United States congressional apportionment

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United States congressional apportionment is the process by which seats in the United States House of Representatives are redistributed amongst the 50 states following each constitutionally mandated decennial census. Each state is apportioned a number of seats which approximately corresponds to its share of the aggregate population of the 50 states.[1] However, every state is constitutionally guaranteed at least one seat.

Reapportionment[edit]

The 435 seats of the House grouped by state (post-2010 Census reapportionment).
While citizens of each state are given nearly equal voting power through representation in the House, the situation in the Senate is significantly different where each state gets two votes no matter how large its population may be. A Wyoming voter, therefore, has roughly 66 times more representation in the Senate than a California voter. (Citizens in DC and territories have no voting power in Congress.)

The number of seats in the House of Representatives is currently set to 435, and has been since 1913, except for a temporary increase to 437 after the admissions of Alaska and Hawaii. Though the actual reapportionment will normally occur in respect of a decennial census, the law that governs the total number of representatives and the method of apportionment to be carried into force at that time can be created prior to the census.

The decennial apportionment also determines the size of each state's representation in the U.S. Electoral College—that is, any state's number of electors equals the size of its total congressional delegation (i.e., House seat(s) plus Senate seats).[2]

Federal law requires the Clerk of the House of Representatives to notify each state government of its entitled number of seats no later than January 25 of the year immediately following the census. After seats have been reapportioned, each state determines the boundaries of congressional districts—geographical areas within the state of approximately equal population—in a process called redistricting.[3] Any citizen of the State can challenge the constitutionality of the redistricting in their US district court.[4]

Because the deadline for the House Clerk to report the results does not occur until the following January, and the states need sufficient time to perform the redistricting, the decennial census does not affect the elections that are held during that same year. For example, the electoral college apportionment during 2000 presidential election was still based on the 1990 census results. Likewise, the congressional districts and the electoral college during the 2020 general elections will still be based on the 2010 census.

Constitutional texts[edit]

The subject of Congressional apportionment is addressed twice in the U.S. Constitution. Initially, the apportionment of House seats was guided by two sentences in Article I, Section 2, clause 3:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at least one Representative;…

Following the end of the Civil War, the first of those provisions was superseded by Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment:

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed,[5] But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male[6] inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age,[7] and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

House size[edit]

Ratio of representation in the House, 1789–1913
Years Source Constituents
per Rep.
1789 U.S. Const. ≥30,000
1793–1803 1790 Census 34,436
1803–1813 1800 Census 34,609
1813–1823 1810 Census 36,377
1823–1833 1820 Census 42,124
1833–1843 1830 Census 49,712
1843–1853 1840 Census 71,338
1853–1863 1850 Census 93,020
1863–1873 1860 Census 122,614
1873–1883 1870 Census 130,533
1883–1893 1880 Census 151,912
1893–1903 1890 Census 173,901
1903–1913 1900 Census 193,167
1913–1923 1910 Census 210,583
The U.S. population has increased more rapidly than the membership of the House of Representatives.

The size of the U.S. House of Representatives refers to total number of congressional districts (or seats) into which the land area of the United States proper has been divided. The number of voting representatives is currently set at 435. There are an additional five delegates to the House of Representatives. They represent the District of Columbia and the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, which first elected a representative in 2008,[8] and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico also elects a resident commissioner every four years.

Controversy and history[edit]

Since 1789, when the Federal Government began operating under the Constitution, the number of citizens per congressional district has risen from an average of 33,000 in 1790 to almost 700,000 as of 2008. Prior to the 20th century, the number of representatives increased every decade as more states joined the union, and the population increased. In 1911, Public Law 62-5 raised the membership of the U.S. House to 433 with a provision to add one permanent seat each upon the admissions of Arizona and New Mexico as states. As provided, membership increased to 435 in 1912.

In 1921, Congress failed to reapportion the House membership as required by the United States Constitution. This failure to reapportion may have been politically motivated, as the newly elected Republican majority may have feared the effect such a reapportionment would have on their future electoral prospects.[9][10] Then in 1929 Congress (Republican control of both houses of congress and the presidency) passed the Reapportionment Act of 1929 which capped the size of the House at 435 (the then current number). This cap has remained unchanged for more than eight decades. Three states – Wyoming, Vermont, and North Dakota – have populations smaller than the average for a single district.

