After a bit of a delay, caused by a late count due to the pandemic but also because of the prior administration’s lack of care about things like Constitutional mandate, the Census finally released the results of the once-every-ten-years (decennial?) count of people in the United States. I hope you filled out your Census form when it came to your house. If not… too late!*
*As a quick aside, it doesn’t look like I’ve ever written anything on here about my love for the Census, though I have done numerous Twitter threads about it (that I won’t be linking here). The Census is great and the 1990 one helped my parents provide for our family, so I’ll always have a soft spot for the count.
The topline results were pretty staggering, all things considered, with the US population growing to just over 331 million people since 2010, an increase of 7.35% from the nearly 309 million in 2010. Only three states saw their populations decline, and the average growth of the states was right around the overall growth of the country (funny how that works).
Which States Saw the Growth?
The big growth continues to be out west, with eight of the top ten fastest growing states being west of the Mississippi River, with Florida (14.56%) and South Carolina (10.66%) crashing the party in that regard.*
Slow Growth but Still (Mostly) Positive
The slowest growing group is a mix of different states. Two high-tax havens (Illinois and Connecticut) and two rural states (West Virginia and Mississippi), with Michigan rounding out the group with a great number (for them), at least over the past 15 years or so.
In a simpler world, one would look at these trends and move House seats around based on where the growth is happening, which is kind of what happens. But would you be shocked to learn that only one state in the Top 5 above is gaining a seat in the House? (Texas gained two!) Meanwhile, three of the bottom five did see a loss of seats, with West Virginia, Illinois, and Michigan losing a Representative.
Who Gained and Lost Seats?
Overall, this is what the total apportionment shift looked like after the count was done and the Census did their fancy math:
If anything, there is a flaw in the current system, partially due to the cap of 435 seats in the House of Representatives. This number has been capped for over 100 years, and only temporarily increased to 437 when Alaska and Hawaii were added as states in the middle of the 20th century. As such, California, the largest state in the country that saw nearly a 6% increase over the past decade, lost a seat for the first time in their history, and after being at 53 seats since the 2000 Census. In fact, as mentioned above, only Illinois and West Virginia actually lost people among the states losing seats, though it is true that the states losing seats have seen growth slow.
As a result, those 52 Representatives in California will each represent an average of 760,000 people. By comparison, Wyoming, the smallest state, has one Representative that will care for 577,000 by themselves. Overall, the average for the 435 seats in the House is just over 760,000 people, which shows that California is properly “apportioned” by that simple math.
Grow the House!
But it doesn’t have to be this way. While the Senate is supposed to make “all states equal,” there are numerous reasons why that is not necessarily the case, and that’s before discussing adding states to the mix. There is simply no reason why we should remain at 435 members in the House of Representatives. And short of multi-member districts, which leads even small states like New Hampshire to have 400 members in their House, the easiest way to ensure more representation for the people is to expand the size of the House.
I’ve seen numerous numbers thrown about, so I’ll look at a couple of different scenarios. First, let’s take a look at what the House would look like if we expanded it to 550 members, using the same apportionment methods. In an ideal world, stuff like DC statehood and abolishment of the Electoral College would occur first before an expansion of the House. I have left these scenarios out of the equation (for now), and will assume that we’ll still use the relic of the Electoral College to elect presidents for some reason.
550 Member House?
With 550 members, only four states – Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming – would remain at one member. These are the smallest four states (by population), so that makes sense. Delaware and South Dakota would gain their second seat and all but 10 states would gain additional seats from what they have after the recent reapportionment. The biggest beneficiaries are obviously the largest states, with California gaining 14 seats (to 66) and Texas gaining an additional 10 (to 48). The average representative would represent just over 600,000 people, which is just about the population of Wyoming.
This would not change the results of the presidential race much under the Electoral College. Using the results from the 2020 election, Democrats would win 369 votes to the Republicans 284, roughly the same ratio of what the current map would return. However, if we look at the electoral map from the 2016 election, the ratio would actually be better for the Republicans, the the winner of that election netting 373 votes and the loser getting 280. It’s only about a half percent different on each side, but the gap is wider nonetheless.
