Over the last several years, Democrats in the US have often spoken of expanding the Supreme Court. After all, the “ideal Democrat” Franklin Delano Roosevelt did just that in order to pass his sweeping agenda in the 1930s. They also routinely speak out against the Electoral College, but that is something that tends to happen every four years with the loser of that system – particularly if that loser obtained a mythical “majority of the national popular vote”. There is no “national popular vote”. The race for President isn’t a single election. It is 50 individual elections that all take place essentially simultaneously, and the Electoral College reflects this.
But what if there was a better way? What if there were a way to ensure that the Will of the People were known better? What if there were a way to have even the Electoral College better reflect the exact preferences of the United States – without having to change election laws in at least 48 States? (Two States – Nebraska and Maine – already use similar Electoral Vote distribution systems as what we’ll see here momentarily.)
Well, allow a man to daydream – because this is all this is. It will almost certainly never happen, and thus it is but an idle daydream. A Woolgathering. But with a degree of weight to it, because it could actually solve several issues if implemented.
I speak, obviously from the title of the post, of expanding Congress. There are actually two scenarios to pull this off, one at least slightly more realistic than the other. Though both are certainly woolgatherings.
The first method is to increase the size of the US House of Representatives to its Constitutional maximum of one US Rep “for every thirty thousand, but each state shall have at least one Representative” (per Article I, Section II of the US Constitution). Depending on how much one studies or pays attention (it does sometimes get mentioned in the news), one may or may not be aware that for many decades after the adoption of the US Constitution, the number of US Representatives was increased every decade in theory in line with population growth as dictated in the decennial US Census. Then, in an era when even the telephone system was nowhere near as robust as we know it today, Congress decided to stop doing that in the 1920s and passed a law declaring that the number of US Reps would be capped at the level it was then at – the number we now know. 435.
This has led to some fairly large swings in the number of citizens represented by a given Representative, and is one major complaint against the Electoral College and even Congress itself now. Why should Liz Cheney, the sole US Representative for the State of Wyoming, represent 578,000 people, while Nanette Barragan, who represents one of several districts in Los Angeles and whose district includes the infamous Compton neighborhood, represents 717,000 people? Note that the actual difference between these two is 139K, or about 20%. But Wyoming is also the least populated State, and of the other States with a single US Representative – Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Delaware – only Vermont also has a population below the average for each US Rep District (710,000). Indeed, Delaware’s population of 990,000 is 38% *more* populous than the average. Similarly, South Dakota’s population of 886,000 is 23% more populous than the average Congressional District.
So that is step one of this woolgathering – repeal the act that capped the number of US Reps.
That would certainly help, but may not go far enough.
What if we not only removed the cap, but also implemented a new law that there would be *exactly* the maximum number of allowable US Representatives at all times? That number, as we discussed above, is one US Representative per every 30,000 people.
This would mean that we went from 435 Representatives to 11,026 Representatives as of the 2020 US Census that recorded a population of 330,759,736 people (not counting residents of the District of Columbia, which is not an official State).
Now, these 11,026 Representatives would still be apportioned via each State’s population vs the total population of the US, and this would still mean that California gets almost 12% of the 11,026 or 1,318 and Wyoming still gets 0.17% of the available Representatives, or 19. (Rather than the 1 Representative the State currently has.) However, this would also mean that States that currently only get a single US Rep – the above mentioned Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Delaware) would get anywhere from 21 – 33 US Representatives for their States, rather than the single voice those citizens currently have in that Chamber.
Now, you may be thinking “But there’s nowhere near enough space for such a massive increase in size on Capitol Hill, and this ever increasing size was one of the reasons the number was eventually capped!”. And you would be correct. However, at the time Congress limited its size, insecure telephones were the fastest way of communicating and anything other than a phone or telegraph could require days at minimum to reach the entirety of the nation. However, with more modern teleconferencing and secure meeting technology, this is no longer a concern. Thus, while space on Capitol Hill is still limited (and could either be repurposed or simply allow each State delegation to assign DC “seating” as it sees fit or allow the House of Representatives to make that decision for itself), the actual hearings and meetings and votes that constitute a Representatives primary functions can be done in a much more distributed nature. This would also help to ensure Continuity of Government and related security concerns, as there would no longer be a single central target to attack all sitting US Representatives. These items noted, the purpose of this woolgathering is not to come up with a solution for all potential problems with this proposal, but simply to propose it and allow the American people to consider it and solve any potential logistical issues together.
Now, I’ve written 1,000 words just in getting to this point. We’ll leave a consideration of the other proposal to expand Congress – which is admittedly a *far* longer shot than even the idea discussed today – to a later date…