As the Brett Kavanaugh hearings have turned our attention to how poorly the United States Senate functions, some have called for a repeal of the 17th amendment. They say it's time to change how we elect Senators. They may be right, but on a historical standard, the way we elect the House of Representatives is far more dysfunctional.
The purpose of the House of Representatives is to be the rowdy home of the rabble rousers. As James Madison wrote in The Federalist No. 55, the size of the House is supposed to change. "I take for granted here... that the number of representatives will be augmented from time to time in the manner provided by the Constitution." He in fact predicted the House would grow to include over 400 members, as it did.
Sadly, what he took for granted has not fully come to pass. Since the passage of the Permanent Apportionment Act in 1929, House reapportionments have been fixed at 435 members. That was a perfectly fine number to use in 1920, after that census first led to the House growing to its present size.
Because the United States has more than tripled in population since the 1920 census first set the House to 435 members, the House has grown far less representative than its name implies. In 1920 the House was a little small, but not unreasonable. Since then it's gotten out of hand.
Today, 435 members for the popular House is completely unacceptable. The districts are too large for members to represent popular movements. The larger a district, the harder it is for a local citizens' group to overcome the parties and push their local concerns over the national political agenda.
Frankly, we need a House where more weird, wacky, and unpredictable people can get elected. Large districts preclude that, turning each member into a political idol, vetted and controlled by national organizations.
Just how bad is it though? Compare the ratio of people to representatives in other free countries with the United States in the past, and with the United States today. We're not even close now to where we were then, or where we should be now.
The number on the bottom right, 753,809, shows that we're not even in the ballpark.
That's right. If we wanted the House today to be as representative as it was back then, we'd need a much larger House. Simple math suggests that to get back to a ratio of 200,000 people per representative, we'd need 1,639 members of the House of Representatives, a nearly four-fold increase.
And it's only going to get worse. The more we delay, the less representative the House gets, because the population of the United States is not stagnant. Despite fears about declining birth rates, the Census showed a 10% increase in population over ten years, after hitting 13% and 10% in 2000 and 1990.
Representatives today are far less responsive to the people than they used to be and are meant to be. They operate like mini-Senators now. They answer not to the people, but to their political parties.
Yes, if we grew the House by a large number, it would mean making changes to how the House operates. We'd probably have to cut back on the luxuries they get, the size of staff they're allotted, and how much time they have to spend in Washington. Imagine sending them home to the people more, and churning out bills in Washington less.
Some would call that a disaster. Others would say gumming up the works would be a good thing, for a change.