Tag Archives: House of Representatives

The Diminishing Voice of the People

The Founding Fathers believed the Legislative branch (Congress) would be more powerful than the Presidency or the Courts. They were so concerned about the potential for Congress to become tyrannical, they split the Legislative branch into two groups: the House of Representatives and the Senate. It was the House of Representatives that would be the voice of the people, elected by popular vote every 2 years. 

When the first 65 U.S. Representatives were elected, the ratio of citizens to Representative was 60,000 to 1. The voice of the people was strong, as interested citizens could get a chance to communicate with their Representative. If only 1 in 100 citizens wrote a letter in 1790, the elected official would need to read and respond to 600 letters that year. Requests for face-to-face meetings were easily accommodated.

As the population of the U.S. continued to grow, Congress increased the number of U.S. Representatives to try and keep pace. By 1911 there were 435 U.S. Representatives. The Apportionment Act of 1911 put a cap of 435 on the number of U.S. Representatives, a cap which remains to this day.

The story of the United States has been one of perpetual population growth. Since 1790, the population of the United States has gone from nearly 4 million to 308 million (2010 Census). The ratio of citizens to U.S. Representative in 2010 was a staggering 709,000 to 1. Since 1790, the voice of the people has become diluted to more than 1/10th of what the Founding Fathers saw in their time. If 1 in 100 citizens wrote a letter to their Representative in 2010, that Rep would need to read and respond to 7,090 letters a year. That would require a team of staff to do the actual reading. It would also require the use of form letter responses, like many of us have received, responses that barely address the topics of concern. Good luck getting a private meeting.

Sometimes a picture or a graph says it all.

Think of doing laundry. We start off putting in one scoop of detergent and it works well. We start washing larger loads, still using one scoop of soap, but becoming dissatisfied with the results. We change brands and the one scoop still doesn’t cut it. The loads get ten times larger, but no matter which brand we use, or how fresh the soap is, our clothes just don’t get cleaned. 

Today, there is high demand and limited access to U.S. Representatives. Who gets the most face-to-face time? Donors, lobbyists, big business, and other useful parties. Enter political careerism and corruption. Little wonder the people feel disconnected from government. 

There is an unmet need for engaging representation. It’s time to reconsider the arbitrary number of 435.