Is Congress too small?
By John D. Turner
25 May 2004

“The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative” – U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 2

This may sound like a silly question. Many may think that Congress is too large. We have to pay for these useless parasites who seem to have more accountability to special interests than they do to us. But perhaps that’s part of the problem. Perhaps part of the reason why the special interests are so powerful and we as individuals are so weak is because each Representative represents so many people that our voices are diluted and the effects of special interest money are magnified.

Originally, the Constitution provided for one Congressional Representative for every 30,000 people in a state.

But you say, the country was much smaller then. If we did that today, we would have thousands of representatives! 9666 of them to be exact, give or take a hundred or so, based on the last census. With an average of say, 50 staffers per congresscritter, that would mean an additional 483,333 federal workers. We would need a good sized high-rise office building just to house the House, and could employ everyone in Washington D.C. just to service them!

Of course, you wouldn’t need 50 staffers per congressperson, since they would be representing only 30,000 people each instead of the current 666,666 based on a current population of 290 million that they currently serve. (Hmmm. I wonder if there is anything significant about that number…)

One congressperson to represent 667,000 people (we’ll round it up ). Perhaps that’s one reason why my congressperson could seem to care less what I think. As a percentage of his total voter base, I am insignificant!

The founder’s believed that in order for a Representative Democracy to work, those doing the representing had to be accountable to the people, and understand their needs. It is hard for that to occur when the number of people they represent becomes too large. It won’t be long before every representative represents over a million people each. It is hard to imagine how this can reasonably occur. At some point, the people become less important than the special interests. That time occurred long ago the way the Congress is currently constructed.

The solution isn’t campaign finance reform, the solution is Congressional size reform.

The constitution was adopted in 1787, and provided for a census to be taken in 1790 and every 10 years thereafter to apportion Congress. The population of the United States in the 1790 census was 3,894,000. Based on the current number of citizens per representative, the House would consist of just 13 members, one for every state (since no state can have less than one), and the House would be half the size of the Senate!

Perhaps 9666 congresscritters, growing at a rate of several hundred every 10 years is a bit extreme. However a constant 435 is demonstrably too few. If we were to readjust the size of Congress to one representative per 100,000 population, then we would end up with around 2900 representatives in Congress. This is still a large number, but more manageable. This would give us representation on roughly the same basis as we had back in 1870 (except that we had fewer representatives back then as we had fewer states).

Lets call it 3500, to pick a nice number, and allow for population growth for awhile without readjusting congressional size for several decades.

Increasing the size of Congress would have multiple benefits. First, whereas the deep pockets of special interests might be able to buy the votes of 435 representatives, purchasing 3500 (or a majority thereof) would strain even George Soros. Second, with a greater number of seats, and the size of each district correspondingly decreased, we could reasonably expect greater minority participation in Congress without the torturous gerrymandering that currently occurs to “guarantee” minority victories. Districts could be drawn that actually make real-world instead of political sense.

Finally, the reduction in the number of people represented by each Congressperson (and correspondingly, the physical size of their district), would mean that not only would you have a better chance of getting your representative on the line when you need them, but they would have an easier time understanding and meeting the needs of the areas they represent.

There is nothing magical about the number 435.

Of course, we would need to build a new structure to put them in, as they clearly wouldn’t fit into the chambers they currently occupy. But what is more important; the building or the job? We could also take this opportunity to construct government quarters for them in Washington DC, eliminating the need for them to maintain two households, one in their home district, and one in DC. This need for two residences is frequently mentioned as a reason why they require such large salaries. As their retirement check is based on their salary, we are in effect also paying them extra retirement pay based on their need to maintain two households, even though when they retire they only require one.

Or perhaps they could simply maintain offices in their own district, and meet virtually using video conferencing or other collaborative means. This is the 21st century after all; there is no longer any need to get together physically to conduct business. This would also provide a decentralization of government that would make it difficult for a terrorist group or any other entity to eliminate a large portion of our government in one fell swoop. (It would also make it more difficult for special interest groups as well, since all the congresscritters would no longer be conveniently located in a single place.) And your representative would remain at home, where he or she belongs, taking care of the needs of their district, instead of being sucked into the never-never land that exists inside the beltway in Washington DC.

When the government wanted to get together for ceremonial reasons, the State of the Union speech, for example, they could just rent a large domed stadium somewhere in the U.S., such as the Alamodome here in San Antonio, or some other venue that holds several thousand persons. It could change each time, like the Superbowl.

Perhaps we could even return Washington DC to the states that donated the land in the first place, and then the residents could regain the right to vote without the ridiculous notion that they should be a separate state.

There would be costs to be sure. However I believe the benefits would outweigh the costs over time. The various convoluted “reforms” we have put into place are not doing the job. As fast as Congress passes a new “reform” (which is never very fast), the smart guys in each party figure out ways around the new rules. What is needed is a dilution of power, and more transparency, not more rules that everyone can hide behind.

And therein lies the rub. Enacting these changes would require action by Congress. And what Congressman is going to voluntarily reduce their power and importance? One of 435 is much more important than one of 3500. They would be reduced from being minor deities, to demigod status; perhaps even less.

The biggest change might be in the electoral college, which would expand from 535 votes to 3600 votes. Proportionally, nothing would change. California would get 428 electoral votes compared with the current 55, but the ratio of votes to total votes remains the same. However, with each district being smaller, and representing fewer voters, more power might appear to shift to high population areas, since these districts will typically no longer have any rural component, and there will be a lot of them. In reality, this shift in power is already happening. It’s just hidden from public view. In districts where the preponderance of the population is urban, the rural component gets short shrift. Expanding the number of representatives would at least get rural voters some representation in Congress where now they have little.

It might also, in conjunction with these changes, be a good idea to move away from the “winner take all” method most states use to count votes in the electoral college to a “one elector one vote” method. This would make third party candidacies more viable. Of course, the way electoral votes are counted by state is set up by each state, not by the federal government, so either the process would have to be federalized, or all the states would have to be convinced to change their method. Since this would not favor the two major political parties, and would tend to dilute the power of the larger states (voting in a bloc gives them a lot of clout), it isn’t likely to occur either, no matter how “fair” it might appear.

In all, expanding the size of Congress makes sense. It would benefit the people of the United States in terms of increased representation and dilution of special interests. Contriwise, it would be detrimental to the special interest groups and Congresscritters in general, in terms of dilution of power and influence.

Don’t expect this to become a burning issue in Foggy Bottom any time soon.