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My Bluetooth headset needs time to charge, so let's talk about Apportionment.
blaisepascal
I've been thinking about Congressional apportionment for the past couple of weeks[1], and I now have a half-hour or so to kill before I can listen to podcasts on the way home, so why not share my thoughts with you.

In my opinion, two of the major structural problems with the US Congress are (a) the size of Congress (which is really what I mean by the apportionment problem), and (b) gerrymandering. I tend to think fixing the first problem will reduce the impact of the second problem, and it is (in theory, at least) and easier political problem to solve. The problem is that, for nearly 100 years, the size of the House of Representatives has been stagnant, fixed at 435 (with brief exceptions temporarily caused by the admission of new states).

Before this stagnation, as the US population increased, so did the size of Congress, albeit usually not at quite the same rate. By 1913, the number of people per representative was around 212,000, up from 33,000 in 1790. A political fight prevented a reapportionment in 1921, and in 1929 the number of representatives was fixed at 435, and hasn't been changed since, despite the US population more than tripling since 1913 (now, the number of ratio of people to representatives is over 700,000 to 1). In my opinion, this is bad for democracy, as people can't know their Congressional representatives.

So what would I do about it?



Ideally, I'd like to treble or quadruple the number of representatives, or more, bringing the constituencies down to a more manageable level. (Curiously, there's a political science rule of thumb for the size of a parliament, as the cube root of the population. For the UK, that works out to about 400 MPs, about the size of the US House (435); for the US, that works out to about 680, about the size of the UK Parliament (650). I think this is still too small, as it's about 450,000 constituents each). I also feel that doing so in one swell foop is too harsh, as then the vast majority of congresscritters in the 2024 election will be completely inexperienced.

My current thought is to grow it gradually, perhaps with language such as "After a decennial census, the number of seats in the House of Representatives will be 10% more than in the previous House, or one seat for every 300,000 persons, whichever is less". But I also have another idea which will grow Congress, perhaps slower than the above, but has some intriguing elements that might make it more politically feasible.

One of the major complaints that happens every census is the question of which states will gain, and which will lose, seats in Congress. My state lost two districts in the last apportionment because it's population did not grow as fast as the rest of the country (only 2.1% since 2000). States don't like to lose seats in Congress.

So my idea is simple: States don't lose seats. Currently, the apportionment rule is to distribute the seats according to the "method of equal proportions" until all 435 seats are distributed. My rule would be to distribute the seats according to the "method of equal proportions" until all states have at least as many Representatives as they had before apportionment.

How would this work? First, a note on the "method of equal proportions". Basically, the way this works is that each state is initially assigned a single representative, then for the remaining 385 representatives the states are initially ranked according to their population divided by sqrt(n*(n+1)), where n is the number of representatives assigned to that state, and the state with the highest ranking gets another representative. In 2010, California had a population of 37M, while TX was 20M and NY was 19M. In the first ranking, these three numbers would be divided by sqrt(2)=1.414 (CA:26.1, TX: 14.1, NY: 13.4), and CA would be assigned it's second representative. In the second ranking CA's population would be divided by sqrt(2*3) = 2.45, so the ranking would be (CA:15.1, TX:14.1, NY:13.4) and CA would get a 3rd representative. In the third ranking, CA's divisor would be sqrt(3*4) = 3.46, and the rankings would be (TX:14.1, NY:13.4, CA:10.7), and Texas would get it's 2nd representative (and it's divisor would become 2.45). Then NY would get a seat, then FL (pop. 18M), etc. Now, this process continues until all 435 seats are distributed.

Under my idea, the only real change would be in the termination condition. Instead of stopping at 435 seats, the distribution would continue until all 10 states which lost seats got their original number. This would likely lead to more than 12 more rounds through the method, meaning that other states would get more seats as well.




I have yet to figure out exactly what the outcome would be, and I'm not going to do it right now. I'll post again about this.

Oh look, my Bluetooth headset is charged now; I can go home.

[1] My mind flits from topic to topic often, so it's not surprising that the apportionment problem sneaks in there, especially when Congress is being an ass. Of course, I often think about weird things (the time has come to think of many things, of shoes, and sails, and sealing wax; of cabbages and kings...speaking of which, does anyone have a good recipe for sealing wax? I haven't found one I like yet).

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Positive Proxy Representation and Liquid Democracy

Why should the size of the House of Representatives be fixed? The objective is to provide representative government; what we need is a way of getting the Will Of The People in one side and policy implementation out the other.

My own idea I've called Positive Proxy Representation; the idea is, instead of dividing things up by where people live (arguably nowadays one of the least important things about them), let each person assign a proxy to whomever they please for their vote. If someone gathers a certain floor number of proxies, they get a seat in the House.

This eliminates not only districts, but the problem of the 49% who voted for a losing candidate. Since a proxy can be reassigned at any time, a representative who takes a bribe could lose most of his proxies overnight. (A proxy tracking system *could* work in real time, but limiting people to reassigning their proxy a maximum of once daily makes for a much easier programming problem.)

There's also http://www.communitywiki.org/LiquidDemocracy , but I don't think the kind of issue-parser they contemplate is possible.

best,

Joel

Re: Positive Proxy Representation and Liquid Democracy

There's this pesky thing called Article I of the US Constitution that says that the House of Representatives shall be made of elected members, to 2 year terms, and the numbers shall be divided among the States. Changing to a system like you describe would require a constitutional amendment, at the very least.

Besides, what I see as a result of that system is representatives who are not beholden to the people they supposedly represent, but to the big-money interests that can afford to back national media campaigns to garner them proxies.

I don't even wax my floor - why should I wax my ceiling? :-D

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