Fix the Electoral College by Increasing the House of Representatives

Every four years, articles bemoan the Electoral College's failure to match the proportions of popular vote and the near impossibility of passing a Constitutional amendment fix. However, there is an easier potential change that would more closely embrace the Constitution instead of trying for an amendment. The solution is to follow the founding intent of Constitution and increase the size of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Electoral College, whose size is directly tied to the number of U.S. House members, could be made more proportional to state populations. The key is to overturn the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929 in the U.S. Supreme Court. Getting back to smaller House districts of around 50,000 in population, consistent with the first half of American history, would result in an Electoral College of more than seven thousand members whose distribution could more closely match national popular vote proportions.

According to the Real Clear Politics average of Congressional Job Approval, as of November 16th, 76.3 percent of Americans disapprove and only 14.9 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing in representing them. The legislative branch is so unpopular that consideration of a structural change should be on the table.

Keeping the number of House members at 435 may be more practical if the goal is to have them all together in one room. However, the goal should be to have a Congress that represents well the opinions of American citizens. Any national pollster would explain the impossibility of explaining the consensus views of America with such a small sample size.

Why is the number of Electoral College members tied to the size of the U.S. House?

U.S. Constitution Article II Section 1.[2] grants each state "a Number of Electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the state may be entitled in the Congress". And since ratified on March 29, 1961, Amendment XXIII granted the seat of government, Washington D.C. electors as "if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous state". So, 100 for the Senators, 435 for the House members, 3 more for the capital, and a reaffirmation that population size should matter. The Electoral College currently has 538 members, up from 91 at our country's founding.

Each 10 years, in accordance with the Constitutionally mandated census and target number of representatives that "shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand" in population from Article I Section 2.[3] , the size of the U.S. House was increased and with it the size of the Electoral College. If our country was still following the spirit of the Constitution, the Electoral College would remain in proportional balance to the population of the entire country. We could accept that our Republic votes state by state. And, we could live with the Presidential election results.

However, after the 1910 census, the Congress failed to agree on how many new House members would be added and how many members each state would get. This resulted in the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929 which set the number of members at 435.

Wild discrepancies in district sizes caused by not adding House members since the 1929 Act clearly violates the 14th Amendment's "equal protection of laws" as well as where "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers". A case can be made that one representative can't adequately represent the views of more than one million Americans. But, that is the situation in Montana as it only has one Congressional district for all one million Montanans.

How wide is the disparity in representation?

One Montana vote is significantly unequal to one Rhode Island vote. Each state has just over one million in population but Rhode Island, with a few more residents counted during the last census, has two representatives each with about half a million in population. 

The average Congressional district population was nearly 711,000 after the 2010 census. If Congressional district sizes could be equalized and returned to the historical precedent of around 50,000 in population, Rhode Island would have 21 members in the U.S. House and Montana would have at least 20. Representation would be proportionally equal.

What other changes would smaller districts cause?

Residual benefits of smaller districts would be fairer elections with less gerrymandering, cheaper to run for election, more accountability to voters, and less corporate control. Instead of as many as five offices per House member, with one in D.C. and four spread over their huge home district, most could have one district office and vote electronically. Only party leadership would spend most of their time in Washington D.C.

More than half of the eligible voters in our country did not vote in the 2016 election. Minority party voters, in states dominated by the other party, may have felt their vote would not count. Keeping 435 members of the U.S. House is the ultimate status quo of establishment rule. In truth, the workable number of U.S. House members may be somewhat less than seven thousand. However, a discussion about how 435 House members no longer works for Congress or for the Electoral College is long overdue.

Kevin Baker of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is a Senior Financial Analyst at TheStreet Ratings. The opinions expressed are his own.

Kevin Baker of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is a Senior Financial Analyst at TheStreet Ratings. The opinions expressed are his own.

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