Increase the size of the House via the ‘Wyoming Rule’

In comments to one of The Core posts here at F&V, Lewis Batson of Make My Vote Count brings up an excellent idea for a rule to determine the size of the US House of Representatives. Under the “Wyoming Rule,” the standard Representative-to-population ratio would be that of the smallest entitled unit–i.e. currently Wyoming.

The House is currently only slightly malapportioned, but it will get more so over time unless the House size is increased, because of the continuing widening disparity between the smallest states (like Wyoming) and the big ones (like my California).

Lewis notes that currently the Wyoming Rule would result in a House of 569 seats (still a bit small by the cube-root standard noted in my previous Core post, but much closer). California would have 69 seats instead of 53.

This plan should be part of the Democrats’ agenda for the 2006 elections and beyond. It will never get on the Republicans’ agenda, that is for sure. But if Democrats fought for this, it would be a difficult issue for Republicans to oppose (even though they would trot out all sorts of diversionary tactics like “Democrats want more politicians”). Unlike Senate reform (which I know is a long uphill slog, though that will not keep me quiet on it), expanding the House is essential to making it do what everyone understands from High School civics class is its core Constitutional role: Represent the population.

Naturally, if I could have my electoral dreams fulfilled, I would go to MMP at the same time as the House is increased. But I would settle for just a simple uptick in the number of members of the House to the mid-500s (with a mechanism for small upward adjustments after each census), and, of course, a 50-state process of fair redistricting. (And representation–in both chambers–for citizens of the capital territory.)

Representation without gerrymandering or malapportionment! Dare to dream.

Note: In addition to the comments and linked posts below, please also see US House size, continued.

22 thoughts on “Increase the size of the House via the ‘Wyoming Rule’

  1. Why would Republicans oppose it, prima facie? There are a lot of states where they could get a net win with extra seats, particularly by sheparding more minorities into majority-minority districts. More than likely, there would be the nice-for-Republicans side effect of further radicalizing the Democratic Party in Congress.

    Think of Mississippi, currently split 2-2; it’d easily go to 3-2 or 4-2 Republican with more seats. Many southern states would have similar dynamics, which would only partially be offset by adding more urban reps.

  2. I’ve always thought MMP a really bad idea in a presidential system. You cannot elect a governor or president by MMP. Electing the executive by FTP or STV and the legislature by MMP is halfway to the Scottish nightmare where they elect MPs by SMP, MEPs by List PR, MSPs by MMP and local councillors by STV.

    The obvious way to fit in with your idea for senate reform is to use STv for senators, representatives and the presidency. I guess for the record I should say I’ve always regarded IRV as a subset of STV.

  3. Would it be consistent with existing Supreme Court doctrine for the Court to require this under one person-one vote?

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  5. I agree: we need MORE Reps. My thoughts:

    (1) The US CENSUS was designed to allow an ORDERLY EXPANSION of the House so that districts would be equal in size, and the number of districts would expand as the population expanded.

    (2) The problem is that sinec 1920 the number of districts has been frozen at 435. This was done by an ACT OF CONGRESS; it can be undone by an ACT OF CONGRESS, too. It doesn’t require a constitutional amendment.

    (3) Since 1920, every deccenial census has led to RE-APPORTIONMENT: changes/shifts of Reps withing the 435. Some states get more Representatives other states get theirs reduced.

    Sometimes a state which has grown in population may have their number or Reps reduced becauee all states must have at least one Rep.

    (4) The total number of Reps in the House could be and should be expanded – if not by the “Wyoming Plan” hoe about to a NICE ROUND NUMBER: 500 – an additonal 65 seats.

    These could be/would be apportioned by population.

    (5) Average district size would be each smaller – and more representative, AS THE FOUNDERS PLANNED.

    More Reps would mean fewer committee assignments for each Rep and more constituent time.

    (Also, the advent and pervasiveness of hi-tech communications makes the manmag,ment of a larger House less encumbering that in 1920, or since 1920. MANY national and state legislatures all over the world are bigger than 435. If they can mange it, then so can we.)

