The size of the House of Representatives hasn't kept up with population growth for a very long time—in fact, it hasn't even tried to—but one congressman has a solution.
Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon just introduced a bill that would increase the House to 585 members from its present 435 following the next census in 2030, reducing the number of constituents each representative would have and, hopefully, making government more responsive and more reflective. While the proposed change wouldn't take effect for another 10 years, we've envisioned how it would have affected congressional reapportionment following the 2020 census in the map at the top of this story (click here to enlarge).
Up until the 1910s, the House had increased in size nearly every decade as the population grew, but with only a two-year exception—when Alaska and Hawaii first became states—it's been stuck at 435 members since 1913. At the time, America’s population was just one-quarter of what it currently is, yet the number of seats in the House has been frozen in place by law since 1929. Consequently, the number of constituents in the average House district has grown from 210,000 after the 1910 census to 761,000 today, and that number could pass 1 million in the coming decades if the law does not change.
Related: Our Q&A with Rep. Earl Blumenauer about his bill to expand the House
As FiveThirtyEight's Geoffrey Skelley has noted, proponents of expanding the House point to several major potential benefits, such as:
increasing the proportion of districts where voters of color can elect their chosen candidates and boosting political diversity;
narrowing the population gap between the smallest and largest districts (which is currently almost two-to-one);
improving constituent services by reducing the number served by each member; and
reducing individual candidates' cost of campaigning.
Expansion has some possible downsides, though, since a larger membership would require more funding, decrease the average member's influence, and could lead lawmakers to centralize even more power in party leadership to manage the chamber. And while some proponents argue that a larger House would make partisan gerrymandering harder, doing that to any major degree would likely require an increase of many times more than Blumenauer's proposal: Many state legislatures in recent years have been gerrymandered almost as egregiously as the House despite far smaller district sizes. Nevertheless, the benefits likely outweigh the costs.
The House's large ratio of constituents to representatives is also a major outlier among advanced democracies, and scholars have long noted that the size of the lower chamber in most country's parliaments tends to correspond to the cube root of their population. If the U.S. adhered to that formula, the House would now have about 690 seats, making it more than one-half larger than it is today.
Blumenauer's bill doesn't expand the House quite that much; rather, he explains his 585 figure by noting that 149 total seats have shifted between states during reapportionment since the current cap of 435 was reached and adds one more to keep an odd number of members. Nonetheless, his proposed one-third increase could still go a long way toward making the chamber itself more representative of America's diverse population.
This post was updated to include Blumenauer’s explanation for choosing 585 House seats as his target.