In response to the NYT's congressional reform proposal, here's my own proposal to reform Congress

In response to soon-to-be-former U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY) losing re-election to U.S. Rep.-elect Max Rose (D-NY), The New York Times (the NYT) editorial board issued a pair of editorials: the first editorial recommended expanding the total number of members of the U.S. House to the cube root of the total population of all 50 states (not sure which rounding rule was used by the NYT, although it was rounded to a whole number), and the second editorial recommended using multi-member congressional districts in states apportioned multiple U.S. House seats.

I’ve long been a supporter of reforming Congress, and my proposal retains the bicameral structure of Congress with a lower house (the House of Representatives) having apportionment to states based on population and a upper house (the Senate) having each state having the same number of seats. My proposal to reform Congress is a two-part proposal consisting of the Fair Congress Apportionment and the Balanced Senate. The Fair Congress Apportionment and Balanced Senate proposals only affect total membership of each House of Congress

The Fair Congress Apportionment

I agree with the basic point in the NYT’s first editorial, in that the House has considerably fewer total members than what would be ideal for the United States based on its population. The NYT cited the cube root rule, in which the ideal total membership of a country’s dominant legislative chamber is the cube root of its total population, for their rationale. However, the United States lacks a true single dominant national-level legislative chamber (although the Senate is somewhat more powerful than the House is in the U.S. Congress, the U.S. House is considerably more powerful than, for example, the British House of Lords or the Canadian Senate), and the NYT tried to account for this by subtracting the number of U.S. Senators from the rounded cube root of the total population of all 50 states; I disagree with the NYT’s proposal in that regard.

First, when both chambers of a bicameral national legislature, such as the U.S. Congress, wield considerable political power, I believe that one chamber should have a clearly greater number of total seats than the cube root of the total population, and that the other chamber should have a clearly lesser number of total seats than the cube root of the total population.

Second, in the second NYT editorial, the NYT editorial board recommended using single-member districts in states where only one House seat has been apportioned to them and multi-member districts in states where more than one House seat has been apportioned to them. While this would seem to make sense, I believe that it is unfair to use single-member districts in some parts of a country or other jurisdiction and multi-member districts in other parts of the same country or other jurisdiction to elect members to the same chamber of a legislative body, and that, when combined with either a proportional (i.e., single transferable vote, party-list system, etc.) or semi-proportional (i.e, cumulative voting, single non-transferable vote, etc.) system for electing members from multi-member districts, multi-member congressional districts would be a very fair system, but less so if voters in one constituency were able to elect drastically fewer or drastically more individuals than voters in other constituencies.

Third, there are a seven-figure number of voters in this country that are effectively disenfranchised from being able to elect members of either house of Congress with ability to vote on legislation both in committee and on the floor of full House or Senate. These people live in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa, all of which are legally under the jurisdiction of the United States, but are not currently U.S. states.

Here are the basic principles of the Fair Congress Apportionment proposal:

  • The District of Columbia (as Douglass Commonwealth), Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa would all be admitted as states, which would the total number of states to 56.
  • The formula that determines the total apportionment of the House would be t=s+(p^(1/3)), with t being the total apportionment, s being the total number of states to receive apportionment, p being the total population of all states to receive apportionment, and (p^(1/3)) being rounded to the nearest whole number using normal rounding rules.
  • The membership of the House would consist of members elected from multi-member districts electing either three or four individuals to the House.

A full apportionment table of the Fair Congress Apportionment proposal has been created by me here; population figures are from the 2010 U.S. Census.

Regarding the third principle, you might be asking yourself how it would be possible for a state with an apportionment of one, two, or five to be able to fulfill the requirement of electing House members from districts that elect either three or four members. If all Members of Congress’s votes are weighted equally, it would be mathematically impossible for a state electing one, two, or five members to be able to elect all of its members from either a three-member district or a four-member district. In the case of states with an apportionment of one or two, they have an apportionment of less than three. In the case of states with an apportionment of five, if five individuals were elected from that state, creating a three-member district would invariably result in a two-member district being created out of the remainder of the state. Under the Fair Congress Apportionment proposal, states with an apportionment of one would elect three members whose votes in committee and on the House floor would be weighted at one-third of a full vote, states with an apportionment of two would elect four members whose votes in committee and on the House floor would be weighted at one-half of a full vote, and states with an apportionment of five have one district, representing three-fifths of the state’s population, that would elect three members with a full vote in the House and another district, containing two-fifths of the state’s population, that would elect four members whose votes in committee and on the House floor would be weighted at one-half of a full vote. This results in some members of the House having less voting power within the House than other members of the House, and the total number of seats being greater than the total apportionment, but each state’s total number of votes among its House members would be equal to the state’s apportionment.

Although the Fair Congress Apportionment actually results in greater malapportionment to what would be 56 states than the current U.S. House apportionment to the current 50 states, the Fair Congress Apportionment uses the same Huntingdon-Hill apportionment system that is currently employed by Congress, and the Fair Congress Apportionment is fairer than the current system in two regards. First, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam would be represented in Congress under the Fair Congress Apportionment proposal. Second, the total apportionment of the House under the Fair Congress Apportionment is closer to the cube root of America’s total population than the current House apportionment.

An apportionment table for an alternative Fair Congress Apportionment proposal consisting of single-member districts instead of three-member and four-member districts can be found here.

The Balanced Senate

Because U.S. Senators serve six-year terms and each state elects two U.S. Senators, not all states have a general election for one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats every two years. There are three classes of U.S. Senate seats: Class 1 (general election held earlier this year, next general election in 2024), Class 2 (previous general election held in 2014, next general election held in 2020), and Class 3 (previous general election held in 2016, next general election held in 2022). As a result, it is physically possible for an eligible voter in the United States to move around the country in such a way that the voter lives in one state or another at all points of his or her lifetime, but never be able to vote for a candidate for U.S. Senate in a general election due to never living in a state at the time of a general election for U.S. Senate. One way for a person to do this would be to move around in a rotation of states consisting of, for example, Illinois (which does not have a Class 1 Senate seat), North Dakota (which does not have a Class 2 Senate seat), and Texas (which does not have a Class 3 Senate seat), in such a manner that the person in question lives in Illinois every time the Class 1 Senate seats are up for general election, in North Dakota every time the Class 2 Senate seats are up for general election, and in Texas every time the Class 3 Senate seats are up for general election.

In addition to admitting the District of Columbia (as Douglass Commonwealth), Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa as states, the Balanced Senate proposal would involve expanding the Senate so that each state would have three seats, and, therefore, each state would have a U.S. Senate general election for one of its seats every two years without reducing the full length of any Senator’s term. While the Balanced Senate proposal doesn’t change the fact that the Senate is not a legislative body whose members are elected by constituencies created with fair apportionment based on population in mind, this creates a more balanced Senate, in that every state would have a Senate seat up for general election every two years instead of most, but not all, states having a Senate seat up for general election in any given even-numbered year under the current system.