There is a great article in the New York Times today that discusses a case being brought forth in a federal court in Mississippi that calls foul on the representative disparities in Congress. On the one hand, the entire state of Wyoming is one district with 523,000 people, but a district like Nevada's 3rd contains nearly a million people. Does that disparity mean that one district is more represented than the other? Those bringing the case think so. They propose that the House be expanded to at least 932 seats, but that 1761 seats would better fulfill the one person, one vote principle.
FHQ is plenty satisfied with 435 House elections plus an additional 33 or 34 Senate elections every two years, but why not add 1300 more? More elections would be great for business. In all seriousness, this has been an ongoing issue since the number of seats was held at 435. Will this case go anywhere? It's doubtful but it does raise an interesting question:
We strive to adhere to the one person, one vote ideal within states but not across states. Why? It is ironic that this case is coming through Mississippi. When I was in a Southern politics class with University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock a few years back, we were discussing both how much leeway states get in drawing districts and how much easier that process has become with geographic information systems. And the example he used was Mississippi. Typically, the courts allow states wiggle room of about 5% in terms of the populations in their allotted congressional districts. In a hypothetical state with one million people and two congressional districts you could "get away" with having one district with 512,500 people and the other having 487,500 people for example. [Well, given GIS, that probably isn't realistic as long as the districts are compact and relatively competitive. But you get the point.] So, there's some leeway. As I recall, though, Mississippi didn't just get their four districts down to within 5%. In at least two cases they got them to within 5 people. And none of the four districts had anymore than 14 or 15 people more than any of the other three.
Given that matters can be so precise within the states, then, why is it that we don't insist upon this equality of representation across states? It is curious. Mainly, I'd say that the root of this issue finds its origin at the outset of the republic itself when these matters of representation and the alignment of Congress were bitterly debated. The result was the compromise that gave the US a Senate with an equal number of members from each state and a House with its membership determined by population. In the same way, 435 is a compromise of sorts. It isn't perfect.
...but it does give us enough electoral votes to track.
Hat tip to Rick Hasen at the Election Law Blog for the link.
*Where did those numbers come from? Well, there's no way of accurately knowing how these new districts would be allocated. I could probably figure it out, but used a shorthand calculation instead. Obama won about 68% of the electoral votes last November. After adding in the 100 senatorial electoral votes plus Washington DC's three to the 1761, FHQ found that 68% of 1864 is 1265. Now, that would be fun to track in 2012.
Oh and in the interest of continued fun, I should add that under the 932 seat scenario, there would have been 1035 electoral votes. Using similar math to the above, Obama would have won 702-333.
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