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Increase the size of the U.S. House of Representatives

By Scott Tibbs, January 22, 2001

Every ten years, the federal government fulfills its Constitutional requirement to conduct an enumeration of the population, so that, among other things, Congressional seats can be apportioned according to population. And every ten years, some states gain and some lose members of Congress. States that lose members of Congress face bitterly partisan redistricting battles and the re-drawing of the districts often winds up in court.

States that lose members of Congress also find themselves having fewer members to represent a larger population than ten years earlier. This dilutes the voice of the individual voter, making his vote less significant than it would be if Congressmen represented fewer people. A change of 25,000 votes that would swing the election in another year suddenly becomes a statistic in the victory margin when the district includes another 100,000 people. It is also true that states gaining seats have roughly the same number of people being represented by a single Congressman, and face the same representation problems even with more members of Congress.

One solution being talked about but not seriously considered for implementation is increasing the number of members in Congress. This would make House members more responsive to each individual voter, as each vote would suddenly matter more, and may increase voter turnout when people realize their vote is more valuable than it was.

In a his nationally syndicated column, George Will wrote that at the founding of the nation, each member of Congress represented an average only 60,000 voters. In 1930, each House member represented about 281,000 people, while today each House member represents over 645,000.

Some would criticize this proposal as "more government" and not consistent with a conservative philosophy. However, more government is not automatically a bad thing. During the Cold War, we needed more government in terms of a larger military to defeat the former Soviet Union, and that increase in government brought down the USSR without a single shot being fired between the two countries. This isn't a proposal for an open-ended government social program, or a subsidy for a special interest group. This is simply allowing the House of Representatives to fulfill its constitutionally mandated duty to represent the interests of the people. Limiting the size of government is different from keeping government in its proper role, though it is clear that the size of government in terms of government programs and regulations is way too large.

Some would also question whether this argument should be applied to the US Senate, where each state has two Senators regardless of population. However, equal representation for each state in the Senate is an important part of states' rights, so the smaller states like Montana have an equal voice as the large states such as California. Supporting states rights through a Senate with two Senators from each state is not inconsistent with a larger House to better represent the people. It is just as the Founders intended: One house represents the people, and the other represents the states.

Eventually, the number of House members would have to be capped, as there does come a point where it is not practical to add more House members as the population grows. However, we have not arrived at that point as of yet, and increasing the size of the House should be seriously considered.