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Apportionment

I've decided to start up blogging again.

I think my mistake before was trying to blog about my life. That was hard, and it was uninspired, and it served no purpose. I didn't find catharsis or self-enlightenment through my blog. I didn't shed light on my own life as a metaphor for anything. And as I look back at the old blog posts, I discover that it is not worth reading.

I'm leaving them in the archive, but I strongly recommend not reading them.

What I want to blog about going forward is things I actually think are interesting and worth writing about. I imagine varied topics, some of which might even get personal, but others will be about politics or books I'm reading or work-related stuff. It'll be a mish-mash. Which isn't really that different from the original concept of my blog, to muse about life in the absence of a closet. Life out is just life. It's the same as living. It includes all these other things that the mish-mash will be. It's life in the closet that's different.

The 2010 census was released today, along with apportionment changes for the next Congress. The media are talking about how this will be good for Republicans, as it means increasing numbers of seats in traditionally red states at the expense of blue states. It particularly affects Presidential elections, because of the inequities of the Electoral College.

People talk about abolishing the Electoral College, but that would require amending the Constitution, something that's highly unlikely. Besides, the parties in power like not having to campaign nationally. The Electoral College allows them to campaign regionally.

The three biggest states, California, Texas, and New York, weren't swing states in the 2008 Presidential election. So neither Obama nor McCain had to spend in those expensive markets on TV and print advertising. Obama won California by 24% and got 100% of the Electoral votes. McCain could have swung 1.5 million votes in California, and he still would have lost the state. And Obama could have picked up an extra few million votes in California -- still the same result.

But in North Carolina, Obama's margin was one-third of 1%. A swing of 7500 votes, and North Carolina's fifteen electoral votes go the other way.

The Electoral College means the candidates can focus on the states that are close to try to swing a few votes in their favor. It makes our votes unequal. If you live in a swing state, your vote matters big time. If you're a Democrat in Utah or a Republican in Maryland, your vote is pretty useless. In fact, if you're a Republican in Utah or a Democrat in Maryland, your vote doesn't really count for much either. This could be construed as unconstitutional, except, of course, it's explicitly Constitutional.

So the Electoral College isn't going anywhere.

But there's another inequality caused by the Electoral College, and it can be remedied by a change of statute.

The Electoral College is made up of electors from each state, the number of which is equal to the number of Congressional Representatives from that state plus the number of Senators, or two. And the District of Columbia gets 3 electors.

So the smallest state by population, Wyoming, gets three electoral votes, and the largest state, California, gets 55. (Neither has changed as a result of today's census figures.)

Wyoming's population, according to the 2010 census, is 583,626. California's is 37,253,956. So while California has a population almost 64 times that of Wyoming's, it has only 18 times the political clout in Presidential elections.

The extra two electors makes a huge difference for the smallest states, giving them a significantly larger proportion of influence on the outcome of Presidential elections than their populations warrants. Unfortunately, the calculation of how many electors (Reps plus Senators) is set in the Constitution, so that's not likely to change.

But as I said, there's one aspect to all of this that is based on statute, not on the Constitution. The Constitution, in Article One, Section Two, prescribed the original apportionment, with a total of 59 Representatives. Then, after each census, starting in 1790, Congress passed a law prescribing the new apportionment. The size of the House of Representatives grew with admittance of new states and with growth of population, from its original size to 435, where it was set in 1913. Then the Reapportionment Act of 1929 capped the size of the House at 435, except for temporary increases when new states are admitted to the Union.

Even in growing from 59 to 435, the ratio of Representatives to US population shrank. In the Constitutional apportionment, the ratio was one Representative for each 30,000 citizens. When the 1913 law established 435 as the size of the House, there were about 212,000 citizens for each Representative. Today, that figure is about 710,000. Since smaller states are guaranteed at least one Representative, many states have well over the average size Congressional district. Montana, the largest state to have just one Representative, has a population of 989,415. Rhode Island has just about 16,000 greater population than Montana, but with two Congressional districts, each of its Representatives will have 526,000 constituents.


What would happen if we went back to the original Constitutional formula of one Representative for every 30,000 in population? California alone would have 1241 Congressional districts; Wyoming would have 18. Obviously this would be unwieldy. Imagine seating more than ten thousand members of Congress!

But surely there's a number less than 710,000 than constitutes a reasonable representation. If we went back to the 1913 statute that first set the number at 435, the population was about 92 million, or about 210,000 constituents per Representative. That would put the size of Congress at 1446. Manageable? Possibly.

Where that would make a huge difference is in the Electoral College. That apportionment would give California 179 electoral votes and Wyoming 4. Wyoming still has disproportionately more clout in the Electoral College, but now the ratio is 45:1, much closer to the real population ratio of 64:1 than the current 18:1.

Any increase in the size of the House to reflect a smaller number of constituents per Representative is going to have two effects: it will give each of us a bigger voice in Washington, and it will give each of us a fairer share of the vote for President.

1 comment:

  1. Today the NY Times published an Op-Ed piece making this exact same case:

    ReplyDelete

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