As you likely know, the decennial census counts the population of each state and distributes seats given to each state in the House of Representatives for the next decade. The census purports to do this proportionally. However, the data show that this is not done proportional enough, at least not to meet our modern conception of democracy.
The 2010 census has told us that the most populous state is California with 36,961,664 people. As such, the state has been given 53 representatives in the House. Wyoming is the least populous state with 544,270 people, getting only 1 representative in the House. Thus, in the House, Wyoming has 544,270 people per vote while California has 697,390 people per vote. Each representative’s vote in the House is equal. As such, 544,270 Wyomingites are equal to 697,390 Californians. Wyomingites have 1.28 times greater voice than Californians in the House. Following that formulation, in the Electoral College Wyomingites have 3.64 times greater voice than Californians do; 2.8 times less democratic than the House!
What’s worse is the Senate. Now, the whole reason for the Senate is to give each state equal voice in the federal government. The original Constitution gave the power to appoint Senators to the state legislatures, meaning the voice being distributed was quite literally to the states, not the people. Due to the 17th Amendment, we now popularly elect senators. Since each state gets 2 senators Wyomingites get 67.9 times greater voice than Californians in the Senate!
It’s clear that the structure of our bicameral national legislature favors less populous, usually agrarian states. This is unsurprising considering the mostly rural past of this country. But just like all of electoral engineering issues there are trade-offs and big political implications.
· Without giving the least populated states inflated power, California and a few other large states could dominate national politics. However, one could counter that those states deserve to benefit from such domination; they have the population to back it up.
· Also, the least populous states often favor more conservative politics, likely giving Republicans unrepresentative power on Election Day.
· Pork projects and subsidies are currently often found in states with low populations; think Bridge to Nowhere and Ethanol subsidies.
Lastly, note that the Constitution only reads, “[t]he Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative…” In 1790 the U.S. population was 3,929,214, and the 1787 document allots for 65 representatives, giving 60,449 people per representative. In 2010 the national population is 307,006,550. However, the number of representatives has remained constant at 435 since the passage of the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929. Thus, we now have 705,762 people per representative.
My purpose for pointing out such numbers is to show that each generation must look at the decisions made by generations past We must recognize that the old adage of ‘one person, one vote’, is overly simplistic and misleading. If the spirit of the saying was ever true, it certainly isn’t now. Note that gerrymandering and corruption needn’t be invoked. In the final analysis, the only thing holding our nation to our skewed system is ourselves.