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Expanding the Size of the House – Part II

There were a few points I would have liked to include in my October 14 column on the merits of increasing the size of the US House of Representatives. The most important one was how it would make gerrymandering so much more difficult for both the Democrats and Republicans.

In case you are not familiar with the term, gerrymandering referes to the practice of arranging a state’s congressional districts so as to favor one party over the other. It is the primary tool that politicians in both parties use to protect incumbents by ensuring that each district will contain a large majority of voters from the party that wants to stay in power. There is nothing illegal about this practice, but just because it is legal does not make it right.

Gerrymandering leads to situations like we have in Massachusetts, where there is nobody in the House representing the million or so Republicans who live here. That is not some fictional figure, but is based on the fact that over 1.1 million people voted for John McCain in 2008 (Source). To be sure, the subordination of the GOP in Massachusetts is not due entirely to gerrymandering but the Democrats of this state have used their long-standing control over the redistricting process to make it tremendously difficult for Republicans to compete.

Take, for example, Barney Frank’s 4th district. This is perhaps the clearest example of how badly gerrymandered our congressional districts are. Here is a map of the 4th district:

Source: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/cis/cispdf/mauscongdist4.pdf

Source: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/cis/cispdf/mauscongdist4.pdf

Note that it starts in close to the city and meanders to the south-west before heading towards Fall River in a pattern that makes no geographical sense whatsoever. That is, until one looks at a map of where the Republican voters of Massachusetts live. Here is a map of the state indicating which towns voted for which candiate in the 2008 presidential election with redder towns indicating wider margins for McCain, and therefore a greater number of Republicans living in those areas.

Comparing the two maps it is clear that the Democrats have specifically designed the 4th district to ensure that however many Republicans there might be in the southern part of the state, their numbers will be overbalanced by the huge proportion of Democrat voters in the areas closer to Boston. Because of this situation, there is very little chance that any Republican could ever unseat Congressman Barney Frank.

Massachusetts is certainly not alone in how badly our districts are gerrymandered to favor one party, and I am sure that Democrats in states like Texas face similar problems. That is why dramatically reducing the size of each congressional district by vastly increasing the number of Representatives in the House is such a good idea. If the districts contained no more than 50,000 to 60,000 people, Massachusetts would have between 108 and 130 Representatives instead of the ten we have now!

It would make it exceedingly difficult to gerrymander the congressional districts in the same way, and would guaranteee that the minority parties in each state would have at least some representation in Congress. It would also make 3rd party candidacy a real thing, instead of the chimera it always turns out to be. Once people from the Libertarian, Green, and other parties start to get elected to the House, and start to build a record of governance, a viable 3rd party candidate for President cannot be too far behind. Anyone who finds the two-party system we have now distasteful should be very attracted to the notion of a much larger, and more representative, House of Representatives.

Ben Rudnick can be reached at brudnick@student.umass.edu.

Comments
2 Responses to “Expanding the Size of the House – Part II”
  1. Zack says:

    I still find this to be overly idealistic, and not practical at all. If anything there is less of a need for so many representatives because of the overall adjustment to a nation based system rather than a state based system. Once again, growing the size of government, including paying for an additional 5000 representatives and their staff’s salaries is not good for this country.

  2. Dan says:

    More voices and fair representation in government are never a bad thing.

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