The "ideal" number of members has been a contentious issue since the country's founding. George Washington agreed that the original representation proposed during the Constitutional Convention (one representative for every 40,000) was inadequate and supported an alteration to reduce that number to 30,000.[11] This was the only time that Washington pronounced an opinion on any of the actual issues debated during the entire convention.[12]

In Federalist No. 55, James Madison argued that the size of the House of Representatives has to balance the ability of the body to legislate with the need for legislators to have a relationship close enough to the people to understand their local circumstances, that such representatives' social class be low enough to sympathize with the feelings of the mass of the people, and that their power be diluted enough to limit their abuse of the public trust and interests.

"... first, that so small a number of representatives will be an unsafe depositary of the public interests; secondly, that they will not possess a proper knowledge of the local circumstances of their numerous constituents; thirdly, that they will be taken from that class of citizens which will sympathize least with the feelings of the mass of the people, and be most likely to aim at a permanent elevation of the few on the depression of the many;..."[13]

Madison also addressed Anti-Federalist claims that the representation would be inadequate, arguing that the major inadequacies are of minimal inconvenience since these will be cured rather quickly by virtue of decennial reapportionment. He noted, however,

"I take for granted here what I shall, in answering the fourth objection, hereinafter show, that the number of representatives will be augmented from time to time in the manner provided by the Constitution. On a contrary supposition, I should admit the objection to have very great weight indeed."

Madison argued against the assumption that more is better:

"Sixty or seventy men may be more properly trusted with a given degree of power than six or seven. But it does not follow that six or seven hundred would be proportionally a better depositary. And if we carry on the supposition to six or seven thousand, the whole reasoning ought to be reversed. ... In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever character composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason."[13]

Clemons v. Department of Commerce[edit]

A 2009 lawsuit, Clemons v. Department of Commerce, sought a court order for Congress to increase the size of the House's voting membership and then reapportion the seats in accordance with the population figures of the 2010 Census. The intent of the plaintiff was to rectify the disparity of congressional district population sizes among the states that result from the present method of apportionment. Upon reaching the U.S. Supreme Court in December 2010, the holdings of the lower district and appellate courts were vacated and the case remanded to the U.S. District Court from which the case originated with instructions that the district court dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction.

Proposed expansion[edit]

The first proposed amendment to the Constitution within the Bill of Rights attempted to set a pattern for growth of the House along with the population, but has not been ratified.

Article the first... After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.[14]

The proposed Wyoming Rule calls for expanding the House until the standard Representative-to-population ratio equals that of the smallest entitled unit (currently the state of Wyoming). This proposal is primarily designed to address the fact that some House districts are currently nearly twice the size of others; for instance, there are nearly 1 million residents in Montana's single district, compared to about 570,000 in Wyoming's. See List of U.S. states by population. It should be noted that, while a larger House size will generally result in the smallest and largest districts being proportionally closer in size, this is not always the case. Therefore in some cases, the Wyoming Rule may actually result in an increase in the ratio of the sizes of the largest and smallest districts. For instance, after the 1990 Census and with a House size of 435, the largest district (Montana's At-large district) had 799,065 residents, 76% larger than the smallest district (Wyoming's At-large district with 453,588 residents). The Wyoming Rule would have given a House size of 547 in 1990. Using that size, the largest district (North Dakota's At-large district) would have had 638,800 residents, 92% larger than the smallest districts (Delaware's two districts at approximately 333,084 residents each), which is larger than the 76% figure mentioned above.

On May 21, 2001, Rep. Alcee Hastings sent a dear colleague letter pointing out that U.S. expansion of its legislature had not kept pace with other countries.[15]

In 2007, during the 110th Congress, Representative Tom Davis introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would add two seats to the House, one for Utah and one for the District of Columbia. It was passed by the House, but was tripped up by procedural hurdles in Senate and withdrawn from consideration. An identical bill was reintroduced during the 111th Congress. In February 2009 the Senate adopted the measure 61-37. In April 2010, however, House leaders decided to shelve the proposal.[16]

Apportionment methods[edit]

Apart from the requirement that the number of delegates for each state is at least one, a state's number of representatives is in principle proportional to population, thus assuring reasonably consistent representation to the people regardless of the state boundaries and populations. No method of calculating a fair distribution of voting power across the various states was known until recently and five distinct apportionment methods have been used since the adoption of the Constitution, none of them producing fully proportional distribution of power among the states.

