Are there enough members of the House of Representatives?
This is a question that hasn't gotten much attention lately, but it is a topic worth exploring. Most people know that we have 435 members of the House, but few ever think about why or how we got to that number or if it is the right number to have.
The number of members in House has fluctuated throughout our history, from 65 in 1789 to the 435 we currently have today.
Article 1, sec. 2, cl. 3 of the Constitution grants Congress the power to determine how many members of the House there are, provided every congressional district has a population of at least 30,000 people.
With 65 members in the first House and a population of roughly 3.9 million people, there was 1 member for every 60,000 people in 1789. Today, there is 1 member for every 733,103 people. So how did we get to this point?
The original 1st Amendment to the Constitution included a provision that there would be a congressional district for every 50,000 people. However, that provision didn't make it into the final version of the Bill of Rights when it was adopted. If it had, there would be over 6,000 members of the House today.
Between 1789 and 1913, the House expanded from the original 65 members to 435, and has remained at 435 since. This is despite the fact that the population rose from 92.5 in 1913 million to 318.9 million people today, meaning every member today represents more than 3 times the amount of people a member did the last time the House was expanded.
In August of 1911, President William Howard Taft signed a bill that capped the amount of members at 435 after the additions of New Mexico and Arizona in 1912. The issue has rarely been revisited since, bringing us to the point we have reached today.
After over 100 years and 226.7 million people, is it time to make a change? For help answering that question, it could be useful to look to the states.
The amount of members of the state chambers varies widely from state to state, from 1 member for every 465,674 people in California to 1 member for every 3,291 people in New Hampshire. However, even in California, the state with the fewest per capita members, there are almost 300,000 less people per member than in the federal House. This could be an indication that it is time for a change at the federal level.
If we are going to consider expanding the House, how should we determine what the new number should be?
One of the more popular proposals for expanding the House is called the "Wyoming Rule". Under this proposal, the number of members in the House would be determined by dividing the populations of individual states by the population of the smallest one and then rounding those numbers to the nearest whole number. If this proposal were the rule, the current size of the House would be 545.
No matter what method you use to determine a new number, I do believe this issue is worth more consideration today. One of the more problematic current issues in American governance is politicians that do not represent the concerns of their constituency. Having a more localized constituency would force politicians to pay closer attention to those they represent, would allow for easier organization of grass roots activism, and would allow for a much more robust debate of ideas in the House. That would be good for all of us.