Politics: December 2010 Archives

Math, maps, and politics come together in the decennial effort to enumerate the population of the United States and apportion political representation in accordance with those numbers.

Today the Census Bureau released the official 2010 population for each state, with the calculated number of U. S. Representatives to be assigned to each, based on the longstanding "method of equal proportions."

Oklahoma doesn't lose any ground, retaining our current five seats, but neither have we grown fast enough to regain the seat we lost in 2000 (a seat we nearly lost in 1990). Our neighbor to the south picks up four new seats

The Census Bureau has a brief video explaining the apportionment process (with captions if you can't have your sound on).

Apportionment is an iterative process: Every state gets one seat, then a priority number is calculated for each state:

A = P / sqrt ( n * ( n + 1 ) )

where A is the priority number, P is the state's population, n is the number of seats currently assigned. The state with the highest priority number gets the next seat, and that state's priority number is recalculated based on the additional seat. The process repeats until 435 seats are assigned. Because the seats are assigned in order, you'll hear talk about a certain state receiving the 435th seat. The states that just miss getting that last seat -- 436th or 437th on the list -- may take legal action to try to adjust their numbers. The method used to assign of US citizens residing overseas (military, foreign service, missionaries) to a particular state for the purposes of apportionment has been the basis for such disputes in the past.

The detailed data needed by the states to redraw the lines for congressional districts and local districts -- known as Public Law 94-171 data -- will be released sometime before March 31, 2011. This will provide population down to the city block, with counts by race, by Hispanic ancestry, by total population, and by voting age population. The racial numbers are used to demonstrate that new district lines comply with the current incarnation of the Voting Rights Act.

The number of House seats has been a fixed number (except for two brief periods) for 100 years. In 1911, Congress set the number at 433, plus one each for Arizona and New Mexico upon their admission to the Union. The number went up by one each for Alaska and Hawaii, but reverted to 435 after the 1960 census. In the last 100 years the average number of constituents per seat has grown from 210,328 to 710,767. The largest congressional district will be the entire state of Montana: 994,416. That's nearly twice the average size of Rhode Island's two districts: 527,624 each.

A decade ago, when Oklahoma was just about to lose a seat, then-Congressman Ernest Istook proposed a hold-harmless approach to reapportionment: Set the number of seats a bit higher (by about 30) so that no state would lose a seat while fast-growing seats would still get their due. (Note that, while Istook's article on his House website lives on only intermittently in the Wayback Machine, the Dustbury piece linking to it is still there.)

Here are a few key paragraphs from Istook's essay. He points out that the country's population had tripled in the 90 years since the number of seats had been frozen.

After every Census until early this century, it was normal to adjust the size of the House, and also to prevent states from losing seats in Congress. But political disputes stopped this after 1911, and the House has been at 435 seats ever since, although the country has grown from 90-million people to almost 270-million today. Each Congressman has three times as many people to represent, making it tougher for folks to vie for attention from their Representative.

Nobody wants a bulky, unwieldy body, but after almost 90 years, we can solve many problems with a minor adjustment to the size of the House. Adding 30 seats after 90 years is only a 6.5% adjustment, but it would mean that Oklahoma would not lose a seat in the House, and neither would several other states that expect and fear that they will.

The adjustment avoids a ton of controversies already surfacing around the Year 2000 Census, minimizing the gerrymandering mischief that erupts when states' delegations are forced to shrink. Adding a handful of seats is less enlarging the House than it is shrinking Congressional districts. Rather than representing 660,000 folks, each Oklahoma Congressman would represent about 550,000. Rather than a national average of 630,000 constituents per seat, it would be about 590,000.

Thirty-Thousand.org points to the number of constituents per district found in the Constitution and argues that a larger House of Representatives with smaller districts would be more... representative. Certainly it would be easier to win a seat in Congress by personal candidate-to-voter contact if the districts were smaller than our City Council (about 43,000 after the 2000 census) and State House districts (about 33,000 after the last census). Smaller districts would make the average population per seat nearly equal across all the states, bringing us closer to one man, one vote: At 30K per, Montana would have 33 congressmen and Rhode Island would have 34. The resulting body would be harder to gerrymander and more representative of America's diversity.

The Founders -- George Washington, in particular -- were concerned that too few representatives would be "an insufficient security for the rights & interests of the people."

The 112th Congress could choose to increase the size of the 113th. It's worth considering.

LINKS on congressional apportionment:

And finally: The apportionment machine:

This warms my heart:

Current House members who were not elected to the next Congress have had to vacate their office suites and move into small cubicles in a pair of dining rooms in the Rayburn House Office Building....

More than 90 departing House members from both parties have been assigned to cubicles set up in a banquet room and in the back section of a cafeteria dining room. Overflow space for aides has been set up in the Ways and Means and Homeland Security committee hearing rooms in the Longworth House Office Building.

Diane Watson of California said she and her staff are operating out of a cubicle furnished with a single computer, a desk and two chairs. "If they wanted to have a prolonged session, they should have thought about letting us stay in our offices," Watson said. "I chose to retire. I think it's harder on members that lost their race for re-election."

We say that congressmen should be subject to the same laws as the rest of us. We note that after too many years in Congress, they start to lose touch with the concerns and experiences of their constituents. Working in the noise and distraction of a cube farm ought to bring them back down to earth.

But perhaps we shouldn't reserve the Congressman Dilbert experience for lame ducks. Think of the money we could save if we could herd all 535 into a cube farm. We could sell off some of the House and Senate office buildings (I see them being converted to luxury hotels conveniently located on Capitol Hill). And perhaps, in less comfortable surroundings, they wouldn't be tempted to spend any more time than absolutely necessary inside the beltway.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Politics category from December 2010.

Politics: November 2010 is the previous archive.

Politics: January 2011 is the next archive.

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