Why is our House of Representatives fixed at 435 members?

As a political science graduate, and someone who’s concerned about voting rights and disenfranchisement, I am curious as to why the number of Representatives is fixed at a seemingly arbitrary 435 members. I remember that the formula for representation in the House is supposed to be one member for every district containing 500,000 people(more or less) but with a population of 308 million, that would mean that we should have at least 600 members in the house, not a grand fixed total of 535 for both houses of Congress. How and when was this fixed number decided upon and isn’t that a formula for the systematic disenfranchisement of over eighty million Americans?

The total number of House Reps is fixed by law. States get a share equal to their share of the population, but they round up so that every state gets at least one. The gov’t can change it anytime they want by passing a new law, but its been fixed at 435 for the last century.

I came in to say that the current formula favors small states, as they get a Rep no matter what. But actually, if my math is right, the effect isn’t really that large, since the state with the smallest population is actually pretty close to the threshold for having one Housemember anyways (as opposed to the Senate, where they really do have a huge advantage in representation per person).


That article includes the current law, as well as previous methods of determining representative counts.

Who do you think is being disenfranchised? Everyone still gets to vote, and their votes count equally (within their district or state). Not sure what point you’re making.

This isn’t really a GQ question as the “why” is easily googled within 1-2 seconds. If you want to debate the necessity of the limitation have a mod move the question to GD.

Site that wants this changed

The number was set at 435 by the Apportionment Act of 1911. The only new seats to have been added since then were temporary ones when Alaska and Hawaii were admitted as states. These temporary seats were eliminated and the seats were re-apportioned after the next census.

Reapportionment Act of 1929. I think going into detail beyond the Wikipedia article would turn into a partisan GD topic. I do remember hearing as a child that 435 is about the maximum number of the traditional Representatives’ desks that could be placed on the House chamber floor; whether this was after-the-fact rationalization or not, I cannot say.

The effect of such large constituencies, combined with the polticial maneuvering in redistricting, has had a demonstrable effect of reducing the degree to which constituents can get their voices heard in Congress.

The only constitutional limits mentioned (Article 1, Section, 2, Paragraph 3) are that there cannot be more than one member for every 30,000 citizens so we couldn’t have more than 10,124 members and each state must have at least one member so we have to have at least 50. But any number between those two limits seems legal.

Since OP has been answered and was concerned with unfair apportionment, the surprising paradoxes of apportionment may be of interest:

There is a disparity. A California congressman is represented 709,000 people. Wyoming’s congressman is represented 564,000 people.

And Montana’s congress critter represents 902,000. There’s bound to be some round off error since states cannot have fractional representatives. A larger number would reduce this error, but that group linked to above that wants a rep for every 30,000 people is out of their minds. Too large a legislative body is unwieldy and can’t function either. A thought that occurs to me is that a sensible rule would be to set the number of reps at each census so that each state got at least 2 - maybe make the number of people represented 1/2 the size of the smallest state, rounded down to 1 or 2 significant digits. So the current size would be 280,000, and we’d have about 1100 districts. Wyoming would have 2. Montana would get 3. California would get 133.

But the question of the OP still remains WHY 435? Why not a round 400 or round up to 450 or 500?

Were there physical limits that prevented the increase in numbers? I imagine it would be politically hard to reduce the number to 400 as some state would be shorted. So that would leave the only realistic option to increase it to 450 for a nice round number.

From what I’ve seen it seems to be that there was a tendency to increase the numbers each time the census came in. And Congress just said, after the failure to reapportion after the 1920 census, it was basically, “OK let’s just stop with what we have.”

The idea with an odd number of representatives is that it will always provide one side with a simple majority of the votes.

Could be, but from the wikipedia link above, there have been several periods when there was an even number of members.

Actually raises a question, what does the House of Reps do if there’s a tie?

ETA: googled the ansewer, apparently tie votes are decided in the negative.

Plus, of course, with a body that size, there are bound to be several missing, whether vacant entirely, or just absent from any particular vote. So in practice, it’s probably a toss-up whether the number will be even or odd at any given moment.

Because the 435 people in office at any given time don’t want their power diluted. If the number of reps is raised to 500, each individual rep already in office sees their vote become 14% less essential for getting a bill passed, and thus their personal power/influence/prestige cut by an average of 14%. If the number was raised to 870, each individual rep would see his importance cut in half.

Politicians do not vote to reduce or limit their own power.

Except 52 times before 1913, they did.

In Britain, Canada, Australia, etc., the Speaker votes only if there’s a tie (thus making ties “impossible.”)

Speaking of Speaker, while Googling around just now, I was surprised to read:

If I remember my history, that was about what it was when they realized adding more and more was reaching its limits.

I believe it’s because there happened to be 435 representatives when the law was passed.

You know Congress – keeping the status quo is what they do best. As the labdude just said, the passed the law when they realized they realized they were reaching the practical limit of how many reps they could deal with, and they weren’t going to force anyone to retire.

A probable factor was that Arizona and New Mexico became states in 1912. They were the last two states formed out of territory in the continental United States. Some congressmen may have believed that the United States was completed and there would not be any future states added. So any future reapportionment would just be reflective of shifts within the existing states rather than any expansion.