So it is with the United States House of Representatives. Despite the fact that the Constitution commands that the House expand proportionally to the population of the nation at every census, members of Congress have, for more than one hundred years, frozen the size of that august body at 435.
Why limit the Congress to 435 Representatives? Is it logical to say “because that is the size of the chamber”? Or, “because that’s all the chairs or desks we have”? Of course not.
The size of the House has been frozen at 435 for one reason and one reason only: because those 435 people do not want to share their power with anyone else. They want to stay in office; they want to gain seniority, they want to get key committee assignments and party offices. And they want the power that comes with those jobs.
The alienation of the American people from their government can be largely traced to this one big power grab. By freezing the size of the House, members have assured that their constituencies get bigger every year. Bigger constituencies mean more expensive elections. And that means more money has to be raised.
Some years ago the United States Supreme Court pompously announced that the principle of one-man-one-vote must be observed in all federal and state elections. The result has been some very preposterous practices.
Gerrymandering has become a fine art. New York recently reapportioned its Congressional delegation to a standard of plus or minus one person. That is a totally fictional exercise: the census tracts they used were already two years old and were not that accurate to begin with.
And ridiculously, despite such silly hyper-technicality in many states, the actual distribution of seats in the House of Representative is grossly disproportioned when considered State by State. Thus there are 7 States with delegations below 90% of the norm and 4 States whose delegations are above 110% of the norm.
The Founders originally proposed that the House of Representatives consist of one representative for every 50,000 people. That proposal, known as Article the First, was never ratified, and Congress was left to determine the ratio.
Of course, the Founders had no idea that the nation would one day claim a population of 308 millions of people. As a practical matter, the 50,000 ratio would require a very large assembly and would have great difficulty winning popular approval.
But there is another approach, which has been discussed for years. It’s called the Wyoming Plan. The Constitution requires that each State have at least one representative in the House. Since Wyoming has the smallest population, it is logical to use the population of Wyoming as the base for calculating the size of the House.
Fair enough, simple enough. The difficulty is that merely dividing the population of each State by the population of Wyoming results a whole number followed by decimals. What do you do with the decimals?
This question typically leads to two answers: either Wyoming gets one Congress member because its population equals 51% of the norm, or because its population equals 151% of the norm. Putting it another way, either Wyoming gets one member because its population is the bare minimum required, or Wyoming gets only one member because its population is not quite large enough to warrant two members.
I call these three options Half Wyoming, Double Wyoming and Straight Wyoming. Half Wyoming would actually reduce the size of the House to 273 members; Double Wyoming would increase the House to 814; and Straight Wyoming would increase the House to 546.
The United Kingdom has a House of Commons consisting of 650 members representing a population of 64 million. Canada’s 35 million are represented by 338 members of their House of Commons. Both of those nations are seven times more democratic than the good old USA.
And just what are our illustrious Presidential candidates saying about that?