors than California with its 35 million.  The reason the Founding Fathers created the two branches of Congress, at least according to The Federalist, was to prevent this from happening: dominance of the political process by states with small populations.


The obvious solution would be to amend the Constitution to eliminate the Electoral College, but there seems to be little will or consensus for that course of action.  A solution that would accomplish the same end would be for each state to apportion its electoral votes based upon its popular vote, but until all states did this, some states might consider their political interests at risk.  The most expeditious method of equity between the states, the method which would most easily reinstate the will and spirit of the Constitution, would be for Congress to increase the number of House members to more closely reflect the total population.


For example, the current population is about 300 million; thus if the House were to expand to 600, each Member would represent about 500,000 people.  Wyoming would still have one Congressman, but Montana might gain a second, and Texas, California, Florida, New York, and half a dozen other states with relatively large populations, would once again have the number of Congressmen and women envisioned by the Constitution.


Short of changing the Constitution, in 2011 0r 2012 we can at least return to it the spirit of its Founders.

Tags: article 1, census, Congress, congressmen, constitution, House, representation, representatives (all tags)

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