Thursday, November 11, 2010

Unintended Consequences

Article 1, Section 2, of the United States Constitution says, in part, The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative. The very first amendment proposed (you can look it up) tried to change this:

After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.

but this was never ratified. So we can be pretty sure that the Founders of this Republic wanted us to have one Representative for every 30,000 Americans.

Currently, however, we have 435 Congressmen, thanks to something called Public Law 62-5. I guess this was supposed to keep the number of Congressmen down to a reasonable number. Otherwise, with the current U.S. population around 300,000,000, we'd have 10,000 Congressmen running around. Think of it! Mark Russell once said something on like every night 500,000 people in the District of Columbia go to bed without a Congressman. But if we had 10,000 Congressmen, you give yours (DC residents excepted) a booty call just about every night.

The current limit of 435 Congressmen also gives rise to some startling inequities. For example, according to the 2000 Census, the total population of the United States was 281,421,906. If we exclude the District of Columbia (population 572,059) since it has no Congressional representation, then there are 280,849,847 Americans and 435 representatives, so each member of Congress should represent 645,632 people. However, Wyoming (493,782) and Montana (902,195) each have only one representative. To put it another way, Cynthia Lummis only needs to attract half as many votes as Denny Rehberg to get elected, but each gets one vote in the House. So by moving from Wyola, Montana to Parkman, Wyoming (16 miles) you can effectively double the strength of your vote for Congress.

There is a lot more information about the inequities of the current system, and the sorry history of Amendment the First, at I'd recommend downloading their pamphlet, Taking Back Our Republic, for more information.

One thing they didn't cover, though: the effect of all of these changes on the Electoral College. Each state gets N+2 electoral votes, where N is the number of representatives, plus the two members of the Senate allowed each state. That +2, along with Public Law 62-5, weights the Electoral College heavily toward the smaller states. Since D.C. does have 3 votes in the Electoral College, each elector theoretically represents 281,421,906/538 = 523,098 voters. However, each state has a minimum of three electoral votes. So in Wyoming each elector represents 164,594 people. In Montana, it's 300,732 people, still substantially below the national average. It's likely (I haven't checked in detail) that the state with the most people/elector is California, where there are 33,871,648 people and 55 electors, or 615,848 people/elector. Put it this way: an elector in California represents four times as many people as one in Wyoming, but each has the same say in who's elected President.

Now, as anyone can tell you, most of the smaller states, population-wise, are in the west, and most of those states vote Republican, while many of the larger states tend to vote Democratic. Another wrinkle in the system is that most states (Maine and Nebraska excepted) cast their electoral votes in a block.

Couple these two facts with the 30,000 people/representative rule and you get some interesting results. Very interesting, in some cases.

In particular, let's consider the 2000 Presidential Election. Very close, as we all recall. Al Gore got 50,999,897 votes, while George Bush got 50,456,002, but because most states cast their electoral votes as a block, Bush won in the Electoral College, where it counts, 271-266.

What if we'd apportioned Congress the way the Founders intended? And kept the current winner-take-all (mostly) electoral system? The table below shows the results. I constructed it using the following rules:

  • Winner take all in each state, as now. Maine (42 votes under these rules) went to Gore, and Nebraska (54) went to Bush. Changing all of Maine's votes to Bush or all of Nebraska's to Gore isn't going to change the final result, so it doesn't matter if several congressional districts shifted from Red to Blue or vice versa.
  • To get the number of representatives, I took the states' populations from the 1990 census, which governed apportionment at the time, divided by 30,000, and rounded down. Rounding to the nearest integer, or rounding up, can't change the electoral vote by more than 51, and so won't affect the result, either.
  • If the District of Columbia was a state, it would have 22 electoral votes in this scheme. However, by the Twenty-Third Amendment, D.C. gets 17 electoral votes, equal to the state with the fewest, Wyoming. In the real 2000 election one D.C. elector abstained. Even assuming all 17 of the new electors abstained it wouldn't change the bottom line here, so I assume that they all voted — for Gore, naturally.

The result: Since each state has more or less the same representation per capita in the electoral college, and since most of the larger states went for Gore, he wins the election, 4,314–4,047.

Think about it. Al Gore, Forty-Third President of the United States. Somehow, I don't think that's what those currently saying we should go back to the Principles of the Founders had in mind.

