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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Enlarge the House?

David Freddoso expands on a problem that yesterday's post mentioned: unequal representation in the House. (For more on the topic, see ( and One solution, he says, is to enlarge the chamber's membership by 100:
It's probably a really good idea to add more seats, given that each member of a 435-man Congress is representing, on average, more than 700,000 constituents, whereas originally, the target was about 30,000 constituents per member. In Federalist Number 55, James Madison discussed the dangers of both a too-large Congress and a too-small one:

Sixty or seventy men may be more properly trusted with a given degree of power than six or seven. But it does not follow that six or seven hundred would be proportionably a better depositary. And if we carry on the supposition to six or seven thousand, the whole reasoning ought to be reversed. The truth is, that in all cases a certain number at least seems to be necessary to secure the benefits of free consultation and discussion, and to guard against too easy a combination for improper purposes; as, on the other hand, the number ought at most to be kept within a certain limit, in order to avoid the confusion and intemperance of a multitude. In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever character composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.

One interesting idea, mentioned in a Wikipedia stub but barely anywhere else, is the so-called "Wyoming Rule," which proposes to add districts until the smallest single-district state (population 568,000) is not so badly over-represented. As it happens, you can get pretty close to that number (average 579,000) by adding exactly 100 districts.


The most underrepresented state in the House right now is Montana, where 994,000 people share a single congressman. If you added 100 seats to the Congress, Montanans would gain one seat and 63% percent more representation in Congress. Californians would lose a small amount of congressional clout.

Other small states like Alaska and South Dakota would suffer in a 535-member House. By the very nature of the process, small states are the most likely to win or lose big in reapportionment. The question of who wins or loses (Delaware, say, or South Dakota?) is really a random one, depending less on the mean population of the districts than on the exact point at which you stop awarding new seats. In this case, South Dakota would get the 536th seat, and ends up being the big loser. No matter how many seats you add, Someone is always going to be on the cusp of getting a new one, and they're the ones most likely to lose or gain.

The only solution to representational inequity is to abolish statehood -- something that cannot be done under the Constitution without the assent of all 50 state legislatures. Another would be to make Congress unreasonably large.