It’s Time to Expand the House of Representatives

America’s body politic has ignored and revoked historical precedents that the Framers of the Constitution put in place to prevent our nation from descending into disorder.

Our country is in serious need of a procedural overhaul. Over the past decade, we have seen new avenues exploited within the democratic process that have resulted in many interests and individuals getting an over-amplified say in national politics.

This can be seen in elections where a candidate receives nearly three million more votes than their opponent but is shut out from a victory due to an antiquated electoral process, or when the majority party in states like Maryland redraw their districts to advantage themselves.

These manipulations of the processes that uphold the integrity of our democracy result in many Americans losing their ability to use the vote to enact meaningful change towards their ideological goals. These changes did not come about just because we figured out new ways to exploit the process, but instead, because we have ignored and revoked historical precedents that were in place to prevent our nation from descending into disorder.

This includes our most direct connection to national politics, the House of Representatives.

In 1790, the United States completed its first census and determined there were 3,893,635 residents within the newly created nation’s boundaries. According to the Constitution, ratified just a year prior, after each census it was mandatory for Congress to pass a Congressional Apportionment Bill that would decide the total number of Representatives and how they would be allocated among the states. In 1791, they agreed to 105 Representatives in the House, with each having a constituency of roughly 37,000 people. Every decade thereafter, the number of representatives increased to match the growing population.

Initially, the goal of expanding the House was to keep the constituent-to-representative ratio equal from decade to decade as the population grew. Over time, however, it warped into a political power game where the number of representatives added was determined by whatever number ensured no state lost a representative when apportionment was decided.

By 1911, the number of representatives grew to 435, representing, on average, 210,000 people per district but when it came time to pass the bill following the 1920 Census, a partisan congress failed to pass the mandated Apportionment Bill. According to the United States General Accounting Office, the 1921 Reapportionment Act failed to pass because “Congressmen from rural areas [feared they] would lose seats to more urbanized areas, [and] simply blocked passage of reapportionment legislation.”

In 1929, the majority party, believing they would lose power if they raised the number of representatives, decided to cap it at 435 permanently, thereby reducing the opposing party’s ability to get elected.[1] Ever since the bill’s passage, save for a few exceptions where the number was raised but then lowered to allow new states into the union, the House of Representatives has been frozen at 435.

While there have been some who wished to return to traditional reapportionment after 1929, no serious attempts to restore the precedent of expanding the House have occurred.[1]  Since 1941, the process of apportionment became automatic and the entire process is unknown to most Americans. Additionally, since the urban/rural divide [2] [3] still exists and many are hesitant to even consider such large-scale changes, the concept of expanding the size of the House has been forced into the narrow confines of theoretical discourse among a small group of political scholars.

From when the House of Representatives was last altered to 2020, the country’s population has exploded from 92 million to more than 330 million Americans with the representative-to-constituent ratio ballooning, on average, by nearly 500,000 per district.

It begs the question: Is the average representative today able to stand as the community’s voice in national politics? How can they juggle the individual needs of not only larger but highly diverse voter districts? Whose voice is really heard?

Holding on to an elected office has become a fundraising and campaign nightmare with representatives spending at least four hours per day telemarketing donors in preparation for the next election cycle.[4] Additionally, with districts being as large as they are, it becomes impossible for third parties to break into national politics. For the same reasons it is hard for politicians from the two major parties to get elected.

There are countries with smaller constituent-to-politician ratios that have prominent third parties. In Great Britain for example, the politician-to-resident ratio is about 1:100,000 and 106 out of the 650 seats in the House of Commons consist of third-party politicians.

Australia has a bicameral legislature consisting of a Senate and House of Representatives similar to ours. They have a politician-to-constituent ratio of roughly 1:108,000, and of the combined 227 seats in government, 30 are filled by third-party electeds. [5]  No other country in the world even comes close to us in terms of our representative-to-constituent ratio. [6] [7]  

Among the 34 nation-members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the second-worst ratio comes from Mexico, and even there they have one representative for every 250,000 residents.

This lack of representation not only serves to create a rigid two-party system but restricts our access to a government without adequate representation to convey the will of the voters into action. [8]   

If the House of Representatives were to expand, we may see a proliferation of new parties that would allow more people to participate in policy discussions.

Looking at the current data we can see the least represented state in the union is Montana with one representative for every 989,000 people, while Rhode Island is better represented with one representative for every 526,000 people. If the House of Representatives were expanded, each state would receive an equally proportional increase in representatives but with no power shift from big states to small states or vice versa as everyone receives an equal boost.

What we might see within states, however, is a greater diversity of political parties where with smaller districts, the probability of a third or fourth party being elected in a state that was traditionally for the dominant party, could be higher.

Undoubtedly, the system as we know it today is broken. Since we froze the size of the House 109 years ago our nation has undergone tremendous change, yet we still defy logic by not using the tools created in our Constitution to account for this change.

By not altering the House we are taking power away from voters—red, blue, and every shade in between—enabling the continued existence of a world that is not controlled by us.


By Zennon Ulyate-Crow

Zennon Ulyate-Crow is a junior at Palisades Charter High School and a lifelong Topangan. He is the Youth Advisor to the Pacific Palisades Community Council and works with the non-profit Abundant Housing Los Angeles to advocate for the construction of more homes across the region.



[1]     United States General Accounting Office, Decennial Census: Overview of Historical Census Issues, GAO/GGD-98-103, Washington D.C.: GAO, 1998.

[2]     Clemons v. U.S. Department of Commerce, 710 F. Supp. 2d 570 (N.D. Miss. 2010)

[3]     U.S. Congress, House, 1941 Reapportionment Act, H.R. 2665, 77th Cong., 1st Sess.

[4]     Grim, Ryan, and Sabrina Siddiqui. “Call Time For Congress Shows How Fundraising Dominates Bleak Work Life.” HuffPost. HuffPost, December 7, 2017.

[5]     “State of the Parties.” MPs and Lords – UK Parliament. United Kingdom. Accessed April 6, 2020.

[6]     “Infosheet 22 – Political Parties.” Home – Parliament of Australia. Commonwealth Parliament, July 17, 2019. 0_-_Infosheets/Infosheet_22_-_Political_parties.

[7]     “Australian Senate.” Home – Parliament of Australia. Commonwealth Parliament, January 24, 2019.

[8]     DeSilver, Drew. “US Population Is Growing, but House of Representatives Is Stuck at 435.” Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, May 31, 2018. tives-is-same-size-as-in-taft-era/.


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