    (6) As these 65 NEW SEATS would ALL BE OPEN SEATS, they’d be VERY competitive races at a time when most seats are NOT COMPETETIVE.

    That’s a good thing too.

    This would be A NEW BIRTH OF REPRERSENTATION, which would NOT make government bigger, but make it MORE RESPONSIVE AND MORE REPRESENTATIVE.


    It should get BI-PARTISAN SUPPORT, becasue open seats are VERY COMPETITIVE, and the GOP is VERY COMPETITIVE in the CITIES AND COUNTIES which have had the most growth.

    What do you think!?

    [I will post this and a link at my blog.]

    ALSO: (7) This would change the ELECTORAL COLLEGE – making it even more reflective of the population.

  6. Hard to believe, but the impact of House size on the electoral college escaped my radar screen altogether! Probably because I want to abolish the EC itself. But for so long as we have it, we should at least demand that it, like the House, respond to increasing population to an extent greater than it can while the House is fixed at 435.

    (Within a few days I will have some responses to the many interesting comments that this post has provoked. Thanks to all the seed planters!)

    • And well over a decade later, this topic resurfaced on Twitter over the weekend. I will expand here what I had to say over there on the matter at hand.

      1) According to the 2010 census, on a strictly proportional basis – that is, without one-seat minimums – California would be initially entitled to 52.59 House seats, and Wyoming to 0.80. The equal proportions method currently used for allocating House seats among the states gives California 53 seats and Wyoming one, which is the best whole number approximation that can be obtained under the circumstances.

      2) By the way of a comparison, the more conventional Sainte-Laguë method, applied without one-seat minimums, produces an identical apportionment, except for the fact that North Carolina would receive an extra House seat, at the expense of Rhode Island. In fact, since 1960 every state – even the least populated – has had a population large enough to qualify for at least one seat under a hypothetical Sainte-Laguë distribution without one-seat minimums.

      3) Now, back to 2010 the problem with the 53-to-1 seat ratio between California and Wyoming lies in the fact that California’s population was sixty-six times larger than that of Wyoming in the last census. But with just 435 seats to be allocated, it’s not possible to obtain a seat distribution which accurately reflects the actual population ratio.

      4) On the basis of the 2010 census, using Wyoming’s population as the basis for determining the size of the House, and then applying the equal proportions method would result in a 547-seat House; California would have 66 seats and Wyoming one, thus accurately reflecting the actual population ratio.

      5) However, according to population estimates published by the Census Bureau, the population of Wyoming began to decline in 2016, and the that decline accelerated in 2017. Based on the latest estimates, the size of the House would increase to 562, and that figure might be even larger by 2020, particularly if Wyoming’s projected population decline turns out to be steeper than currently estimated. As such, the repeated use of the Wyoming rule might lead to unmanageable House size increases in the decades ahead.

      6) The potential problem is clearly illustrated by applying the Wyoming rule to previous census figures, which incidentally would have become the Alaska rule from 1960 to 1980, and the Nevada rule before that (I stopped with 1920). At any rate, the hypothetical size of the House in the last seven decades under the “least populated state” rule would have been as follows:

      2010: 547
      2000: 569
      1990: 547
      1980: 562
      1970: 674
      1960: 790
      1950: 937

      The size increases would have been manageable all the way back to 1980, but beyond that the figures ballooned to increasingly improbable levels. In fact, between 1920 and 1940 the Nevada method would have yielded a House with well over a thousand members. Moreover, between 1920 and 1990 the House of Representatives would have become “the incredible shrinking House” (which nonetheless might have fit in with the smaller government philosophy prevalent in the 1980s.)

      7) Even with the more reasonable numbers registered since 1980, other issues would arise, namely those related to seating capacity and office space. Note that these same issues bedeviled Chile’s recent transition to PR, which involved an increase in the size of both houses of its national legislature.

