Friday, July 4, 2014

Crowdsourcing Democracy? Musings on the Number of Representatives inthe U.S. House


Looking at the Federalist Papers for an unrelated reason, I saw #58, "Objections that the Number of Members (of the House of Representatives) Will Not Be Augmented as the Progress of Population Demands". It states that as we augment the number of representatives based on the 10 year census, that number "shall not exceed one for every 30,000 inhabitants." Given a U.S. population of about 318M people, at that rate we would have over 10,000 representatives in the House. Currently we can't seem to get along at the much smaller number of 435. I'm not sure how it would look, but maybe it's time to harness online technology and figure out a (constitutionally compatible) way to formally crowdsource our legislative process.

Sounds like a lot of work, right? Not to mention, it's an untested idea, and why do we need to change the way we do things anyway? Well, in the 2012 elections House Republicans won the majority of the seats, at 234 seats versus the Democrats' 201. However, those 234 seats represent 58,228,253 votes, while the Democrats' 201 seats represent 59,645,531 votes. So even though the Democrats won many fewer seats, they actually received 1,417,278 more votes than Republicans. Of course we all know that one of the founding principles of our government was to avoid as much as possible the "tyranny of the majority", so who cares that the majority of seats represent a minority of votes? Because, when we created the two houses of Congress, it was the Senate which was intended to temper the tyranny of the majority, having only two members elected by each state, regardless of population. The House members, being loosely tied to population and elected by district, are intended to be the individual's door to influence at the federal level. Nearly 1.5M more votes being represented by the minority party would seem to demand some sort of revision to the process.