Representation

A little thought exercise regarding representative democracy:

The lower chamber of France’s Parliament, the National Assembly, has 577 seats, which are elected directly by the people. The population of France is approximately 66.7 million.

The House of Commons, the lower chamber of Parliament in the United Kingdom, holds 650 Seats. Population in the U.K. is 65.1 million.

In Germany, the lower, directly elected chamber of the legislative branch, the Bundestag, holds 630 seats. Germany’s population is 82.2 million.

And in the United States of America, the world’s leading democracy, the House of Representatives holds 435 seats to serve a population of 324.7 million.

To put it bluntly, our level of representation in Washington stinks.

The number of seats in the House of Representatives was adjusted on a regular basis throughout the 19th century as new states joined the Union and the population grew. However, the number was last adjusted following the Census of 1910, when the nation’s population was tallied at 92.2 million people. It has more than tripled in the century since.

The only requirements set in the Constitution regarding the number of seats in the House is that the number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every 30,000 citizens. How quaint. We’re currently at about one for every 750,000.

And we wonder why our representatives do a poor job of representing us?

It would be nice if the Founders had, along with the minimum requirement of 30,000 citizens per Representative, possessed the foresight to include a maximum number as well. 300,000 would be a reasonable figure, in my opinion.

At current estimates, that ratio would give us a Lower Chamber with nearly 1,100 seats. California alone would have in excess of 130 seats. Would such a number of Representatives be unwieldy? Perhaps. Together with the Senate, this would give us a Congressional membership of 1,200. Which seems excessive only until one considers the United Kingdom, with its population roughly one-fifth the size of our own, somehow manages with a Parliament (House of Lords plus House of Commons) exceeding 1,400 seats.

Clearly, something is amiss in our government. Congress regularly has an approval rating below 20 percent, yet incumbent candidates win re-election more than 80 percent of the time. People everywhere feel they have no voice. Congressional seats have become de facto lifetime appointments in far too many districts as a result of pervasive gerrymandering (hey, Pennsylvania, have fun trying to carve out those perennially safe seats you’re so fond of when you have 43 Congressional Districts instead of 18 — Texas and North Carolina, to name two other notorious offenders, would have 84 and 32 districts respectively).

Carrying this idea to its logical conclusion, we can look at the Electoral College. Applying the results of the 2010 Census with the minimum standard of one district per 300,000 population, and maintaining the Senate at its current number, we arrive at an Electoral College of 1,154. This includes three Electors for the District of Columbia, which would actually have five votes if the 300,000 standard were applied. But until the District is granted actual representation in Congress, it will retain the minimum number of Electors.

Interestingly, and surprisingly to me, this new apportionment would not change the results of our most recent Presidential election. Donald Trump, on the strength of winning seven of the 10 most populous states (Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, and Michigan, losing only California, New York, and Illinois), would emerge with 649 Electoral votes, compared to 505 for Hillary Clinton.

I’m under no illusions that this idea will ever come to pass. Our Representatives seem rather fond of things as they are, and why shouldn’t they be? For the vast majority of them, their jobs are safe. Re-election is nearly a given for as long as they wish to keep running. They have outstanding health care benefits, and a generous pension.

But for the rest of us, I tend to think more representation would be a good thing.

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