- Reconfiguring the House of Representatives from one Representatives per 760,000 constituents to one Representatives per 40,000, in accordance with the intent of our Founding Fathers, would literally end gerrymandering, reduce the influence of big money and reduce distrust of the Federal government.
In America Is Having a Moral Convulsion, David Brooks wrote “When people in a society lose faith or trust in their institutions and in each other, the nation collapses…”
Unfortunately, recent polling has demonstrated that “distrust” is now engrained into the American psyche:
35% of Americans trust our scientists
20% trust our Congress
37% trust each other
While America’s political left and right agree on almost nothing, there is near universal agreement America’s democracy needs a re-boot, and this will require some out-of-the-box ideas.
A House of 439 Non-representative Representatives
Our Founding Fathers enacted the Great Compromise of 1787 which specified that the House of Representatives would be composed of one Representative for every 40,000 “inhabitants” with slaves counting as 3/5th of an inhabitant. Initially there were 59 members of the House but as the US population increased, the number of Representatives increased until Congress enacted The Reapportionment Act of 1929 which capped membership at 435 members.
Today there is one Representative for every 760,000 inhabitants. With so many constituents per Representative, it is literally impossible for a Representative to interact with a significant fraction of their constituents and this lack of personal interaction exacerbates Americans’ distrust of their Federal officials.
Americans’ disproportionate Federal “representation” also undermines our sense of equal representation in Congress.
House of Representatives per constituent
Rhode Island 1:528,000
Senators per constituent
A More Representative House of 8,300 Representatives
We could reduce Americans’ distrust of the federal government if we redesigned the House of Representatives according to the dictates of our Founding Fathers so that every Representative had 40,000 constituents. This would create a House of about 8,300 Representatives from small Congressional districts. Smaller, more intimate Congressional districts would rectify several structural problems which have plagued our democracy for decades.
Small Congressional Districts Will End Gerrymandering
Gerrymandering can be done be subsuming a constituency who hold a minority political opinion into a large Congressional district of constituents who hold dissimilar political proclivities.
An alternative technique to diminish a minority’s political influence is to assign the entire minority constituency to a single Congressional district, thus instead of the minority constituency being a significant fraction of two Congressional districts they are all assigned to a single Congressional district.
Congressional districts which have a small number of constituents and are geographically small will thus not be amendable to gerrymandering.
Small Congressional Districts Will Reduce the Influence of Big Money
The creation of small congressional districts would reduce the influence of big money as it will be logistically more expensive and logistically more complicated to “buy-off” a majority of 8,300 politicians who are well-known by their constituents vs 435 essentially anonymous politicians.
Small Congressional Districts Will Improve Social Trust
With many fewer constituents each Representative would be able to meet with their constituents regularly, as local politicians do in many medium and small size cities. As a result of these frequent interactions, the enmity that many Americans now direct at their anonymous Federal representatives would abate, as “trust is an imprint left by experience.” (David Brooks)
Small Congressional Districts Will Improve Cultural Representation
As most Americans live in enclaves with neighbors who share similar socio-political opinions, small Congressional districts would increase the probability that a Representative’s constituency would be more homogeneous. As a result, the Representative would be able to aggressively champion the proclivities of his/her constituents without fear of alienating another constituency and this would increase the citizenry’s faith in their governmental representatives and their belief that the Federal government has the ability to serve their needs.
A House of Representatives with 8,300 Members
Some will argue that a House of 8,300 members would be incapable of conducting our nation’s business. I believe data does not support that hypothesis.
Many American companies have responded to the coronavirus pandemic by allowing their employees to work effectively from home in some capacity and some will permanently incorporate a “work from home” option for some of their employees.
The US Senate’s Judiciary Committee demonstrated that they could successfully conduct the Senate’s business when some Senators attended the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Judge Barrett in person while others did so remotely.
Clearly, a House of 8,300 members would have to redesign how the House conduct’s its business. One can envision that the House’s 8,300 members would create alliances based on a commonality of interests, interacting through some combination of in-person and remote meetings. These subgroups might elect chairpersons who may choose to participate in House meetings in-person or remotely, all mimicking the way private businesses are now functioning in America.
We must begin the process of repairing Americans’ lost “social trust,” which is a precondition for rebuilding an America that works for all Americans. A greatly expanded House of Representatives would likely help repair our dysfunctional Federal government.
Most Americans agree that our democracy is not working. The only unacceptable solution is the status quo.
Hayward Zwerling, 12/19/2021
12/14/2021 Revision of: A House of 8,300 Representatives, first published October 2020