August 28, 2014

Would Less Representation Be More Representative?

There has been much commentary lately about how legislative districts have become less competitive. Districts have been gerrymandered to be more Democratic or, more frequently, more Republican. One party becomes unbeatable in these districts and, because of the primary system, the more passionate (and radical) party faithful tend to select people who go on to win the general election. The resulting legislators, secure in their seats and holding fringe views, resist compromise and paralyze the legislative process. If there are enough such legislators, they can pass crazy laws. This state of affairs is exacerbated by the tendency of people to sort themselves geographically, making it difficult to create diverse districts even through nonpartisan redistricting.

Less remarked upon but at least as distressing is the tendency of local school boards in homogeneous districts to make decisions based on philosophy or religion, rather than on science or the informed opinion of professional educators.

Is democracy failing America?

Perhaps part of the problem is that the House of Representatives and similar bodies at the state and local level have too many members, i.e., because there are too many districts. If the House were half the size, for examples, districts in the states would have to be twice as big. The obvious objection to this is that individuals would have less of a voice in government. On the positive side, however, larger districts would likely encompass a more diverse constituency, resulting in more competitive races and, one might hope, more centrist legislators interested in governing, rather than in flauting their ideological purity.

The benefits of having larger school districts could manifest themselves even more quickly than the benefits of larger legislative districts. Pennsylvania has 500 school districts, which is widely seen as too many. There are some very fine school districts, but many are small, insular, and are funded largely by the underclass. Larger districts could offer more diverse and better funded school boards.

So, would less representation be more representative of Americans generally? Could be.


  1. I agree there is a problem, but cutting the size of Congress might not be the solution. Consider that the Constitution guarantees at least one representative to each State. There are already several States in the upper Midwest with one representative, for which they would never qualify on population. Were the number of members (not a constitutional rule, but a law) changed, a number of small States would have similar one member for the whole State districts. Those congresspersons would gain a lot of power, as each vote on a bill would be more definitive.

    This is something that would require a lot of very careful consideration.


  2. Thanks for the comment, Jim. I haven’t thought deeply about this, but was intrigued by the idea that less might be more.


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