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Sensenbrenner on extra districts: A new hurdle?

by Rob Richie // Published September 15, 2006
The Washington Post reports that James Sensenbrenner is particularly hung up on the at-large seat Utah would get under the Tom Davis proposal - e.g., the concern that Utah residents would have two representatives while residents of every other state would have one representative.

This concern perplexes me. There's a long history of residents in states having uneven numbers of U.S. House representatives - over time, there probably have been nearly as many Congresses where this was true as untrue, and it was true as recently as the 1960s when Hawaii and New Mexico had at-large representatives. We also commonly see residents in states having uneven numbers of state representatives - including my home state of Maryland, where many people have three representatives in the state house of delegates, but others have one or two. Are these critics, including Sensenbrenner, developing a new "right" to equal number of representatives that has never existed before?

Our website has some useful materials on the history of multi-seat districts for the U.S. House. See, for example:

In addition, there are some interesting findings showing how candidates typically were spending less money in larger multi-seat legislative districts in NC and VT than smaller one-seat districts, and there is the testimony of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice in 1999 favoring Mel Watt's legislation to allow states to use multi-seat districts. See: