But how big should the House be? That is also to ask how small should a district be. And based on what math? And on what principle of growth?
Scholars and advocates have been working on this question for decades. There are seven basic options, all compiled in a report on enlarging the House by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences commission on the state of our democracy, which I co-chaired. Those options would increase the size of Congress from 435 to between 572 to 9,400. They are as follows:
The Wyoming Rule. Peg the size of a district to the population of the least-populous state, which is currently Wyoming (with about 580,000 people). That’s 180,000 fewer constituents than today’s average of 762,000 — and would yield a House of 572 members. The difficulty with this rule, though, is that it could cause the number of members to fluctuate dramatically depending on the growth patterns of the smallest states. One way to address that would be to pick the current number (580,000) as a stable ratio going forward. But that would lead to speedy growth in the size of the House over time.
The Deferred Maintenance Rule. When the size of the House was capped in 1929, new seats could shift to growing areas only by taking them away from other areas. The number of seats lost by particular states since 1929 through this method is 149. If we restored those seats and added one more to keep the total an odd number, then reallocated to achieve even districts, we would have a new base of 585 seats. This method is clean and yields districts slightly smaller than the current population of Wyoming. However, we would still need to figure out a principle of growth under this method. Would we take district sizes after such a reform as the standard ratio, and simply let the House grow in relation to it? This, too, would result in relatively fast growth.
The Cube Root Law. This method was developed to ensure that growth is slow and steady. Instead of picking a fixed number of House seats and establishing it as the target ratio for constituents to representatives, we would use the cube root of the national population to establish the number of legislators, then apportion across the states in proportion to state populations. Whenever the national population grows, so too would the number of representatives, but slowly compared with the other options. At our current population, this rule would give us 692 seats.
Here is a chart laying out the number of representatives you would have over time on three different growth principles, given population increases: