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A Thought…

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   — Franklin Pierce Adams

Updating the House of Representatives

Posted on 2020-May-01 at 22:29:59 by Phil

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. 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.”
    -- U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 2, Clause 3

“Article the first. ....  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.”
    -- proposed Amendment (1789), not ratified

The U.S. Constitution calls for one Representative for every 30,000 constituents, but the House Chamber can fit only 435, so for over a century, seats have been allocated in a Round-Robin process after the decennial census.  Each state starts with one Representative, and then the state with the worst representation (highest number of constituents per Representative) gets one seat from the remaining pool. Repeat until there are no seats left in the open pool. This can still leave highly populated states with only one Representative, representing far more constituents than in some other states.  It’s hardly “one man, one vote”, made worse by being the basis of the Electoral College.

There have been a number of proposals to remedy this situation, and ensure equal, or nearly equal, representation for each American. Most involve expanding the House to something in the vicinity of 1,000 members, while still using the same Round-Robin apportionment process. This would even out the representation somewhat, but will never be close to equal. Besides, the House still can only fit 435 members, unless some major remodeling is done and members are content to be jammed in cheek-by-jowl. Add to this the already lethargic pace of getting anything done with 435 people, all demanding to be heard on an issue, and imagine how bad it will be with 3 or 10 or more times as many! To accommodate the original Constitutional requirement of one Representative per 30,000 constituents, the House would have to meet in a small stadium! At least, the Senate could be tucked under one corner of the stands, and the Oval Office (the President) under another corner…

My proposal is to leave the number of Representatives at 435, and continue to apportion the seats via the current Round-Robin process, but give them a vote multiplier (essentially, multiple votes) to even out the number of constituents per member. Mathematically, it doesn’t matter if you have 1.835 votes for each of a State’s Representatives, or use a further multiplier to get an integral number of votes (say, 184 or 1835 in this case). Your total is not going to come out to 435 in any case, unless the country is willing to decrease some well-represented states to less than one vote per Representative (e.g., 0.724 votes). If you keep the minimum at 1.000 vote per Representative, some states might have a multiplier approaching 2.000, but at this point it looks unlikely that they would ever reach 2.000 (the apportionment process may prevent that).

You could set the multiplier to 1.000 for the best-represented state (lowest number of constituents per Representative), and use their constituents-per-Representative ratio to adjust all the other states’ multipliers to effectively have the same ratio. For example, the best-represented state might have 200,000 constituents per Representative, and a multiplier of 1.000. A state with a ratio of 300,000 would therefore get a multiplier of 1.500. Or, you can use the Constitutionally-mandated value of 30,000 to set the multiplier, in which case all states will be well above 1.000. The two examples above would get multipliers of 6.667 and 10.000. Alternately, use a value such as the national population divided by 435 = 758,621 or so, giving multipliers less than 1.000 for many states. All of this protects the “one man, one vote” principle and gives each constituent in the country an equal voice, as intended by the Constitution.

It is conceivable (although it would take a Constitutional Amendment) to have each state send an equal number of Representatives (say, 5 or so) to Washington, and have the vote multiplier take care of population differences and the number of votes per state. States are not monolithic, so they may want to have as many different voices representing them as possible, and any fixed geographic districts (as done at present) would have vastly different populations from state to state. Minority groups might also feel (more likely justified than not) themselves excluded from representation in such a setup, so it might not be popular.

Presumably, everything a Representative touches with a vote would have to be scaled by the vote multiplier, including votes on committees (not just a Floor Vote) and attainment of any 2/3 or 3/4 majority as required by the Constitution or House procedural rules. One important place this would affect is the Electoral College, which was intended to give each State a presidential vote roughly proportional to its population (plus the two Senate seats, to placate smaller states). Applying the multiplier there would again make the College vote closer to proportional to a State’s population, and thus more representative.


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