A Fairer Congressional Apportionment Using the “Wyoming Rule”
Unlike the Senate which provides vastly more representation to less populated states, the House of Representatives is supposed to provide equal representation to all based on population. In practice the result is far from ideal.
If current law is followed the 994,416 people of Montana and the 568,300 people of Wyoming with each get the small level of representation with one member each. Each of the four districts in Iowa will contain roughly 763,447 people while each district in Rhode Island will have only 527,624 people. Even in the chamber in which all voters are suppose to be equal it appears some are significantly more equal than others.
The reason for this problem is that every state regardless of size must have at least one Representative; there are no interstate districts and there are currently 435 members of the House of Representatives. The last item could be changed very easily though.
We have effectively had 435 members since 1911 when the population of our country was less than a third its current size, but there is absolutely no reason there must be exactly 435 members of the House. The number 435 was more or less a number chosen at random nearly a century ago by an act of Congress. It is not in the Constitution. There is nothing stopping Congress from changing the limit.
The new Congress for example could slightly increase the number of members to make the apportionment much fairer.
One of the simplest reforms would be for Congress to adopting the so called “Wyoming Rule,” written about by Matthew Søberg Shugart. Under this system the standard Representative-to-population ratio would be set by the least populated state – Wyoming. The result would be districts containing on average of 568,300 people instead of the 710,767.
The end result would be that the numbers of Representatives would be increase to around 543 and we would have a much more equal apportionment closer to the ideal of one-man-one-vote.
543 is a perfectly manageable number
Increasing the House by roughly a hundred members wouldn’t make the chamber unmanageable. The UK House of Commons has 650 members, the Indian House of People has 545 members, the French National Assembly has 577 members, the Indonesian Representative Council has 560 members and Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies has 513 members.
The United States of American is the third most populated nation on earth and the second largest democracy. Increasing the size of our lower chamber so that it is similar to most other large democracies shouldn’t cause problems.
No longer dreaming big
While I highly doubt Congress will act to make this change, it is important to point out that is not only possible, but in fact a relatively easy step to make our democracy fairer and require no Constitutional change to effect.
Progressives at the turn of the last century aimed big to create a fairer, more representative democracy, going so far as to pass the 17th and 19th Amendments. It is unfortunate that merely advocating a change to the law to achieve a fairer democracy is unthinkable today.