The current method, known as the method of equal proportions, has been used since the 1940 Census. The Vinton or Hamilton method, used from 1850 to 1900, was susceptible to what is known as the apportionment paradox or Alabama paradox.[17]

In 2008, a so-called One-Person-One-Vote model was introduced by J. Toplak in Temple Law Review,[18] which distributes the states' power in the House of Representatives exactly 'according to their Numbers'. Under this system, however, members of the House of Representatives do not have equal voting power. The method would be constitutional since the U.S. Constitution does not require Congressmen to have equal voting powers but does require the voters to have votes of equal weight.[citation needed][19]

The Method of Equal Proportions[edit]

Further information: Huntington–Hill method

The apportionment methodology currently used is the method of equal proportions,[20][21][22] so called because it guarantees that no additional transfer of a seat (from one state to another) will reduce the ratio between the numbers of persons per representative in any two states.[23] According to NationalAtlas.gov, the method of equal proportions minimizes the percentage differences in the populations of the congressional districts.[24]

In this method, as a first step, each of the 50 states is given its one guaranteed seat in the House of Representatives, leaving 385 seats to assign.

The remaining seats are allocated one at a time, to the state with the highest priority number. Thus, the 51st seat would go to the most populous state (currently California). The priority number is determined by a formula that is mathematically computed to be the ratio of the state population to the geometric mean of the number of seats it currently holds in the assignment process, n (initially 1), and the number of seats it would hold if the seat were assigned to it, n+1.

The formula for determining the priority of a state to be apportioned the next available seat defined by the method of equal proportions is

 A_{n} = \frac{P}{\sqrt{n(n+1)}}

where P is the population of the state, and n is the number of seats it currently holds before the possible allocation of the next seat. An equivalent, recursive definition is

 A_{n+1} = \sqrt{\frac{n}{n+2}} \ A_{n}

where n is still the number of seats the state has before allocation of the next, and for n = 1, the initial A1 is explicitly defined as

 A_{1} = \frac{P}{\sqrt{2}}

Consider the reapportionment following the 2010 U.S. Census: beginning with all states initially being allocated one seat, the largest value of A1 corresponds to the largest state, California, which is allocated seat 51. After being allocated its 2nd seat, its priority value decreases to its A2 value, which is reordered to a position back in line. The 52nd seat goes to Texas, the 2nd largest state, because its A1 priority value is larger than the An of any other state. However, the 53rd seat goes back to California because its A2 priority value is larger than the An of any other state. The 54th seat goes to New York because its A1 priority value is larger than the An of any other state at this point. This process continues until all remaining seats are assigned. Each time a state is assigned a seat, n is incremented by 1, causing its priority value to be reduced and reordered among the states, whereupon another state normally rises to the top of the list.

The Census 2010 Ranking of Priority Values[25] shows the order in which seats 51–435 were apportioned after the 2010 Census, with additional listings for the next five priorities. Minnesota was allocated the final (435th) seat. North Carolina, which gained the 435th seat in the 2000 census,[26] missed its 14th seat by 15,754 residents as the 436th seat to be allocated.

Past apportionments[edit]

Note: The first apportionment was established by the Constitution based on population estimates made by the Philadelphia Convention, and was not based on any census or enumeration.

Changes following the 2010 census[edit]

On December 21, 2010 the U.S. Census Bureau released its official apportionment results for congressional representation. The changes were in effect for the U.S. elections in 2012.[27]

Gain four Gain two Gain one Lose one Lose two
Texas Florida Arizona
Georgia
Nevada
South Carolina
Utah
Washington
Illinois
Iowa
Louisiana
Massachusetts
Michigan
Missouri
New Jersey
Pennsylvania
New York
Ohio

Past increases[edit]

The size of the U.S. House has increased as follows:[28]

1789–1800[edit]

Date Size Change Citation Comments
March 4, 1789 59 n/a Const. Art. I, § 2, cl. 3 Seats apportioned by the Constitution
November 21, 1789 64 Increase 5 North Carolina ratified the Constitution with the seats apportioned by the Constitution
May 29, 1790 65 Increase 1 Rhode Island ratified the Constitution with the seats apportioned by the Constitution
March 4, 1791 67 Increase 2 Stat. 191 Vermont admitted
June 1, 1792 69 Increase 2 Kentucky admitted
March 4, 1793 105 Increase 36 Apportionment Act of 1792, 1 Stat. 253 Apportionment of the First Census
June 1, 1796 106 Increase 1 Stat. 492 Tennessee admitted

1801–1820[edit]

Date Size Change Citation Comments
March 1, 1803 107 Increase 1 Stat. 175 Ohio admitted.
March 4, 1803 142 Increase 35 Stat. 128 Apportionment of the Second Census.
April 30, 1812 143 Increase 1 Stat. 703 Louisiana admitted.
March 4, 1813 182 Increase 39 Stat. 669 Apportionment of the Third Census.
December 11, 1816 183 Increase 1 Stat. 290 Indiana admitted.
December 10, 1817 184 Increase 1 Stat. 349 Mississippi admitted.
December 3, 1818 185 Increase 1 Stat. 430 Illinois admitted.
December 14, 1819 186 Increase 1 Stat. 492 Alabama admitted.
March 15, 1820 Steady Stat. 555 Maine admitted, 7 seats transferred from Massachusetts

