Expanding the House

It’s not quite at the top of my list of democratic reforms, but congressional districts (and for that matter many state legislative districts, notably California’s) are too big. This leads to very expensive campaigns, which in turn favor the big donors who can fund them. More districts would be better for proportional representation, too, which is at the top of my list.

The limited number of congressional districts (you remember: 435) leads to another problem that we don’t see in state legislatures: widely disparate district sizes from state to state, because, of course, the districts can’t cross state lines. The range of district sizes is pretty high:

Expand the House?

… The most populous district in America right now, according to the latest Census data, is Nevada’s 3rd District, where 960,000 people are represented in the House by just one member. All of Montana’s 958,000 people likewise have just one vote in the House. By contrast, 523,000 in Wyoming get the same voting power, as do the 527,000 in one of Rhode Island’s two districts and the 531,000 in the other.

That 400,000-person disparity between top and bottom has generated a federal court challenge that is set to be filed Thursday in Mississippi, charging that the system effectively disenfranchises people in certain states. The lawsuit asks the courts to order the House to fix the problem by increasing its size from 435 seats to at least 932, or perhaps as many as 1,761. That way, the plaintiffs argue, every state can have districts that are close to parity. …

Peter Baker, NY Times

A lawsuit filed today will challenge the constitutionality (under the doctrine of one-man-one-vote) of leaving districts as large as they currently are. Read the article for more background.

The case has its own website with a link to the complaint.

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