Would You Like Some Representation? Perhaps A Little Participation? Part 1, The current State of the House

Congressional approval ratings have been the consistent loser for nearly a decade. Op Eds and scholarly journals alike scorn our Congress for over-reach in sentence and plead for greater stalemate in the next. From the enfeeblement of the Senate filibuster to the cyclical debt-ceiling fiasco, there is a great deal of civic dissatisfaction with our Congress, yet little talk about what remedies we as the governed may administer upon our sickly representative body.

So lets talk about changing Congress, more specifically the House of Representatives. And I don’t mean the kind of ‘change’ we talk about every two years, where we play a little ‘Out with the old – In with the new’, I am talking about drastic, power altering changes that require Constitutional Amendments.

This is by no means the first time I have thought on restructuring Congress, yet this time it was spurned on by class discussion, as we ended up on the topic of ideal representation in our participatory democracy, and what form we would rather see implemented within the US. On the table lies: a linear system of representation suggested by Thomas Payne amongst others, where every X amount of people are represented by a member of the House, a number only bounded by the population of the US; or a system of more direct participation, where technology and civic participation meld together to a point of informed citizens capable of regular, secure voting: lastly a system of absolute representative governance, where we draw citizens by lottery to serve in the halls of Congress for an appointed time. Each option has merits and drawbacks, and there are numerous possibilities beyond the ones I have listed, but they all have potential. And they will all spark discussion.

Before delving into possible ways to restructure the House, I would like to examine its current face. For those unaware, each state is allotted a percentage of the 435 seats within the House by the formula

where P is the state population and n is the number of seats the state holds. This formula is used in a round-robin senario, where every state is ranked, allocated a House seat, and sent to the bottom of the list. The system is meant to preserve the most balance between state population and equal representation for each citizen. But how worthwhile is said equal representation? In recent decades the concern has been raised that our representation is no longer keeping up with our population growth. In fact, we have the same number of representatives as we did in 1912, when Arizona joined the Union. In effect, our population has tripled while the number of representatives remains static. The strength of our vote has been diluted generation by generation.

Next Week… Suggestions for change !

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Would You Like Some Representation? Perhaps A Little Participation? Part 1, The current State of the House

  1. ajgoldsmith says:

    I think that you are spot on when it comes to the representation of congress being out of sync. How can there be 435 people who can truly represent the views of the nation as a whole? However, I think this may lead us to a even deeper question — Is Western liberal democracy still an effective form of government to confront the challenges of global problems? Most of us provide a knee jerk answer of, “Well, of course,” but all we need to do is look toward the symptoms of the problems (congress being one of them) to have some doubt. Now, what form of government do should we have? I will have to get back to you on that one.

  2. eyemhuman says:

    I think a larger topic that comes up in the thought process of restructuring the House of Representatives is gerrymandering through reapportionment, or redistricting. As we well know, district lines determine not only the area that a representative will hold office under, but also who you as a constituent get to vote for. Sometimes through gerrymandering, though not as often in the modern day and age (at least not visibly), individuals from one party lose their vote for their ideal candidate because they are placed in new lines that have a new majority, decreasing the chance of their preference being favored. Here is where we can say the bureaucracy that we have created for ourselves has gone too far. Other topics includes the winner take all concept in electoral votes during Presidential elections, etc. These are large issues in states such as California and Texas.

    The question I do pose to you however, is why are you focusing on the House? Especially at this time? Whether you favor Democrats or Republicans, I believe that focusing on restructuring the only part of our federal government that currently represents the other third of the country (remember between Independents, Democrats, and Republicans each represents about a third of the country) is a ludicrous idea. Do we wish to have our government completely controlled by one party? I think not, for that is the complete opposite of a representative government. Many may not necessarily like the Republican Party, but they do represent a significant portion of people in this country, and everyone of those individuals have the right to be represented in their government. Now obviously if there is valid reasoning behind restructuring the House I could agree, but at this stage I don’t because I do not wish to see a third of the country completely lose its voice.

    I challenge the idea that we should focus on the House or even Congress. Rather I would say we should focus on the Executive Branch, where the voice of the people has been diminishing for many years, and this Branch’s power has grown exponentially, especially since the 2000s.

  3. Being the Classic Liberal/Civic Republican hybrid that I think I am, both sides of my thinking want and don’t want more representation. If we fallow this system on how representation should be, the House of Representative would consist of 46,000 member or so. Now this could be a great idea for the third parties because they now would have a stronger voice on the national stage. But if that was to happen then how would picking the Speaker of the House of Representatives go? It would almost be like a parliamentary system where the smaller parties join forces and become stronger that way. But I do believe more would be able to get done with more members, and if so the true voice of the people would be heard.

  4. seancity971 says:

    This post really opened my eyes to the fact that we ,as a state, are underrepresented in the house. I honeslt never knew of this fact and i suppose i owe that fault to no one but myself. It seems to me that we as citizens need to simply make our concern heard and change should come rather quickly, if there is a set formula for number of representatives, then once they re do the formula for Arizona wont our number of reps simply automatically go up?

  5. kdmflag says:

    To answer several questions in one post: I chose to focus on the house because I feel it holds the greatest mis-representation of the American people. The entire state votes on their Senator, a purely majoritarian exercise. The will of the majority is interpreted through the Electoral College to elect our President; which appears to me as nothing more than watered down populism at best. But our Representatives, our Representatives on the other hand, are supposed to be a locally elected voices; an American citizen sent to the seat of power to speak for the community she or he represents. Yet through gerrymandering and the dilution of the vote, Representatives are weak voices for their community. I feel like increasing representation in the House, (not necessarily to the numbers Paine considered) and resetting the precinct system to a county-based electorate, would increase local participation and representation. The Speaker of the House could still be elected from within the majority party. I doubt any of this would lead to a homogenization of the House.

    A state only receives more representation if it’s population rises in relation to other states, e.g. if 5 million Californians move to Arizona, we may receive another 1-2 Representatives in the House after the next census.

Leave a Reply