In 1787, the Constitutional Convention drafted the rules for the U.S. House of Representatives. Each of the first congressmen represented between 30,000 and 50,000 people. When the population grew, Congress grew too. Over time, Congress stopped growing as quickly as the population. In 1911, each congressman represented 211,000 people. Today, the average congressman or congresswoman represents 700,000 people, while some congressmen and women speak for nearly a million people.
Fixing the Size of Congress
In 1911, Congress voted to fix the size of the House of Representatives at 435 seats. This means that even as the population grows, the size of Congress stays the same. Today, Congress redistributes representatives after each national census. If a state has a larger proportion of the country’s population, it gets a larger proportion of the 435 representatives. Every state is assigned at least one representative.
This system means that a state can grow in population but still lose seats in the House. Those seats go to states that grew more quickly. This leads to a huge discrepancy in the power of voters. A vote in Rhode Island is worth twice as much as a vote in Montana. And, because congressmen and women represent so many people, most Americans go their whole lives without meeting or speaking to their state representatives.
Some experts have proposed expanding Congress. They say that increasing the size of Congress would not benefit a specific political party, while enabling Congress to add a representative for the District of Columbia. The capital is considered a special federal district, not a state. Currently, the residents of Washington, D.C. pay taxes but have no voting representation in Congress.
Watch the videos below to learn about both past and proposed changes to the composition of the House of Representatives.