The Daily Parker

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How to make the House work for us

The New York Times editorial board describes a pair of proposed reforms to the House to make it more representative: first, expand it to 593 seats; and second, create multi-member districts:

There’s no constitutional basis for a membership of 435; it’s arbitrary, and it could be undone by Congress tomorrow. Congress set it in 1911, but following the 1920 census — which counted nearly 14 million more people living in the United States — lawmakers refused to add seats out of concern that the House was getting too big to function effectively. Rural members were also trying to forestall the shift in national power to the cities (sound familiar?), where populations were exploding with emigrants from farm country and immigrants from abroad.

It is true that individual representatives would find their influence diluted by the addition of more members, but that’s not an argument against expansion. Nor would growing the House cost too much. Salaries for lawmakers and their staffs would total less than one million dollars per representative — which means a couple hundred representatives could be added for the price of, say, five F-14 fighter jets.

Most important, expanding the House would mean not just a government with more representatives, but one that is literally more representative — including more people from perennially underrepresented groups, like women and minorities, and making for a fuller and richer legislative debate.

And about multi-member districts:

Sure, the Senate is designed to be undemocratic, awarding two votes to every state regardless of population. But shouldn’t the House of Representatives — the “People’s House,” after all — reflect the political makeup of the country as accurately as possible?

And yet across America, even sizeable communities of minority-party supporters regularly find themselves locked out of power for a simple reason: Single-member congressional districts. Each of the House’s 435 districts is represented by one person, chosen in a winner-take-all election. It may sound wonky, but in our hyperpolarized, geographically clustered and gerrymandered age, single-member districts have become a threat to the health of America’s representative democracy.

Most people don’t question the wisdom of voting for only one member per district, if they think about the matter at all. But there’s nothing special or preordained about it. In fact, the alternative — districts that send multiple members to Congress — was the norm at the nation’s founding. Nine states still use multimember districts to fill at least one state legislative chamber, and four — Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota and Washington — elect all their state lawmakers this way.

Multimember districts offer other important benefits, too. When three or five members of Congress all represent the same district, it’s much harder for politicians to gerrymander themselves and their party into permanent power. And experience from the states shows that more women and minorities get elected in multimember districts.

I mean, none of this is any more likely than DC and PR statehood. But it would help our current situation, without causing either party to gain or lose significant party.

Of course, that suggests that maybe the bigger problem is duopoly...

Now if you'll excuse me, I have been waiting for these visitors.

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