Voices & Choices

Breaking the 435 House Seat Barrier?

Breaking the 435 House Seat Barrier?

With all due respect to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com, it could be time for a bigger number of electoral votes — and a new number of U.S. House seats. Having 100 U.S. Senators is tied to statutes involving admission of states into the Union, and having 435 House Members is tied to a simple Act of Congress. Once those numbers change, so do our number of electoral votes that decide the White House.

For the Senate, there are two reasons. First, there is serious talk of admitting the District of Columbia as a state. Second, a yes vote in Puerto Rico’s nonbinding referendum on statehood could create impetus to its admission as well. Adding two new states would mean 104 Senators.

As to the number of House seats, after decades of institutional inertia dating back to 1910, we may finally break the psychological logjam of sticking to only 435 seats. Until 1910, the number of House seats changed every decade back to our nation’s founding. Our population has tripled since then, meaning each House Member now represents three times as many constituents, and a state like Montana can have only a single House Member for more than a million people. The 2010 Census showed that every state had grown in population since 2000 — but several states still lost seats because of our myopic fixation on 435.

With possibly two new states and with powerhouse states like California, Illinois, New York and Ohio slated to lose seats despite population growth, Congress should stop thinking of House seats as a zero sum game. If we added 20 seats for a total of 455, that would avoid any state with over a million people being left with one seat, accommodate entry of new states, and give us a “People’s House” better able to reflect the people — plus, it would give Nate Silver the chance to get a new domain name.

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