Thursday, May 30, 2013

Congress is Too Small

And now, a brief tangent from election methods...

Stop me if you've heard this one: Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 states that each representative should serve no less than 30,000 people, and therefore the House should have over 10,000 members. That probably sounds a little crazy, and it probably is. And yet, Congress is too small. What would a better number be though? This is actually a difficult question, as well as a surprisingly touchy subject, one which has caused so much anger and vitriol in the past, that Congress has actually been afraid to re-examine the question. And so, we've had the same number of representatives—435—for over one hundred years. The House has stayed the same size for a century, even though our population has more than tripled in that time.

Ahh, you may be thinking, if our population has tripled, then we should triple the size of the House too! Right? Well, no. A linear increase (X times as many people = X times as many representatives) is the same pitfall that led to the 10,000-member House. Rather, political scientist have done a little bit of math, and their best suggestion is that the size of any legislature should be proportional to somewhere between the square-root and the cube-root of the population it represents. X times as many people = √X times as many representatives. There are a couple different specific recommendations I was able to dig up, and both fall within that range. If the population is P, they suggest (2×P)1/3 and 0.37×P0.4. Let's throw a square root example in here too. First, let's assume the Constitution is perfect; that implies 0.047×√P. Now, for a population of 308,745,538, these equations give sizes of 850, 919, and 825. Let's not forget to subtract the Senate though! So we're looking at a House of 750, 819, or 725 members. Quite an increase from 435.


It looks like the founder's initial estimate was a little low-balled. On the other hand, the number of citizens eligible to actually vote was also a lot lower than the census would suggest, so perhaps it is—in addition to being a reminder of our horrible past—at least consistent. But each equation suggest that the 1910 number was in about the right ballpark. Today? The House needs to be at least two-thirds again as large as it is now, probably even a bit larger. As a nice side-bonus, the rule about each state having at least one representative becomes redundant; even Wyoming's residents "earn" theirs just by virtue of their population and the application of the Huntington-Hill method.

These guidelines can be applied to parliaments, congresses, committees, boards, councils; any representative body. And, in practice, most organizations are pretty close. People have a pretty good gut feeling about when a representative body, isn't. When it's too small, as our congress is now, people can just feel that there's corruption. When it's too large, people can just feel that it's inefficient and full of weak candidates.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Looking@Democracy Step 2: Vote with your Vote

Thanks again to all of you who contributed funds to have CES make their approval voting video. Now for step two! Voting for the public choice award for the Looking@Democracy has now opened, so please visit the page for CES's approval voting entry and vote for us!

Honestly guys, we may have an unfair advantage. The video is about approval voting, and the contest is being decided by approval voting! Not plurality, not instant-runoff (can you imagine having to rank all 347 entries?), but approval. How is that even fair? But who cares, go vote us up!