Two Ideas for Fixing Federal Representation
Here’s an Easy Fix and a Hard Fix for making everybody’s vote count.
When the United States was created, the Founding Fathers agreed that members of the House of Representatives should serve no more than 30,000 of the four million or so citizens of the country, resulting in 105 members of the House. The number of Representatives increased with the population until Congress limited the number to 435 in 1929. At that time, there was one representative for every 280,000 constituents.
In 2000, the US population had grown to about 281 million. There was one representative for 647,000 constituents. By October 2020, the US population has grown to about 330.5 million. There is now one representative for every 760,000 constituents. But representation varies by state because even the least populous state must have at least one representative. As a consequence, while West Virginia, Wyoming, and Rhode Island have one representative for fewer than 600,000 constituents, Montana and Delaware have only one representative for over 900,000 constituents. Going back to the 1929 standard of 280,000 constituents per representative, we would have to add 735 representatives for a total of 1,170. And, this total would have to change every decade after the Census and with any addition of states (e.g., Puerto Rico, Washington D.C.).
The Easy Fix
Making such a monumental change to the House of Representatives might seem to be unthinkable. Their office space is already spread over five buildings — the Cannon House Office Building (1908), the Longworth House Office Building (1933), the Rayburn House Office Building (1965), the Ford House Office Building (1939), and the O’Neill House Office Building (2012). There is no way these buildings could accommodate another 735 Representatives. Furthermore, coordinating 1,170 representatives would be more chaotic, and less enjoyable, than herding the same number of cats. So, how could we accomplish this change without making the government even more unmanageable?
There is an Easy Fix — give each State one vote (rather than one Representative) in the House of Representatives for every 280,000 of population. This would be easy to implemente immediately after the current Census is complete. It could be left to each state to determine how to allocate their votes, just as they now do with the Electoral College.
For example, Pennsylvania, with a population of 12,801,989, currently has 18 House seats, a ratio of 1 Representative for 711,222 constituents. Under the Easy Fix, they would gain 28 votes for a total of 46 votes (out of a total of 735 House votes). The state would choose how to allocate those additional 28 at-large votes.
One possible allocation method would be to apportion the at-large votes to the political parties on the basis of the total votes for the parties in the state’s last election for Representatives. So, if 57% of the votes in Pennsylvania went to Republican candidates, regardless of district, 16 of the 28 at-large votes would be allocated to the Republican party for House votes in addition to the votes of the elected Republican Representatives. This allocation scheme would reduce the effects of gerrymandering because the at-large votes would be apportioned based on the votes of all Pennsylvanians rather than just the votes in a district.
The Hard Fix
The Easy Fix wouldn’t require any Representatives to relocate. More vote-counters would have to be hired to manage the vote allocations, but that is an insignificant problem. What the Easy Fix won’t do, though, is improve the actual performance of the Representatives. That’s what the Hard Fix would attempt to do.
When you vote, you seek to elect representatives who will present your views of what the country should do. Those Representatives may live nearby you, maybe even in your neighborhood. You may even know them personally or have worked on their campaign. But then they go off to Washington. They meet scores of new people. They eat at fine international restaurants and go to world class cultural events. They are waited on and fawned over by support staff and lobbyists. How could they not get distracted and forget why they’re in Washington and who put them there? Perhaps it would make sense to move political thought back to where their constituents live and away from the rarefied atmosphere inside the Beltway.
One solution to this issue would be to have Representatives telework to Washington from offices in their home States rather than telework to their home States from Washington. If millions of Americans can adopt teleworking during the Covid-19 pandemic, there is no reason why Representatives couldn’t do the same.
Having Representatives telework would allow States to make refinements to suit their own situations.
- Each State could decide how many representatives to send to Washington. A State could decide to send just one representative, rotate several representatives during a term, or send several representatives at the same time for each party or constituency. The rest of the representatives would telework from offices in their home State, keeping them closer to their constituents. Hearings and meetings could be conducted by video. Voting could be done electronically, as is done now.
- Each State could be given the responsibility for the office spaces for their representatives, both in their State and in Washington. States would essentially maintain embassies in DC. States could decide to make their offices as lavish or humble as they choose, regardless of the seniority of their Representatives. The offices in the Capitol Building formerly used by Representatives would be assigned to Congressional support staff or be redesigned as meeting rooms equipped with telecommunications capabilities to allow hearings to be broadcast nationwide.
- Each State could be given the responsibility for paying the salaries of their representatives and their staffs. States could set the salaries for their Representatives based on where they worked. Since elected officials cannot unionize, States could also link the Congressional salaries to performance, the State’s economy, or other relevant factors, as in the private sector.
- Each State could economize by utilizing their State representatives to also serve as Federal Representatives. The extra workload could be accommodated by adding non-elected support staff.
This approach could provide citizens with better representation by moving political thought back to the districts being represented. National security would be enhanced as elements of the Federal government are moved out of Washington. Local interest groups would find it easier to lobby their representatives in their State capitals and local districts, while big-time lobbyists would have to spread their presence around the country rather than bask on K Street.
Based on an article published at https://randomterrabytes.net on August 25, 2011.