Strategy 1 Achieve Equality of Voice and Representation

Enlarge the House of Representatives

Strategy 1
Achieve Equality of Voice and Representation

Recommendation 1.1

Substantially enlarge the House of Representatives through federal legislation to make it and the Electoral College more representative of the nation’s population.

Read in the Report

Inadequate representation

Congressional districts are too large. As a result, Americans are not being adequately represented in the House of Representatives or the Electoral College.

When the framers of the Constitution designed the House of Representatives, they envisioned it as the most purely democratic branch of the federal government. But House districts have grown so big that representatives cannot adequately connect with their massive number of constituents. In 1790, each representative had roughly 35,000 constituents. Today, the average member of the House has almost 770,000 people in their district.

The total number of House seats expanded gradually for decades. In 1929, Congress capped the size of the House at 435 seats. Since then, the nation’s population has grown by around 170 percent, and the number of constituents represented by each congressperson has expanded significantly.

Size of U.S. House Representatives
Source: The New York Times

This growth has a variety of consequences. One study found that elected officials with more constituents are less responsive to voters, more beholden to special interests, and more likely to support legislation opposed by their constituents. Additionally, because of the large variance between the population size of different districts, some voters wield disproportionate power in electing representatives and the president.

Another problem: an unrepresentative Electoral College

The number of votes allocated to each state in the Electoral College is based on the number of the state’s congressional representatives (one for each senator and member of the House of Representatives). Differing population trends across the states have increased the likelihood that the winner of the popular vote will not win the Electoral College.

The disparity between the largest and smallest states has widened significantly since the nation’s founding. In 1792, the vote of a resident of Delaware weighed 1.7 times more heavily in the Electoral College than a resident of the largest state, Virginia. Today, the vote of a Wyoming resident weights 3.7 times more heavily in the Electoral College than that of a Californian.

Ratio of largest to smallest states (population)

Sources: 1790; 2020; 2040

“My students and I were talking about a lot of this as the election was ramping up. By the time the course was over, for the second time in my adult life, someone was elected president who did not win the popular vote. And it was also very clear to the students immediately that … there are a number of other representative problems.”
—Farmville, Virginia
“What does that mean when you have a popular vote that doesn’t count to elect your president and that excludes a lot of communities in those states that are well populated and they don’t see who they voted for as being representative of them.”
—Los Angeles, California

Realigning with the founders’ vision

Expanding the House of Representatives will bring the makeup of this body in line with the founders’ vision by making it more democratic and more responsive to voters.

Voters will have a better chance to meet and interact with their representatives and to take active parts in the democratic process.

The expansion of the House will also make the Electoral College more representative of American voters. Demographers project that the disparity between small states and large states will widen in the decades to come. Expanding the House—and, by extension, the Electoral College—will mitigate but not wholly correct the increased imbalance between more and less populous states.

How many seats should be added?

The current Capitol Building could easily accommodate an additional fifty members. This should be the starting bid. The precise number should be established through vigorous discussion and debate and a principled rationale for growth.

In order to implement Recommendation 1.1 by 2026, the Commission proposes the following milestones to complete by year-end of:

2020

  • Establish a working group to foster debate and build consensus around a number or methodology for enlarging the House (e.g. determine a formula and the justification)

2021

  • Establish hearings in the House and Senate on the issue of enlarging the House

2022

  • Establish bipartisan support for a formula/number by which to increase the size of the House

2024

  • Introduce legislation in House and Senate with bipartisan sponsorship

2026

  • Hold vote that achieves bipartisan support on legislation to expand House in House and/or Senate

Champion

Election Reformers Network, The New America Political Reform Group, and RepresentWomen are committed to working to implement this recommendation in order to help reinvent American democracy for the 21st century.

Election Reformers Network is nonpartisan 501c(3) founded by election specialists with backgrounds in international democracy support, election monitoring, and U.S. reform campaigns. ERN develops and advocates for tailored institutional reforms, particularly in areas of U.S. democracy that can benefit from a comparative international perspective. ERN has backed winning ballot initiatives for ranked choice voting and independent redistricting and published widely in support of reforms in areas including the electoral college and mult-member districts for Congress. 

The New America Political Reform Group works towards an open, fair democratic process, with equitable opportunities for full participation, in order to restore dynamism and growth to the American economy and society.

RepresentWomen works to advance women's representation and leadership through research and advocacy on data-driven systems strategies that enable all women to run, win, serve, and lead in appointed and elected offices in the United States.

See the full list of Our Common Purpose Champions.