      8) This is not to say that the size of the House should remain fixed at its current level. On the contrary, the latest census population estimates indicate the gap between seat and population ratios is increasing: California’s population is now sixty-eight times larger than Wyoming’s, but an apportionment based on the latest figures would not change the size of their respective House delegations. Nevertheless, a different approach might be needed in order to increase the size of the House in a manageable way, although the Wyoming rule might still serve as a one-off starting point.

      • Should the Wyoming Rule be used as a start, but with a final cap on the size of the house, but that would negate the rule in the first place? If the Wyoming Rule is unworkable, how about using the 2nd least populous state which would be the Vermont rule?

      • The Vermont method – which would have been the Wyoming method from 1920 to 1980 (except in 1960 when it would have been the Nevada method), and then the Alaska method in 1990 – would deliver more reasonable numbers, but it has its own problems. The notional size of the House under said method would have as follows:

        1920: 542
        1930: 543
        1940: 523
        1950: 516
        1960: 626
        1970: 610
        1980: 482
        1990: 452
        2000: 462
        2010: 493

        Quite a roller coaster ride, isn’t it? Then again, the sizable reduction of the House after 1980 would have fit in with Ronald Reagan’s small government philosophy.

        Incidentally, one small caveat: for the sake of convenience, I have been using resident population for these calculations, rather than the actual (and slightly larger) apportionment population, which includes overseas U.S. military and federal civilian employees (and their dependents living with them) allocated to their home state, as reported by the employing federal agencies. However, I recalculated the figures for 1990, 2000 and 2010 with the apportionment population, and for the Wyoming method there were no differences in the House size totals for 1990 and 2000, and just two fewer seats in 2010; for the Vermont method, however, with the apportionment population there would have been eleven fewer seats in 1990, none in 2000 and just two in 2010.

        But back to the Wyoming method, I came across one fascinating detail. With a 547-seat House in 2000 (from the 1990 census), there would have been 650 presidential electors, and the notional electoral college result of the presidential election that year would have been as follows:

        325 for Bush-Cheney
        325 for Gore-Lieberman

        You read that right: an electoral college tie. And you thought Florida 2000 was bad…

      • A 2000 tie, with or without Florida would have led to a month of hand wringing and an easy Bush win in the House contingent vote. I’m not sure there would really be any suspense.

  7. While you’re at it, please give the District of Colombia representation in the House. We’re not greedy, we don’t insist on Senate representation. But it’s time we had someone representing us in Congress!

  8. Absolutely. DC should have House and Senate representation. The USA is the only federation in the world with a special capital territory that lacks voting representation in the federal legislature. Other than pure racism, I can’t understand why this is tolerated.

  9. The Australian federal parliament has almost the same structure as the US congress, although we have only 6 states, so each state has 12 senators with 6 year terms. Half the state senators face election by STV every 3 years. By Act of Parliament, both territories have 2 senators and they get representatives on the same basis as the states.

    We don’t rotate territory senators because PR just does not work well with single vacancies so territory senators get 3 year terms and both senators for a territory face election at the same time.

    While everything’s being hopelessly Utopian you could think about proposing electing DC senators in the same way.

  10. We could always go back to the original method for DC representation: count it as part of Maryland for electing Senators, Congressmen, and the President.

    There is the question of apportionment; if it’s done through the Maryland legislature, what input would DC’ers have in the process?

    Though as long as the districts remain at their current size it wouldn’t be too much of a problem, since DC is a bit under the population of a Congressional District (572,059 as if 2000). It’s when/if they have to divide it up that it becomes a problem.

  11. I suggest that we expand the size of both our House and Senate. If we have 535 Congress members today, it’s because the House and Senate are fixed; after 1920, the size of the House has been stuck at 435 and up to now we have more people than in 1920 but the same number of reps. I think there’s a big problem.

    If we consider D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Mariana Islands and American Samoa for representation, let’s do this: each administration would get at least 1 Representative and 1 Senator. If we considered this today, the House would have 441 members and the Senate 106 members.

    I suggest that the same time we have our census, we should determine how many more members the House should have. I propose that we expand our House to 500 and every 10 years we expand it a little more. If we had 500 reps now, in 2010 for example we’d have 510 members. Sound interesting?

