The US House of Representatives Needs to be Expanded

And a look at three plans to do so

In August of 1911, the US Congress passed the Apportionment Act of 1911 which set the size of the US House of Representatives as 433 with two expansion seats for Arizona and New Mexico; a total of 435. Since then, except for immediately after Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the union, the number of members of the House of Representatives has stayed fixed.

Keeping the size of the House stagnant for 110 years has had some large downsides. As the population of the country grew, the number of people represented by each Member of Congress has as well. Currently each Member of Congress represents roughly 763,247 people. As this number has risen, campaigns have increased in price and voters have become increasingly disconnected from their representatives. It is hard to feel that Don Beyer represents my views in Congress when he also represents three quarters of a million of my nearest and dearest friends in Northern Virginia.

I stated that each Representative represents roughly 763,247people because, as seen in the map above, the number of people represented by members varies from 990,837 in Idaho to 542,703 in Wyoming. That means that every person voting for and complaining to Liz Cheney has about double the power of each voter for Russ Fulcher or Mike Simpson.

To solve these problems, the size of the US House of Representatives should be expanded. There are three ways that I can see to expand the house. The first is the Wyoming Rule, the second is the cube root rule, and the third is to more than double the number of members of congress. For each of these, I used the method explained in my last post to calculate the number of Representatives each state would receive.

Wyoming Rule

The first plan is the Wyoming Rule. Under the US Constitution, each state has at least one member of congress. The Wyoming Rule uses this to define the number of members of congress as the population of the smallest state divided by the population of the country. In the 2020 census, the smallest state, by population, is Wyoming. This would set the size of the US House of Representatives at 573.

Under this plan, each member of the House would represent, roughly, 579,496 people. This number would range from 779,702 in North Dakota to 443,885 in South Dakota. Each Representative would be representing about 24% less people than they do today.

Cube Root Rule

The next plan is the Cube Root Rule. In 1971, Rein Taagepera noticed that the size of well-functioning national and regional assemblies was about the cube root of the population of the country or region. As of the 2020 census, this comes out to 692 members of the House of Representatives.

Under this plan, each member of the House would represent, roughly, 478,880 people. This number would range from 643,503 in Vermont to 368,040 in Alaska. Each Representative would be representing about 37% less people than they do today.

Grand Congress

This is more of a meme and less of a plan, but a fun thought experiment. What if the House of Representatives was more than doubled to 1,000 members? The committee system would grind to a halt, but, in fairness, the system is not working with a 435 member House. The price of elections would drop because less people need to be reached and large donors have limited pocketbooks. The current parties will need to be either much stronger, like the UK’s whip system, or almost non-existent. Keeping a bloc of 500 people moving in the same direction would be very difficult. Due to the lower costs and smaller populations, it would be much easier for candidates to spike primaries AOC-style or for a third party to win a seat or two.

Under this plan, each member of the House would represent, roughly, 330,849 people. This number would range from 389,851 in North Dakota to 288,860 in Wyoming. Each Representative would be representing about 57% less people than they do today.

Final Thoughts

My favored system is the one where the US House of Representatives is as large as possible to capture the range of voices found within the country. I want to see urban centers have the opportunity to elect members of a Socialist Party if they want to. I also would like to see rural areas have the chance to elect members that are further to the right of the Republican Party.

Unfortunately, the larger the expansion of the House the more diluted the power of each Representative is. Being 1 of 435 is very different than being 1 of 1,000. Because of this, a large expansion is probably not politically viable due to the egos of current Members of Congress. If Congress would be willing to expand to 573 or 692 members, I would take it. The progress that I can get is better than the perfect progress that I can not.