Should the Size of the (U.S. Congress) House Be Increased?

In numerous threads recently, the point has been made that legislators generally, and Congressmen in particular, seem insulated from their constituencies, choosing their desired constituency rather than being chosen by it.

When I was a citizen of Upstate New York, my Congressional district was larger than the State of Connecticut. Of all our Congressmen over half a century, the only one I ever knew personally was the present incumbent, and that by the coincidence of my having had his father as an insurance agent at one time. My current Congressional district stretches 100 miles west, 50 miles east, 30 miles north, and over 70 miles south, but excludes the nearest supermarket and library to my home.

The current figure of 435 representatives was decided on 96 years ago (433 representatives plus two to be added the following year when Arizona and New Mexico became states), and has been altered only in 1959-60 when two added seats were allowed for Alaska and Hawaii until reapportionment based on the 1960 Census. The reason for the 435 figure was that that was what would fit into the House of Representatives chamber in terms of giving each his own desk.

If we were to expand House membership to 1000, that would mean that each representative would have, on average, a district slightly less than half its present population, and hence smaller in geographic scope, meaning more connection between Congressman and constituent, more chance for replacing incumbents who are not doing an adequate job, more voice for minorities, and generally a better chance at government by the will of the governed. The only necessary changes would be getting such a bill through Congress, since it would lessen the influence of each incumbent, and some modification of the House chamber itself.

Are there arguments against this? Probably: each Congressman now carries a certain amount of influence in Washington, which would be halved with the new plan. However, I don’t see this as a critical problem. And I do see the disconnect between legislators and those legislated for as being a much more serious one.

I think you are mistaken when you say they are isolated from their constituents. My experience on Capitol Hill indicated to me that it was just the opposite – Congressmen and Sneators are too focused on helping their constituents and a lot of good legislation gets stopped because textile workers in South Carolina or timber workers in Idaho will be hurt (for instance).

The problem comes on high-profile issues, such as gun control or abortion. No matter what legislative district you live in, there will always be people who disagree on these issues. By voting one way you are certainly not representing a portion of your district. Other than that, though, I’m unaware of legislators who are unrepresentative of their district and remain in office.

The idea intrigues me, but you’ll still have a huge problem with gerrymandering, and the (fairly unscientific) experiments I’ve run indicate that at best, manipulating local party enclaves becomes no more difficult when the districts are smaller.

Well, the UK, with a population of 60 million, has 646 members in its House of Commons. It does seem odd we have only 435 HoR members representing five times the population.

The current US population is, as of the last decennial census, was 281,421,906.

Article I, Section 2 of the US Constitution states: “The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each state shall have at least one Representative;”

So the maximum possilbe number of Representatives for the next three years under current law is 9,380.

Just to lay down some parameters.

In the 1790 census, under the draconian 3/5 law, the population number upon which to base apportionment was 3,616,251.2. The House, which had been assigned 65 seats in the Constitution, was increased to 106 seats to accomodate the maximum possible representation.

We’ve been dropping steadily in representation ever since.

With a population of about 301 million (figure from here: 1,000 representatives would mean that each rep would have about 301,000 people within his/her district. That’s still a lot of people.

Of course it seems that you’re getting the nature of the problem wrong. Any disconnect between representatives and constituents is more likely the doing of special interest campaign contributions and lobbying than of having too many constituents.

What, in particular, seems odd about that?


The state of NH has 400 as well, and I never knew my rep. :slight_smile:

What difference does it make to the average voter if a representative (of congress, say) has 800,000 people in his district or 400,000.

The voting power of an individual within that district would increase from 0.000125% to 0.00025% of the total vote and the ability of an indivual to assert his will over one representative would remain at its present level (ie. as good as zero).

The representative would now be one of nearly 500 fellow politicians and as a wheeler and dealer would have a much more difficult job in making himself heard or exerting influence in such a mighty host.

Perhaps it might be better discard the “representative” myth and halve the size of the houses so they can attain a size more conducive to genuine debate. (This would also have an excellent side benefit of reducing the size of the payroll).

Which would reduce the Federal budget by about 0.0016%. Hooray!

In a budget of 3 trillion, and including all of his or her little helpers, accommodation and travel? It’s more like 0.0001% of the budget.

We’re talking big bickies here.

They would still be represenative. Just on a very highly-scaled level.

To be fair, gerrymandering has to be separated from the issue of district size. You can gerrymander a district of 100,000 or a district of 1,000,000, and that particular evil requires separate remedies.

Nitpick–representatives have chairs, not desks!

Obviously, in setting the size of a representative assembly, you face a trade-off between “representative-ness” (ratio of representatives to people) and assembly size (too large = unwieldy and expensive).

Where is the inflection point for the United States in 2007? Is 200 representatives optimal, or 435, or 1,000, or even more? I don’t know any abstract way to answer this question.

My gut feeling is that 435 is a little small. Other countries with large populations have somewhat larger assemblies, and they manage to cope. Mexico has 500 in its Chamber of Deputies, India has 550 in its Lok Sabha, the UK more than 650 in the House of Commons. Given our burgeoning population and our fondness for diversity of representation, I think we could make do with a somewhat larger House.

If it’s ever going to happen, it would have to be as part of the decennial redistricting. I don’t think it ever will happen, because it would have to be approved by incumbents, and incumbents dislike change, because by definition the current system has been good to them.

I think the number of reps should be stated for the reasons in Polycarp’s OP. It seems to me that the larger number of reps would decrease the power of special interests since it would be so much harder (in money and time) for the special interests to influence power over a much greater number of representatives.

Of course, the sessions would have to be held in a bigger meeting place. I suggest RFK Stadium, which the Washington Nationals baseball team will be vacating eventually. :smiley:

No. Or more precisely, hell no. I don’t see how will representing fewer people will help anything. I mean, there’s a certain threshold beyond which a substantial number of people just fall through the cracks. I’d say that’s around 10 or so.

“Special interests” are merely organized bands of citizens who try to influence govenrment. Increasing the number of representatives would in no way decrease their influence. For example, in Maryland government workers form a powerful special interest group that has a lot of sway with Representatives from the DC metro area. If you increased the number of people representing that area, all you’d do is increase the number of people who respond to the desires of their constituents.

Representatives respond to the special interests that reflect their constituents. Polycarp’s plan would not change that.

The fallacy of the argument in the OP can most easily be demonstrated by showing that the disconnect between representative and district usually remains just as great with regard to state representatives/assemblymen/delegates, even though the ratio of people represented per representative is much smaller. For example, we have 99 state reps in the Ohio lower chamber, which means each represents 115,000 or so people. Yet, I have no strong evidence that the state reps are any more beholden to individuals in the district than is Paul Gillmor, my US Rep.

Thus, simply increasing the number would be of little value to solving the situation.

The underlying assumption is that any difficulty in having your US Rep be known in the district has to do with district size or population. I do not think this is an accurate assumption. Marcy Kaptur, who represents most of Toledo and the country to the east, is quite well-known in the district; I have personally met her on more than one occasion. Mr. Gillmor is well-known in certain parts of his district (which is most of NW Ohio not including the Democratic bastion of Toledo); they are the small cities he frequents and is comfortable visiting (though there is considerable debate in the district each election as to just how interested in the district he really is). So it is the behavior of the representative that establishes how connected to the people of the district they are.

Finally, large assemblies are rarely any better at achieving work product than smaller ones are. In such assemblies, the power becomes more concentrated with the leaders, as the value of an individual vote lessens. To my way of thinking, it would not be a good idea to add representatives to what is already an unwieldy legeslative body.