1821–1840[edit]

Date Size Change Citation Comments
August 10, 1821 187 Increase 1 Stat. 547 Missouri admitted
March 4, 1823 213 Increase 26 Stat. 651 Apportionment of the Fourth Census
March 4, 1833 240 Increase 27 Stat. 516 Apportionment of the Fifth Census
June 15, 1836 241 Increase 1 Stat. 51 Arkansas admitted
January 26, 1837 242 Increase 1 Stat. 50 Michigan admitted

1841–1853[edit]

Date Size Change Citation Comments
March 4, 1843 223 Decrease 19 Stat. 491 Apportionment of the Sixth Census, the only time the size of the House was reduced, except for the minor readjustment in 1963.
March 3, 1845 224 Increase 1 Stat. 743 Florida admitted.
December 29, 1845 226 Increase 2 Stat. 798 Texas annexed and admitted.
December 28, 1846 228 Increase 2 Stat. 743
Stat. 52
Iowa admitted.
May 29, 1848 230 Increase 2 Stat. 58
Stat. 235
Wisconsin admitted.
March 4, 1849 231 Increase 1 Stat. 235 Wisconsin given another seat.
September 9, 1850 233 Increase 2 Stat. 452 California admitted.
March 4, 1853 Steady Stat. 432 Apportionment of the Seventh Census.
234 Increase 1 10 Stat. 25 Additional seat apportioned to California

The 1850 Apportionment bill provided a method to be used in future reapportionments, as well as establishing the then-current 233 as the number of seats to be apportioned after future censuses. Due to census returns being incomplete in California, an additional act provided that California retain the same representation it had when admitted, until a new census could be taken. California would otherwise have lost one seat, and so the total number of seats was increased by one to 234.

1854–1880[edit]

Date Size Change Citation Comments
May 11, 1858 236 Increase 2 11 Stat. 166 Minnesota admitted.
February 14, 1859 237 Increase 1 11 Stat. 383 Oregon admitted.
January 29, 1861 238 Increase 1 11 Stat. 269 Kansas admitted
June 2, 1862 239 Increase 1 12 Stat. 411 California apportioned an extra seat
March 4, 1863 233 Decrease 6 Stat. 432 Apportionment of the Eighth Census, in accordance with the 1850 act, which provided for an apportionment of 233 seats
241 Increase 8 12 Stat. 353 Supplemental apportionment of 8 seats, for an overall increase of 2 seats in the 38th Congress
June 20, 1863 Steady 12 Stat. 633 West Virginia admitted, three seats transferred from Virginia
October 31, 1864 242 Increase 1 13 Stat. 32 Nevada admitted
March 1, 1867 243 Increase 1 14 Stat. 391 Nebraska admitted
March 4, 1873 283 Increase 40 17 Stat. 28 Apportionment of the Ninth Census, replacing the 1850 act
292 Increase 9 17 Stat. 192 Supplemental apportionment added one seat each for nine states
August 1, 1876 293 Increase 1 13 Stat. 34 Colorado admitted

1881–1900[edit]

Date Size Change Citation Comments
March 4, 1883 325 Increase 32 47th Congress, ch. 20, 22 Stat. 5 Apportionment of the Tenth Census.
November 2, 1889 328 Increase 3 North Dakota and South Dakota admitted. One seat goes to the former, two to the latter.
November 8, 1889 329 Increase 1 Montana admitted.
November 11, 1889 330 Increase 1 Washington admitted.
July 3, 1890 331 Increase 1 Idaho admitted.
July 10, 1890 332 Increase 1 Wyoming admitted.
March 4, 1893 356 Increase 24 Apportionment Act of 1891 Apportionment of the Eleventh Census.
January 4, 1896 357 Increase 1 Utah admitted.