State Population Congress Electors Bush Gore Bush Gore
Popular Popular Electoral Electoral
Alabama 4040587 134 136 941173 692611 136 0
Alaska 550043 18 20 167398 79004 20 0
Arizona 3665228 122 124 781652 685341 124 0
Arkansas 2350725 78 80 472940 422768 80 0
California 29760021 992 994 4567429 5861203 0 994
Colorado 3294394 109 111 883748 738227 111 0
Connecticut 3287116 109 111 561094 816015 0 111
Delaware 666168 22 24 137288 180068 0 24
DC 606900 0 17 18073 171923 0 17
Florida 12937926 431 433 2912790 2912253 433 0
Georgia 6478216 215 217 1419720 1116230 217 0
Hawaii 1108229 36 38 137845 205286 0 38
Idaho 1006749 33 35 336937 138637 35 0
Illinois 11430602 381 383 2019421 2589026 0 383
Indiana 5544159 184 186 1245836 901980 186 0
Iowa 2776755 92 94 634373 638517 0 94
Kansas 2477574 82 84 622332 399276 84 0
Kentucky 3685296 122 124 872492 638898 124 0
Louisiana 4219973 140 142 927871 792344 142 0
Maine 1227928 40 42 286616 319951 0 42
Maryland 4781468 159 161 813797 1140782 0 161
Massachusetts 6016425 200 202 878502 1616487 0 202
Michigan 9295297 309 311 1953139 2170418 0 311
Minnesota 4375099 145 147 1109659 1168266 0 147
Mississippi 2573216 85 87 572844 404614 87 0
Missouri 5117073 170 172 1189924 1111138 172 0
Montana 799065 26 28 240178 137126 28 0
Nebraska 1578385 52 54 433862 231780 54 0
Nevada 1201833 40 42 301575 279978 42 0
New Hampshire 1109252 36 38 273559 266348 38 0
New Jersey 7730188 257 259 1284173 1788850 0 259
New Mexico 1515069 50 52 286417 286783 0 52
New York 17990455 599 601 2403374 4107697 0 601
North Carolina 6628637 220 222 1631163 1257692 222 0
North Dakota 638800 21 23 174852 95284 23 0
Ohio 10847115 361 363 2350363 2183628 363 0
Oklahoma 3145585 104 106 744337 474276 106 0
Oregon 2842321 94 96 713577 720342 0 96
Pennsylvania 11881643 396 398 2281127 2485967 0 398
Rhode Island 1003464 33 35 130555 249508 0 35
South Carolina 3486703 116 118 785937 565561 118 0
South Dakota 696004 23 25 190700 118804 25 0
Tennessee 4877185 162 164 1061949 981720 164 0
Texas 16986510 566 568 3799639 2433746 568 0
Utah 1722850 57 59 515096 203053 59 0
Vermont 562758 18 20 119775 149022 0 20
Virginia 6187358 206 208 1437490 1217290 208 0
Washington 4866692 162 164 1108864 1247652 0 164
West Virginia 1793477 59 61 336475 295497 61 0
Wisconsin 4891769 163 165 1237279 1242987 0 165
Wyoming 453588 15 17 147947 60481 17 0
Totals     8361 50455156 50992335 4047 4314

Sorry about the lack of commas in the table above. I used a very primitive spreadsheet to generate the data.

1990 Census data is from Presidential vote totals are from


Anonymous said...

Now with state-by-state winner-take-all laws presidential elections ignore 12 of the 13 smallest states (3-4 electoral votes), that are almost invariably non-competitive, and ignored, in presidential elections. Six regularly vote Republican (Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota), and six regularly vote Democratic (Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and DC) in presidential elections. Nine state legislative chambers in the smallest states have passed the bill. It has been enacted by the District of Columbia and Hawaii.

Of the 22 medium-smallest states (those with 3,4,5, or 6 electoral votes), only 3 have been battleground states in recent elections-- NH(4), NM (5), and NV (5). These three states contain only 14 of the 22 (8%) states' total 166 electoral votes.

The 11 most populous states contain 56% of the population of the United States and a candidate would win the Presidency if 100% of the voters in these 11 states voted for one candidate. However, if anyone is concerned about this theoretical possibility, it should be pointed out that, under the current system, a candidate could win the Presidency by winning a mere 51% of the vote in these same 11 states -- that is, a mere 26% of the nation's votes.

Big states are just about as closely divided as the rest of the country. In recent presidential elections, the 11 largest states have been split -- five "red states (Texas, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia) and six "blue" states (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey). Among the four largest states, the two largest Republican states (Texas and Florida) generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Bush, while the two largest Democratic states generated a total margin of 2.1 million votes for Kerry. 8 small western states, with less than a third of California’s population, provided Bush with a bigger margin (1,283,076) than California provided Kerry (1,235,659). The 11 southern states provided Bush with a bigger margin (4,653,558) than the 6 states with the largest Kerry vote margins (4,428,268) in 2004.

