Government & Law

Are You Represented?

January 7, 2019

Do you know who your representative is in the US Congress?  How well do you know his/her views on local priorities and the major national issues?  Do you know what his/her voting record has been?  I have the feeling that most of us don’t have good answers to these questions.  And this comes as no big surprise since so many people are turned off by politics and our congressional districts are so large that there is little opportunity, if any, to really interact and get to know and understand our representative.  This doesn’t say much about the current state of our democracy.

In a recent article –

U.S. population keeps growing, but House of Representatives is same size as in Taft era – PEW Research, comes the following:

“The U.S. House of Representatives has one voting member for every 747,000 or so Americans. That’s by far the highest population-to-representative ratio among a peer group of industrialized democracies, and the highest it’s been in U.S. history.  In the century-plus since the number of House seats first reached its current total of 435 (excluding nonvoting delegates), the representation ratio has more than tripled – from one representative for every 209,447 people in 1910 to one for every 747,184 as of last year.”

They published the following graphic. 

The US is clearly out of line with the rest of the world.

Congress has the power to change this.  The New York Times recently wrote about this:

America Needs a Bigger House – New York Times

“The House’s current size — 435 representatives — was set in 1911, when there were fewer than one-third as many people living in the United States as there are now. At the time, each member of Congress represented an average of about 200,000 people. In 2018, that number is almost 750,000.  This would shock the Constitution’s framers, who set a baseline of 30,000 constituents per representative and intended for the House to grow along with the population. Congress still expanded the House throughout the first half of the nation’s existence. The House of Representatives had 65 members when it was first seated in 1789, and it grew in every decade but one until 1920, when it became frozen in time.  There’s no constitutional basis for a membership of 435; it’s arbitrary, and it could be undone by Congress tomorrow.  expanding the House would mean not just a government with more representatives, but one that is literally more representative.”

Obviously there is a tradeoff.  A larger deliberative body will tend to be less efficient; more personal agendas to slow the legislative process.  But for the sake of a healthy representative democracy, I think that inefficiency is an issue that can be resolved.  The House sets its own rules.  I would suggest that one approach would be to expand  the number of committees.  This is where the real legislative work is done.  Even consider “Ad Hoc” committees to deal with important timely issues that involve many traditional committee charters.  Committees should research and draft legislation, exploring the pros and cons of all alternatives.  Draft legislation with a report on alternative findings and associated rational could be submitted to the full body for vote with no or very limited debate.  If it fails it can go back to committee with opposing comments for reconsideration.  There are probably other ideas, but it is important that all citizens feel connected and represented – a larger House of Representatives is clearly overdue.

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