1901–present[edit]

Date Size Change Citation Comments
March 4, 1903 386 Increase 29 Apportionment Act of 1901, 31 Stat. 733 Apportionment of the Twelfth Census
November 16, 1907 391 Increase 5 Oklahoma Enabling Act Oklahoma admitted
January 6, 1912 393 Increase 2 Apportionment Act of 1911, Sec. 2; New Mexico Enabling Act New Mexico admitted
February 14, 1912 394 Increase 1 Apportionment Act of 1911, Sec. 2 Arizona admitted
March 4, 1913 435 Increase 41 Apportionment Act of 1911, Pub.L. 62–5, 37 Stat. 13 Apportionment of the Thirteenth Census
January 3, 1959 436 Increase 1 Alaska Statehood Act Alaska admitted
August 21, 1959 437 Increase 1 Hawaii Admission Act Hawaii admitted
January 3, 1963 435 Decrease 2 Reapportionment Act of 1929, ch. 28, 46 Stat. 26, 2 U.S.C. § 2a Apportionment of the Eighteenth Census
Note: The Reapportionment Act of 1929 stated that the "then existing number of Representatives" would be apportioned after each census, which would have dictated an apportionment of 437 seats, but the Alaska Statehood Act and Hawaii Admission Act explicitly stated that the new seats were temporary increases[29]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  • Delegate counts in italics represent temporary counts assigned by Congress until the next decennial census or by the U.S. Constitution in 1789 until the first U.S. Census.
  • Elections held in the year of a census use the apportionment determined by the previous census.
  1. ^ The populations of Washington, D.C. and federal territories are not included in this figure.
  2. ^ U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1, Clause 2.
  3. ^ 2 U.S.C. § 2c
  4. ^ 28 U.S.C. § 2284(a)
  5. ^ Rendered moot by the Revenue Act of 1924 and Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.
  6. ^ Modified by section 1 of the Nineteenth amendment.
  7. ^ Modified by section 1 of the Twenty-sixth amendment.
  8. ^ Bush signs federalization bill, Agnes E. Donato, Saipan Tribune, May 10, 2008.
  9. ^ "Fair Representation, Meeting The Ideal of One Man One vote" - Michel Balinski and H. Peyton Young -- Page 51
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ George Will Called Me An Idiot, Jonah Golderg, National Review, January 15, 2001.
  12. ^ Madison's notes on the Constitutional Convention - Tuesday September 17, 1787
  13. ^ a b The Federalist #55
  14. ^ "Constitutional Amendments Not Ratified". United States House of Representatives. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-30. 
  15. ^ House of Representatives? Hardly., Alcee Hastings, May 21, 2001.
  16. ^ Marimow, Ann E.; Pershing, Ben (April 21, 2010). "Congressional leaders shelve D.C. voting rights bill". The Washington Post. 
  17. ^ "Congressional Apportionment-Historical Perspective". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 27 October 2013. .
  18. ^ Toplak, Jurij (2008). "Equal Voting Weight of All: Finally 'One Person, One Vote' from Hawaii to Maine?". Temple Law Review (Temple University) 81 (1): 123–176. 
  19. ^ Jurij Toplak (January 4, 2011). "Equal Voting Weight of All: Finally 'One Person, One Vote' from Hawaii to Maine?". pp. 158–175. Retrieved 2013-10-17. 
  20. ^ "The History of Apportionment in America". American Mathematical Society. Retrieved 2009-02-15. 
  21. ^ "2 USC §2a". Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2008-05-13. 
  22. ^ "Computing Apportionment". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 2009-02-14. 
  23. ^ Edward V Huntington (1921). "The Mathematical Theory of the Apportionment of Representatives". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A. 7 (4): 123–7. doi:10.1073/pnas.7.4.123. PMC 1084767. PMID 16576591. 
  24. ^ "Congressional Apportionment". NationalAtlas.gov. Retrieved 2009-02-14. 
  25. ^ "PRIORITY VALUES FOR 2010 CENSUS". U.S. Bureau of the Census. Retrieved 2012-06-07. 
  26. ^ "Census 2000 Ranking of Priority Values". U.S. Bureau of the Census. 2001-02-21. Retrieved 2008-05-13. 
  27. ^ "APPORTIONMENT POPULATION AND NUMBER OF REPRESENTATIVES, BY STATE: 2010 CENSUS". US Census. 2010-12-21. Retrieved 2013-02-23. 
  28. ^ The Size of the U. S. House of Representatives and its Constituent State Delegations, thirty-thousand.org.
  29. ^ Both acts included the phrasing That such temporary increase in the membership shall not operate to either increase or decrease the permanent membership of the House of Representatives as prescribed in the Act of August 8, 1911 (37 Stat. 13) nor shall such temporary increase affect the basis of apportionment established by the Act of November 15, 1941 (55 Stat. 761; 2 U. S. C., sec. 2a), for the Eighty-third Congress and each Congress thereafter.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Taren (2004). "Counting Matters: Prison Inmates, Population Bases, and "One Person, One Vote"". Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the Law (Chicago: Virginia Journal of Social Policy & the Law) 11 (Winter): 229. 

External links[edit]