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A Call to Strengthen Democracy by Enlarging the House of Representatives

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Cambridge, MA — The House of Representatives was supposed to be “the people’s house,” with a close connection between members of Congress and the public they serve. For decades, the House grew as the nation grew. Then, in 1929, Congress capped its size at 435 seats. As a result, states regularly lose representatives, even when their populations grow, and the number of constituents represented by each congressperson has exploded from roughly 35,000 in 1790 to almost 770,000 people today.

The Case for Enlarging the House of Representatives, authored by Lee Drutman, Jonathan D. Cohen, Yuval Levin, and Norman J. Ornstein, issued by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, argues for adding 150 seats to the House of Representatives, followed by regular expansion, to restore the connection between the people and “the people’s house” as envisioned by the nation’s founders. The proposal would also help to rebalance the Electoral College.

The new report expands on one of 31 recommendations in the Academy’s bipartisan report Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American democracy for the 21st Century.

The Academy and the American Enterprise Institute are co-hosting a virtual event to launch the new report on Thursday, December 16, 2021, at 1:00 p.m. EST. There is still time to learn more and register.

“The Academy’s work to develop bipartisan recommendations for strengthening democracy included consulting experts, scholars, and practitioners, as well as Americans across the country and the political spectrum,” said David Oxtoby, the President of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. “In every conversation, at every level, participants identified the growing distance between citizens and their representatives as a source of apathy and cynicism. Increasing the connection between citizens and members of the House is a way to strengthen the ties that bind us to one another, our institutions, and our civic values.”

Enlarging the House is something the Founders imagined would happen on a regular basis. No constitutional amendment is required – a vote of Congress is all that is needed to give voters a better chance to meet and interact with their representatives and to take active part in the democratic process. 

The Case for Enlarging the House of Representatives also shows that this recommendation would not significantly advantage one party over the other in control of the House or in presidential elections. It would, however, reduce the overrepresentation of small states, making it more likely that the outcome of presidential elections will align with the popular vote. It would also impact who runs for congress, creating opportunities for new kinds of candidates to succeed. Read the report and visit the Academy’s website to learn more about the effects of this recommendation.

Released in June 2020, Our Common Purpose sets forth 31 specific recommendations to help a nation in crisis emerge with a more resilient democracy. Since its release, the report has been viewed online more than 160,000 times and downloaded more than 25,000 times. The Academy is collaborating with a diverse set of over 60 organizations to champion the report’s recommendations around the country.

The American Academy of Arts & Sciences – both a membership organization honoring excellence and an independent research institute advancing the public good – was founded in 1780 to provide a new nation with valuable knowledge to navigate its greatest challenges.

Contact: Alison Franklin / AFranklin@amacad.org

 

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Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship

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Danielle Allen, Stephen B. Heintz, and Eric P. Liu