Fixing Unfair Representation in the United States House of Representatives

A map of the original 13 colonies of the United States as they were in 1776. They continue to have disproportionate power.
A map of the original 13 colonies of the United States as they were in 1776. They continue to have disproportionate power in legislative decision-making. Click on map for enlarged version.

One of the interesting statistics in the Kavanaugh confirmation to the Supreme Court in October 2018 is how disproportionately the vote represented WASP Americans and their European ancestry. The white voters represented by the Senators who voted in favor in contrast far outnumbered the other ethnic groups represented by the Senators who voted against. David Leonhardt has an Op/Ed in the NY Times today that goes deeper into this disparity and why it exists—and how statehood could be used to partially correct the imbalance.

Any Fix Dilutes Current Power

I’ve often heard that the reason the Republicans will never vote for statehood for DC, for example, is that it would automatically add two Democrats to the Senate since DC votes overwhelmingly Democratic. Less often mentioned is that increasing the number of states would take away Representatives from other states. Unlike the Senate, which has two seats per state, the House has a set number of Representatives, theoretically assigned by population. Not only would states lose representatives if there were more states to be represented but they would be disproportionately Republican since the Republicans have worked so hard to gerrymander white districts for themselves.

“The Senate’s White–State Bonus: It’s time to end the longest stretch in American History without a new state” published 15 October 2018 and as The Senate: Affirmative Action for White People: And why it’s time to make Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., the 51st and 52nd states on October 14.

A cool trick. Academics often publish the same data over and over, called churning, to build their resumes. Articles in ten different journals telling the same story count as ten research papers. The Times has given Leonardt two identical articles with different titles in the same publication on two successive days.

Fixing Unfair Representation

Leonhardt’s presentation of the problem of fair representation of ethnic groups:

The anti-democratic tendencies of the Senate are well known: Each citizen of a small state is considered more important than each citizen of a large state. It’s a deliberate feature of the Constitution, created [originally] to persuade smaller states to join the union. Over time, though, the racial edge to the Senate’s structure has become much sharper — for two big reasons.

First, the states whose populations have grown the most over time, like California, Texas, Florida and New York, are racially diverse. By contrast, the smallest states, like Wyoming, Vermont, the Dakotas and Maine, tend to be overwhelmingly white. The Senate, as a result, gives far more special treatment to whites than it once did.

The second reason is even more frustrating, but it would also be easier to fix. Right now, about four million American citizens have almost no congressional voting power, not even the diluted power of Californians or Texans. Of these four million people — these citizens denied representative democracy — more than 90 percent are black or Hispanic.

They are, of course, the residents of Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Almost half of Washington’s residents are black, and nearly all of Puerto Rico’s are Hispanic.

Another solution has been to suggest that California be split into 2 states. Also discussed is making New York City the first city state. In both cases the states are so different in population and culture from north to south that they would be easier to govern in addition to having more representative participation in governance.

The Principle of Equal Representation

Representation can become skewed over time when it is based on formula’s that make assumptions about future populations. Basing representation on principles instead of numbers would allow representation to be adjusted to fit the current reality while preserving the same equity, or correcting it. The principle of having one legislative branch based on per capita representation and one based on the governance units of the nation, “The United,” recognizes both the states equally and the population on a proportional basis. To add states may help adjust the imbalances because the new states bring more ethnic diversity, but the domination of the Republican gerrymandered white districts within predominantly white states still preserves the “pure” white vote giving it unacknowledged dominance.

Should inequitable representation at the state level be allowed to persist when it defies equality at the federal level? as an American citizen?

The next post is on the value of nationalism within our global consciousness as a way to rise above the distinctions in national governance. In the same way we separate religious institutions and government, shouldn’t we separate ethnic identity from American identity?