One benefit to moving to an even number of House members, at least under the current rules, is that the total electoral votes, 653, is an odd number meaning that there will never be a tie in the Electoral College. While this has never occurred, there were numerous scenarios that it could have with the most recent election, throwing it even more into chaos.
Set the Number Based on Lowest Population
If we instead base the number of seats off the population of the smallest state, we would simply divide the population of the smallest state by the total population to determine how many Representatives there should be. Currently, that state is Wyoming, and if we do that math, we would have 573 Representatives. In this scenario, North Dakota would gain a second seat, leaving only three states with one Representative. California (+17) and Texas (+13) are still the biggest gainers, but Florida (+9) and New York (+9) would be on the cusp of gaining double-digit seats.
Even beyond those top states, adding additional seats could be better at the state level as well. Take my home state (Utah) for example. Under both scenarios discussed thus far, Utah would gain an additional seat (or two, in the case of 573). This would allow for one or possibly two competitive districts within Utah, allowing for the Democrats within Utah to find some representation. Currently, Democratic candidates in Utah get about 35% in statewide elections. However, our four Congressional districts are currently all Republicans.
This would also be the case in those states dominated by Democrats. For example, all five Representatives from Connecticut are all Democrats, though they do have two “competitive” districts of sorts. With 573 members, Connecticut would gain another seat, and I imagine that the district lines in Connecticut could be redrawn to make a district even more competitive for the GOP. This same story would repeat across multiple states.
Every State Gets At Least Two
Going back to Wyoming, since they would be the last state to gain a second Rep, I wanted to see what the House would look like if we added members until they were awarded their second member. That number was 812! California, which currently has 52x as many Representatives as Wyoming (and all the other 1 Rep states), would only have… 47.5x as many Reps if Wyoming gets to their second seat, ending up with 97 total seats, or 12% of the total seats in the House, about the ratio of what it is now.
In this scenario, six states would have just two members – Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming – and 22 states would have fewer than 10 seats each and would equal about the total representation of California alone. This obviously is not much different than it is today, but more seats could result in more representation at the state level for the minority party in our two-party system. For example, based on current voting trends and this massive House, Utah should expect to be competitive for three of the eight seats in Utah, because more seats almost guarantees that it’s hard to gerrymander the minority party out of representation.
Ten Years to Go
I don’t think we should wait until the 2030 Census to move some seats around or expand the House. For one, DC statehood could possible occur long before 2030 (fingers crossed), as well as the self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico. That would lead to moving seats around… or simply adding seats to the House instead.*
*The addition of DC as a state wouldn’t be that big of a deal House wise, as they would currently only get one seat based on population. Puerto Rico, however, would probably end up with four seats (potentially five as they are slightly larger than Utah based on the Census, and Utah is the cusp between four seats and five seats at the moment). Without House expansion, even temporarily, the addition of DC and PR would result in the loss of seats for Minnesota, Montana, California, Colorado, and Oregon, three of which are new based on the current Census.
We could determine an ending number for the House, and add seats gradually over the next decade leading to the Census, though the best way might be to add them all at the same time in order to give the states the opportunity to draw more districts in time for the next election. I don’t know the best number; I’m partial to the second method I outlined here.
The more immediate concern should be addressing statehood for DC and Puerto Rico (if they want it), as well as a solution for the other territories – American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands – under the United States’ purview. It seems silly to have over 4 million people that do not have all the rights of citizenship because of where they live, and the US doesn’t need territories in this day and age.
Either way, there are plenty of other things that can be done before expanding the House, but it’s odd that nobody has seriously broached the topic when discussing some of the other “democracy” reforms that are currently under discussion. The country had 92 million people when the House of Representatives was capped at 435 members. While the House does not half to be expanded to 1564 members to match the growth of population, maybe it’s time to grow it to some number in the middle between the two numbers.
Until next time…