Anonymous said...

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

Now 2/3rds of the states and voters are ignored, including big states like California, Georgia, New York, and Texas. The current winner-take-all laws used by 48 of the 50 states, and not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution, ensure that the candidates do not reach out to all of the states and their voters. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or care about the voter concerns in the dozens of states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. Voter turnout in the “battleground” states has been 67%, while turnout in the “spectator” states was 61%. Policies important to the citizens of ‘flyover’ states are not as highly prioritized as policies important to ‘battleground’ states when it comes to governing.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes–that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

The bill has been endorsed or voted for by 1,922 state legislators (in 50 states) who have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: CO-- 68%, IA --75%, MI-- 73%, MO-- 70%, NH-- 69%, NV-- 72%, NM-- 76%, NC-- 74%, OH-- 70%, PA -- 78%, VA -- 74%, and WI -- 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE --75%, ME -- 77%, NE -- 74%, NH --69%, NV -- 72%, NM -- 76%, RI -- 74%, and VT -- 75%; in Southern and border states: AR --80%, KY -- 80%, MS --77%, MO -- 70%, NC -- 74%, and VA -- 74%; and in other states polled: CA -- 70%, CT -- 74% , MA -- 73%, MN – 75%, NY -- 79%, WA -- 77%, and WV- 81%.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas (6), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), The District of Columbia (3), Maine (4), Michigan (17), Nevada (5), New Mexico (5), New York (31), North Carolina (15), and Oregon (7), and both houses in California (55), Colorado (9), Hawaii (4), Illinois (21), New Jersey (15), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (12), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), and Washington (11). The bill has been enacted by the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington. These seven states possess 76 electoral votes — 28% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


J. E. Quidam said...

Section 3 of “Taking Back Our Republic” explains that “Article the first” (as worded) is defective, which is why the amendment was never ratified. It was made defective in the waning hours of the first Congress. In addition to obviating the entire purpose of the amendment, the defect produces, over a certain population range, a maximum number of Representatives that is below the minimum number required (i.e., a mathematically impossibility).

In order to see “Article the first” in the original document, view the zoomable Bill of Rights. Use the pull-down menu to the right of the image in order to zoom to each of the twelve amendments. The text for each will also appear below the image.

You are correct that the implications of the Electoral College were not included in the pamphlet. That was left out for the sake of brevity, and also because I felt the topic was too arcane even for that pamphlet. However, the subject is addressed here: “The Electoral College”. Scroll down to section B to read about the “Neubauer-Zeitlin Analysis”!

The important point is that representational enlargement will ensure the electoral college results will equal the popular vote results. is a non-partisan and non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.
Please fan on Facebook

rcjhawk said...

Quidam: I'd never known about the sad, sorry history of Amendment the First until I read your site, and I thank you for enlightening me. But my point still stands: the will of the founders was 30,000 people/congressman. Your site also makes my other point: this will of the founders was violated almost from day one, buy the founders, or at least their children. Look at your population/representative graph: the last time we had only 30K people/member was no later than 1803. Even the founders didn't hold to strict constructionalism.

Actually, coming from a lightly populated state out there in the middle, I'm kind of glad that the small states have a disproportionate influence on elections and lawmaking. Otherwise I suspect the small states would be largely ignored. OK, the current imbalance is admittedly large, but I don't want to throw out something that's worked pretty well for the last 200 years.

And, really, having 10,000 Congressmen is a bit much. The actual work of Congress would still have to be done in committees, and if the committees are to work they'd have to be reasonably small. So the members of, say, the Appropriations Committee would have much more power than they do now, compared to the average Congressman. And, I suspect it would be cheaper to bribe them.

Certainly it would be cheap enough to buy a Congressional seat: you'd only need about 5,000 votes.

Don't think that Gerrymandering will go away, either: with so many districts per state, it would be supremely easy to arrange district boundaries to reward the "in" party and minimize the number of "outs" elected. You could probably even create some "rotten boroughs" that only had, say, 10,000 people living in them, and draw the boundaries of said boroughs to favor a particular person, who would only need maybe 2-3,000 votes to win. If you drew up the boundary to include mostly recent, non-citizen, immigrants, then there might only be 1,000 voting citizens in the district (the Constitution doesn't say that representation is by citizen, but by person). Then you'd only need a few hundred votes.

On the other hand, there is something about 10,000 people all seated together (maybe in Verizon Center?) and trying to look and act important that amuses me.