    The U.S. grows every 10 years and the more it grows, the more extra members it should have.

  12. How would increases in House size affect gerrymandering? We know that the least populous states (e.g. Alaska, Montana, Delaware, etc.) are currently not susceptible to gerrymandering, because the whole state comprises one big Congressional District. If we add more Representatives to those states, it will become possible to draw the District lines to suit political purposes. What about the more populous states, that already have a few Representatives – would it make gerrymandering easier there too? Is there a limit to this effect – for instance, would adding a few Representatives to California be likely to make a difference one way or the other, as far as ease of gerrymandering were concerned?

  13. On the other hand, could there be a threshold at which each increase in House size makes gerrymandering harder? Consider an extreme example in which every U.S. citizen were a member of the House of Representatives, and thus each Congressional District encompassed the residence of one individual. It would be as impossible to gerrymander as it would be in single-seat Wyoming today.

    But let’s back up a little bit and consider a less extreme example. Suppose each Congressional District consisted of three people. In a state of 2/3rd Republicans and 1/3rd Democrats, the legislature could theoretically gerrymander all the districts so that they each consisted of two Republicans and one Democrat – and if the citizens voted along party lines, all the Representatives would be Republican. It would require the gerrymanderers to have very good information, though.

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  15. This is such a good plan. I think it’s fair and representational. It’s realistic. And it’s keeping in the spirit of one person one vote.

    I think a lot of us feel right now that the government is not representative of us. It’s more representative of interest groups.

    MORE members in the House could be an answer towards reforming it. The more members we have, the harder it is for groups to control.

    It would also make people feel their voices and interests were being heard.

    When this country was founded, each member of Congress represented approx 30,000. Today they represent over 700,000. I believe this has “homogenized” the Congress and not given voice to all the thoughts and ideas out there.

    Part of me would love to see a Congress based on the scale of our forefathers, with approx 10,000 members. I think it would be a far more representative and less corrupt body.

    However, i think this plan is doable and realistic and i wish it got more play.

    Very smart. Thank you!

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  17. Just stumbled upon this blog, but have been quietly considering suing the House of Reps Clerk over apportionment for years. I came to my own realization of the “Wyoming Rule” when I was trying to come up with a constitutional reason to base district size on the least populated state. In my humble opinion, the Constitution at least implies the least populated state is the naturally occurring ideal district. Glad to know I am not the only one who sees it.

  18. “The US Should Have 10,000 Members of Congress”, by Ryan McMaken at Mises Wire (29 June 2016)

    “[…] Large constituencies increase the cost of running campaigns, and thus require greater reliance on large wealth interests for media buys and access to mass media. The cost of running a state-wide campaign in California, for example, is considerably larger than the cost of running a state-wide campaign in Vermont. Constituencies spread across several media markets are especially costly. […] The United States is very unlike Western European national legislatures in this regard, and is even an outlier by Latin American standards. Overall, legislatures outside of Western Europe tend to have larger constituency sizes in general.
    As we can see, in the United States, the average constituency size (or “district” size in the case of the US) is nearly 600,000. This is comparable to representation for member states of the EU in many cases. This total can also vary considerable from state to state, with the largest states having the largest district sizes. […] In California, a district size, on average includes 677,000 people, which means each constituent must compete with 677,000 other people — not to mention large interest groups — for access to elected officials. […]”

    Two caveats: (1) Mises’s followers use “Austrian” to mean “extremely deregulationist minimal-state economics”. (As in… these guys think Hayek was too big-government.). Their usage bears as much relationship to the actual politics and economics of the country known as Austria as the country headed by Michel Temer bears to the “Brazil” of Celtic mythology. (2) Mr McMaken seems to be unconsciously assuming single-seat districts throughout his essay. That is, many (not all) of his arguments for more seats founder if one is picturing multi-seat districts. A US House with, say, 750 Representatives elected from around 150 STV constituencies would have fewer voters and citizens per seat/ per legislator but more voters and citizens per district.

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